Jus Ad Bellum or Just Bull: The Christian, War, and Hope for a Peaceful Future (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of my series on war and the Christian.

Remember model UN in high school.  Well, I don’t because we didn’t have it, but essentially it’s where students pretend to be world leaders and make big decisions.  Let’s play model UN for a minute. Let’s pretend the UN can’t figure out what to do so they bring in a Christian to provide a new vision for peace.

You are this Christian.

What do you say?  Is submitting to a healthy dose of old fashioned democracy and capitalism wrapped in the Stars and Stripes really all we have to offer?  I love America, but surely Christianity is bigger?

Right?

For pacifists, would you really tell the nations their only hope is to abandon government and the established civil order to seek God outside of it?  Does the gospel have nothing to say in organizing our world for peace?  A pacifist may retort expressing the evil of war.  Agreed.  But the nations of the world have assembled to listen, is that all you have to say?  How can they go about organizing a better world beginning where they are right now?  Where do we begin?

Sure such a scenario is completely fanciful.  But it reveals the heart of the issue.  Can we speak hope into the world as it is, or not?

Allow me to offer a suggestion.

Let’s start with a framework all Christians and probably almost everyone can agree on.  The famous just war theory.  I have never heard someone oppose it.  No one anywhere wants to start aggressive wars for no good reason.  Countries and organizations only fight when self interests are perceived to be at stake.  Especially with today’s vicious military capabilities and fragile economies, it is in everyone’s interests to avoid war.  Nations go to war out of fear and insecurity.  The just war theory can offer security.

There are however problems.  But first let’s look into the theory’s faucets as articulated by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 1983.

Before a war:

  1. Just cause – War is only permissible when an imminent danger to innocent life and basic human rights exist.
  2. Competent Authority – War must be declared by a legitimate authority representing the common good.
  3. Comparative justice – No state is ever completely just or innocent.  Therefore, in war only limited means can be used to meet only limited objectives.
  4. Right Intention – War must only be for those reasons laid out under Just Cause.
  5. Last Resort – All peaceful alternatives must be tried and fail.
  6. Probability of Success – Irrational and hopeless resistance is unjust.  A nation must have a clear goal in a war and a reasonable chance of meeting it.
  7. Proportionality – The damage inflicted (physical, emotional, financial) must be reasonably proportional to the good accomplished by the war.

During a war:

Discrimination – total war, nuclear, and targeting civilians is off the table.

Proportionality – the destruction caused by specific actions or missions must be proportional to the good achieved.

All nations can agree to only engage in combat under these conditions.  Indeed, before going to war most already consider some form of these criteria.  So what do you as our Christian speaking to the world’s leaders accomplish by bringing the just war theory up?  The answer lies in the theory’s problem.

The problem is the just war theory can be used to justify any war.  Seriously, any war.  With the possible exception of number 2, all points can be interpreted to fit any country’s context for war.  Let’s look at a few examples.

1) Just Cause – How do you define “imminent danger” and what is a “basic human right”?  Imminent is a very slippery slope, especially in an age of mass destruction.  The US believed it was in danger from Saddam’s Iraq and acted on almost no evidence.  Likewise, the US believed the Communist dominoes would continue to fall if it didn’t act decisively in Korea and Vietnam.  But they didn’t.  Would the Soviet Union or the US have been justified in launching a preemptive war against the other in the 1970’s?  Certainly, each was constantly imminent danger to the other for nearly half a century.  A just war theory making just a nuclear annihilation is not much use at all.  Therefore, believers must insist on an extremely stringent threat definition.

We must communicate a vision to the world’s governments military force is only acceptable if on the defensive in extreme situations such as an invasion or perhaps a destructive aerial attack.  Furthermore, even if directly invaded, a country must cease hostilites once its borders are re-secured.  It is absolutely crucial we define a just war only as one to restore territitorial integrity.

How might such a policy come about?

Technology such as early warning systems, air defenses, missile shields, littoral naval forces, and short range aircraft capable of ground attack should be highly encouraged and perhaps even subsidized so even small nations might sting any aggressor.

Likewise offensive weapons such as long range bombers, intercontintenal ordinance, nuclear ships, overseas bases, and computer hacking skills should be highly discouraged.  Perhaps those nations willing to dismantle such platforms could receive some sort of economic preference from others.  If this seems impossible, it’s already happened in the case of land mines, cluster bombs, and some other unconventional weapons.

Additionally, there is one last practical step to tighten the definition of “imminent attack.”  Compulsory military service.  Yes, a more peaceful world will exist if more nations force all citizens to serve in some way for a year or two.  Why?  People are much less likely to buy into propaganda and fear if it is their own children entering the fray.  In other words, if the children of generals, politicians, and business leaders are in uniform, it will have to be a very serious crisis for said leaders to call for full scale war.  A draft causing peace instead of war is not a far-fetched, untried idea.  Two of the most peaceful nations in the world, Brazil and Sweden, have compulsory service.  Neither of these two countries has been to war since the 19th Century (with the exception of a small, Brazilian contingent to World War 2).

In the world described above, all nations would feel more secure, and smaller countries would have a more equitable footing from which to trade, establish policy, and build mutually beneficial alliances.  Similarly, larger nations unable to manipulate smaller ones with threats either of force or cutting off aid would be inclined instead to rely on consensus building towards effective diplomatic and economic solutions to issues, even such complex issues as terrorism and proliferation.

Thus, by defining an imminent threat only as being literally under invasion, we can lay the foundation for a more peaceful, equitable world.  In order to make such a definition workable for understandably doubtful countries, we will also insist nations discourage offensive weaponry, bolster defensive operations, and demand compulsory national service.

This tight definition of a threat also gives Christian policy makers in governments a powerful tool for beginning to articulate a hopeful and peaceful future.  If all nations are competent defensively and unable to go on the offensive without high costs to themselves in casualties, money, and international standing, they will be induced to rely on trusting partnerships rather than manipulation through force.  In short, if wars are not in the self interests of a nation, there will be no more wars.

A major objection to this approach deals with human rights.  What if a nation oppresses a minority group within its borders?  Without offense weapons, other nations might be powerless to stop it.  I would argue however, this situation already happens.  Case in point, North Korea.  North Korea is the most brutal regime of the last two generations.  Yet, no one has stepped in militarily to stop them.  Why?  They have a powerful military and now nuclear weapons.  Any war mounted against them would mitigate a crisis dwarfing the current situation.  Unfortunately this is true for most if not all humanitarian wars.  Wars cause the crisis they are launched to prevent.

What would change in my scenario described above?  It certainly won’t eliminate conflict from the world.  But it will make the world safer.  Nations would be forced to deal with rogues with creativity through other means, like the world is now having to do with North Korea.  It’s taking time.  But it is working.  The regime’s days are numbered.  Therefore, a war for human rights should only occur if the humans whose rights are under threat are citizens of a nation under attack and a defensive war must be declared to repel an invasion.

In sum, Christians must use their influence to approach a definition of just war only in the case of full scale invasion or other destructive assault.  They must also refuse the notion that human rights are a reason for going to war.  The war itself will almost always make things worse or create new problems for the next generation.  In other words, even a just war creates a human rights issue.

Of course by creating such definitions, Christians are making it almost impossible for governments to launch wars with any moral justification.  Exactly.

Instead of choosing pacifism and withdrawing from culture, we should be in the midst of government and foreign policy.  In bringing the just war theory to the table, we can gain a hearing by operating within a reasonable, workable framework.  However, instead of using just war theory to justify whatever a government wants as normally done, we must stand for stringent interpretations for the criteria as demonstrated above with the “imminent danger” criteria.  In doing so, Christians can push governments to lay their true cards on the table which will likely be rejected by the citizenry as adequate cause for war.  While pacifism may be the high road in a sense, employing the just war theory in this narrow way will actually reduce the number of people dying around the world.

Next time we will look at a couple more just war criteria and see how they too can be used to make war exceedingly rare.

***This post was inspired by a series of essays edited by Michael T. Cooper and Clifford Williams called The Peaceable Christian.

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4 thoughts on “Jus Ad Bellum or Just Bull: The Christian, War, and Hope for a Peaceful Future (Part 2)

  1. “Yes, a more peaceful world will exist if more nations force all citizens to serve in some way for a year or two. Why? People are much less likely to buy into propaganda and fear if it is their own children entering the fray.”

    Germany had conscription in both WWI and WWII. As did Russia, France, and many other nations. Germany’s conscription was active until 2011, though its suspension is only temporary.

    1. Good point. It’s not a silver bullet. Israel today is another example. However, would Germany have been so eager to fight if it believed France or Russia to be stronger than itself? No, both times they fought because they believed in an easy, quick victory. If France, as Charles de Gaulle recommended, had trained its own vast tank corps instead of relying on the Maginot Line things would have gone differently. Countries only instigate war when they believe they can win easily, otherwise it is not worth it.

      1. My favourite line from Eddie Izzard’s “Dressed to Kill” (which this is NOT a recommendation to watch) regarding Hitler and Russia is Hitler never played Risk as a kid.. 7 guys at every turn but you can never keep Russia.

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