Wednesday, December 15, 2010

War: What Is It Good For?



For most people, war is considered to be on the negative side of human behavior. Yet it can be argued that there have been more days of war then of peace throughout recorded history. For all of its destructive aspects, war influences a large part of our culture and cannot be marginalized as insignificant in the larger scope of events. However in today’s world of ever increasing globalization and the growing density of connections between people, can starting any kind of war still be necessary? Can there really be a sane reason to begin war? As William James once wrote, “If the soldier is to be good for anything as a solider, he must be exactly the opposite of a reasoning and thinking man.” The intention of this paper is to demonstrate that there is no justification to initiate war when nations are autonomous and sovereign entities.
To date, there are three major philosophical views on how to govern both the resort to just war (jus ad bellum) and the conduct of war (jus in bello). The first is called the Traditionalist theory, inherited from the past when war was seen as a proper means of foreign policy. It pays no regard to jus ad bellum, focusing only on jus in bello. It declares the moral equality of combatants allowing the unjust side permission to attack the just side and vice versa. The critic of this view, called the Revisionist theory, upholds that only the just side has the moral permissibility to attack, leaving the unjust side with no right to strike. The unjust side according to the Revisionists is always the aggressor; the only way to fight in a just war according to the theory is to be on the defensive side. So far the Revisionist theory seems to reflect on how most people feel about personal self-defense- this being that only when one’s life is threatened are they morally and legally permitted to attack that someone who is endangering them. Thus the Revisionist theory leaves no room for one to arbitrary start a war because of its strict jus ad bellum and jus in bello principles. In spite of that, the final theory of war does permit one kind of invasive attack. The attack and theory are referred to as Humanitarian Intervention. The rest of the paper will discuss and demonstrate how this is not a proper excuse to start wars when nations are self-governing units, which in turn defines what nations are- a piece of land under a single government/order.
On the surface it may seem that such a notion as humanitarian intervention (HI) is a virtuous cause worth implementing into the theory of just war. However, which kinds of cases call for HI? The general answer are cases of supreme humanitarian emergency. Some define this as threats to international peace and the exploitation of one group over another. Although this is similar to the Revisionist theory, the major difference is the addition of a third party. And this is the uniqueness of HI, it justifies third party intervention. At a glance, such a proposition evokes feelings of freedom, liberty, and the duty to spread it across the globe. Yet there is a undercurrent of uniformity which leads to questions like: what forms of governmental and political systems are deemed acceptable and how do we come to know? The problem here is if we have an international system of laws allowing HI, then a high world order is established which removes autonomy from nations by forcing them to adhere to it. Thus a uniform code of ethics, enforced by the threat of HI, removes the sovereignty of individual nations.
If nations agree to a standardized code of humanitarian conduct then what kind of independence do they posses at all? At first it might appear that enforcing such an order would not do much to affect how a nation deals with internal affairs. Nevertheless it does leave a heavy influence because when a nation is instructed in how to treat their citizens, they are also being told how to regulate their economic, political, social, and other systems; all of these spheres of interaction are major indicators of how a society functions. For instance, if a nation is told that they must provide their citizens with a specific amount of resources, that is directly manipulating their economic system; if a nation is told that their leaders must be democratically selected, their political system is immediately affected. So as one can see, the virtuous ideals upheld by HI do remove the self-authority of nations.
People in favor of HI affirm two vague methods of determining whether or not to use it. They are: Legitimacy and Proportionality. The former is based upon the illegitimacy threshold which is an arbitrary measurement of how legitimate, lawful, or rightful a nation appears to be. The issue here is what exactly constitutes lawful and unlawful action? For example, if a nation breaks out into civil war between rebels and the government, who is legitimate? Both sides may have their vices; the government may have been doing a horrible job providing resources, while the rebels may be favoring a non democratic form of government. Who should be helped here? As one can notice, the lines between what is legitimate and what is not are very fuzzy and do not lend themselves well to clear distinctions. Therefore how could one act on such indistinct foundations? Only a higher order which dissolves national sovereignty can set what kinds of groups are legitimate or not. The case of proportionality does not do a better job of offering clear ways to calculate when HI is necessary. Proportionality as a means to determine HI focuses on the impact and benefits of an intervention. It weighs the potential good of a situation with the potential bad it will produce. If the good out weighs the harm, then a green light is given for HI. The flaw in this method is the naïve belief that all the factors of harm and good can be known in their entirety beforehand. The indefinite factors will always deeply skew the initial estimate.
Another problem with HI is the factor of consent. Can the endangered population not want to be rescued? Although it may seem infeasible that one in danger would refuse help, in cases of war and money it can become a very real concern. For instance, the HI group might feel entitled to be reimbursed somehow by the rescued group. This may cause the victims themselves to decline help. Quoting Nico Krisch, “the history of humanitarian intervention is one of abuse” we can see why people can act jaded towards “helping” armies. Some argue that this is not a sufficient reason to discount HI because the people may be mistaken about the motives of a helping army. Nevertheless, the obligation created by this notion of HI can lead the polices to grow into world-wide system of ethics leading to international law and order.
If the goal of HI is to rid the world of humanitarian crises, then what is to stop the increasing list of reasons to use HI? The obligation to help increases as Jeff Mcman demonstrates, “the reasons that favor humanitarian intervention actually rise to the level of obligation far more often than we intuitively recognize” The concern can expand from helping groups from aggressors to making sure governments provide sufficient resources to their citizens. Thus because of the ever increasing sensitivity to our fellow humans because of the obligation fostered by HI, the reasons to engage in HI grow. Therefore the externalized higher order continues to expand leaving a shadow of conformity and authority over what once used to be autonomous nations, now reduced to some kind of provisional state.
Jeff Mcman mentions (2009) how HI should be carried out by a proxy group like the UN instead of any individual nation. The drawback here is how much authority does this group have over all nations? Are they self-governed, or do they work by democratic process, voted by all nations. If they are governed by all nations then the majority will always have direct control of the minority- a major cause of supreme humanitarian emergencies. If they are autonomous then the group will become a new world order/global police. As a result all nations will submit to a higher authority thereby losing their sovereignty.
Consequently, to enforce human rights is to call for a new world order higher then all nations. We need to accept the fact that imposing any ideal globally undermines the traditional understanding of a nation’s sovereignty. HI is not bad in-of-itself; yet in a world which values nations by their independence and self-sufficiency, HI does not appreciate these circumstances. For an order like HI to be obligatory, the world would have to change the essence of what is to be a nation and its relation to others countries.