Friday, December 4, 2015

Just war and Donald Trump

For about twenty years I taught a semester-long high school elective called "International Relations and National Security Issues." A unit titled "Theory" touched on things like realpolitik, revolutionary attempts to create a unified world without conflict, pacifism, and other approaches. Christian thinkers have been writing about these issues, including the moral issues surrounding when and how wars should be fought, since the early church. Most Christian believers are not pacifists and so these questions ought be important and, over time, a certain consensus developed about what causes justify going to war and what limits should be placed on those fighting. Donald Trump's views on the subject fail to make the usual (and, I believe, correct) distinctions:
Here [Trump] is dealing with ISIS:
“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families!”
Now, there’s a few minor points that might be considered before embracing Trump’s position: the Christian just war tradition (in this case jus in bello), the Laws of War (or International Humanitarian Law as it is called nowadays) and American military Rules of Engagement (ROE) all prohibit the direct and intentional targeting of noncombatants [a good example of the extent to which the US attempts to limit harm to noncombatants can be found here]. Attacking noncombatants is unjust, immoral, and a clear violation of the laws of war to directly and intentionally attack a terrorist’s child or any other member of his family.  ...[I]t is simply unlawful and immoral for a combatant to deliberately target noncombatants as a means to get to a legitimate target (e.g, an ISIS “combatant”). In fact, to target that child as a means to get at the terrorist is itself an act of terrorism.

Unfortunately, Trump’s bombastic statement, “you have to take out their families” gains plausibility among Americans who are primed to overreact against a widespread popular distortion of the requirements of the jus in bello. That popular misunderstanding considers any “collateral damage” resulting from a direct and intentional attack on a legitimate terrorist target to be unjust and immoral. This view, popular among theological and secular pacifists, both principled (e.g. the pacifism of the Evangelical peace churches) and functional (e.g., those who will deny being pacifists in theory but never support military force in practice), too often recognize no moral difference between the direct and intentional targeting of a terrorist’s child as a means to get at the terrorist and the unintentional (even though perhaps foreseen) death of innocents as a result of directly attacking the terrorist. Ironically, both the Trumpkins and the pacifists fail to make the requisite moral distinctions. For the former it leads to killing the families of terrorists as a means to get to the terrorists, for the latter it means avoiding attacking terrorists altogether. But the distinction that both fail to make is fundamental not only to the Christian just war tradition but also to the Laws of War and American ROEs.

The Christian just war tradition’s prohibition on the direct and intentional harm of noncombatants and the permissibility of unintended innocent harm to noncombatants, are both predicated on a commitment to protect noncombatants in a time of war.... [more]
The article is from a new on-line magazine, PROVIDENCE: A JOURNAL OF CHRISTIANITY & AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY that promises to be very interesting.

One of the handouts I once used for my classes included this:
Just War: A Guide By Boston Globe Staff, Oct. 6, 2002 
jus ad bellum [justification for the use of war]
To declare a just war, one must be able to show:
  1. Just cause — Is there a real and certain danger: a threat to the lives of innocent people or a violation of basic human rights? The presumption is against war.
  2. Competent authority — Does the party declaring war have responsibility for public order in the region? The presumption is for state sovereignty.
  3. Comparative justice — Are the rights or values at stake serious enough to justify war?
  4. Right intention — Will the party declaring war pursue peace and reconciliation, avoiding unnecessary destruction and unreasonable conditions?
  5. Last resort — Have all peaceful alternatives been exhausted?
  6. Probability of success — Is there a chance of victory?
jus in bello [limits on the use of force in war]
To fight a war justly, one must use:
  1. Discrimination — Do not target noncombatants. It is likely that innocents will die, but it is impermissible to plan to kill them.
  2. Proportionality — Are the many costs of war proportionate to the social good expected as a result of victory? What principles govern when and how you are allowed to kill combatants?
The Donald Trumps Morality - Providence