The concept of a “just war”

I didn’t want this to get by without commenting. Donald Sensing of One Hand Clapping posts a short primer on “Just War” theory and its application to the present situation in the Middle East, written by a friend. Very much worth reading.

In summary the conditions are

  1. The causes must be lasting, grave, and certain.
  2. Other means must be ineffective.
  3. There must be a likelihood of success.
  4. The means employed must be proportionate.

You might consider reading Thomas Aquinas’s treatise “On War”, at least the first part dealing wih justification. Aquinas is rough sledding: his format is highly formal. But he was an extremely systematic thinker and his work laid the foundation for today’s thinking on the subject.

Aquinas taught that there were three requirements for a decision to go to war (jus ad bellum) to be just:

  1. The person or persons deciding to go to war must have legitimate authority.
  2. The cause must be just.
  3. The belligerents must have rightful intention.

In my opinion Hezbollah fails on all three counts.

To my mind one of the most significant of Aquinas’s observations is:

Those who wage war justly aim at peace, and so they are not opposed to peace, except to the evil peace, which Our Lord “came not to send upon earth” (Mt. 10:34). Hence Augustine says (Ep. ad Bonif. clxxxix): “We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace.”

See also here.

Other people are reflecting on the legal and moral issues surrounding the current situation, too. Check out Marc Danziger’s post at Winds of Change on the Fourth Geneva Convention. I don’t think the reactions of the Europeans and UN officials can be understood without considering, too, the Second Protocol to the Geneval Conventions and the Additional Convention prohibiting certain conventional weapons.

The latter, in particular, although not generally ratified is probably influential in the thinking of some on the subject of proportionate force.

16 comments… add one
  • my hypothesis is that this war is the result of miscalculations by both parties.
    Hizb’ believed Israel would swap for the prisoners because they had swapped before. Israel believed they could crush hizb’ because they had crushed before.
    Both parties believed internat’l pressure would quickly force a stand off, so all damage would be limited.
    but…the world has changed.

    here is my optimal gamespace solution.

  • ha ha! in an evolutionary game, you cannot always count on a priori data.

  • I’m inclined to agree, matoko-chan. Check out Donald Sensing’s post linked in my follow-up post to this one for more on this topic.

  • do you agree with my optimal solution? the prisoner exchange is the key, i think.

  • Face-saving is another way of saying equalizing payoffs. there is payoff for everyone but Iran and Syria. if hizb’ is truly their puppet in this, Iran and Syria will try to stop them from giving up the Israeli soldiers to the leb govt.

  • I was agreeing with your observation in your first comment about miscalculation.

    I don’t see how a prisoner exchange equalizes the payoff for Israel, indeed, much of my concern and the reason for my hemming and hawing is that I don’t see a payoff for Israel in any outcome short of a futile and ever-expanding search for a total victory.

    Much of the reason for my post above (not this one, the next one) is to point out gently that, although Israel’s actions to date can be considered justified, if they either stop short of eliminating Hezbollah or expand their activities sufficiently to accomplish the end, their justification is in danger of vanishing.

  • I agree, BTW, that a likely resolution of the hostilities is a pullback by Israel and a prisoner exchange. I don’t see that as face-saving for Israel. I see that as a victory for Hezbollah.

  • errr…Israel has bitten off a lot. they may be able to “beat the living shit” out of hizb’, but they will not get the soldiers back without the exchange.
    meanwhile, inspite of what rightside spin i see, the lebanese population is increasingly angry at Israel.
    i myself do not see the value in Sameer Kuntar as a prisoner. he is not worth one israeli life, or one lebanese one.

    one of my commenters has tryed hard to explain to me the neccessity of the prisoner exchange. i cannot get my heaad around it, as hard as i try.
    but the one thing he has convinced me of is that is absolutely necessary for hizb’.
    witness nasr’ullah’s “bring the universe” speech.

  • also, what ralph peters said.
    israel has accomplished one goal, i think.
    it is clear that she cannot disengage from the west bank if it is to become another rocket launcher farm like gaza and leb.
    payoff? haniya and abbas are calling for a cease fire.

    i see a huge problem in the ME. arab players seem unable to look ahead more than one play in the gamespace. those who speculate that hizb’ is trying to draw the US and Iran into a wider war, foggeddaboutit. in a nuclear exchange syria and iran would be instantly destroyed.

  • sorry, that wasn’t clear.
    if the kidnap incident was planned by syria/iran to escalate trouble, then one outcome is thermonuclear war.
    this argues to me that this is a prisoner swap gone chaotic, because the players are not quick enough at responding to environmental changes.

    like oryx says, in my post,
    “But war, like a black hole, has its own logic, and so any thing can happen.”
    there cannot be a just war.
    in the end it boils down to evolutionary games theory.
    the strongest and cleverst will win, whether or not “right” is on their side.

  • the reason i cannot understand why nasr’ullah and my commenter, and the my israeli commenters and the israeli gov’t are so adamant about Kuntar, is that we have monsters too.
    i don’t see the prisoner exchange as a triumph for hizb’.
    the payoff for israel is greater. after all, they have already cripped up hizb’ pretty good.
    a lot of what nasr’ullah is saying is that whole, “punching above his weight”, propaganda thing.

  • ok, dave, look at this–Interviewer: Did you inform them that you were about to abduct Israeli soldiers?

    Hassan Nasrallah: I told them that we must resolve the issue of the prisoners, and that the only way to resolve it is by abducting Israeli soldiers.

    Interviewer: Did you say this clearly?

    Hassan Nasrallah: Yes, and nobody said to me: “No, you are not allowed to abduct Israeli soldiers.” Even if they had told me not to… I’m not defending myself here. I said that we would abduct Israeli soldiers in meetings with some of the main political leaders in the country. I don’t want to mention names now, but when the time comes to settle accounts, I will. They asked: “If this happens, will the issue of the prisoners be over and done with?” I said that it was logical that it would. And I’m telling you, our estimation was not mistaken. I’m not exaggerating.

    hotair, from the horse’s mouth.
    do you believe me now?

  • I agree with you (and always have) that agreeing to a prisoner exchange would be the prudent thing for the Israelis to do.

    In my view what the Israelis should have done after the initial border incident in which their soldiers were captured was fire a few rockets perfunctorily into Hezbollah positions and then negotiate a prisoner exchange.

    Unfortunately, people don’t always behave in the most prudent manner and I honestly have no idea what what the Israelis’ objectives are at this point. I’m becoming increasingly suspicious that the means that they’re employing aren’t suitable to the ends they’re trying to achieve.

  • the israelis are doing what they can, within the parameters of the gamespace.
    i think they may be a little taken aback by how far they’ve been allowed to go.
    this is an evolving game.
    frankly, i dont understand the value of Sameer Kuntar to either the israelis or hizb’.

    however, i need to apolo to you for bad manners.
    the “just war” is actually a legitimate product of the evolution of cooperation.
    i am now writing a post for gene expression on the evolution of cooperation and assymetrical warfare.

  • Apology accepted but not needed. I enjoyed the engagement.

    I’m coming more to the view that what we’re seeing has as much to do with domestic politics in Israel (particularly between factions within the government) as it does with Hezbollah.

    Another alternative I’ve been mulling over is that this may really mark the end of the Westphalian era.  It’s been embattled for some time.

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