Thursday, August 29, 2013

When is it right to go to war ?

A friend asked me if I would rule out military action in all circumstances without a resolution of the UN Security Council.    Putting on on side the circumstances in which the UN Charter authorises actions without such a vote, I still don't think it is possible to rule out action ever without a UNSC motion, but yes I support the development of international law since the Second World War.  To act without such a resolution I would set the bar very high, much higher than the current situation in Syria.

The ancient Christian doctrine of the Just War is a good guide.  War is a great evil and one should only resort to it on the following conditions:
1) to overcome a greater evil
2) in a proportionate way, i.e. only as much as required to overcome the evil
3)only when there is a reasonable chance of success.

I do not believe that the military options available to respond to the conduct of Assad's regime fulfil those conditions.

Further more, as a federalist I maintain that we have a duty to build supranational structures which provide peaceful means of resolving conflict, law between nations as well as within nations.    Those who advocate the use of force need to demonstrate that they have made a serious effort to provide the world with an alternative.  To abandon steps in that direction only makes violence more likely in the future, as Bush and Blair have proved.


Jamie Rumbelow said...

And you don't believe that two years of searching for a diplomatic resolution constitute as a viable alternative? The rest of the planet has been trying to put an end to this conflict for a while now, and Assad's regime hasn't listened. Obama gave them a specific warning about chemical weapons, and they ignored it.

How can we legitimately expect anybody to pay attention to international law if we're not prepared to step in and defend it?

David said...

Jamie, already responded to your comment on Facebook but didn't see it here. Here's what I said:
there are many positions between isolationism and military intervention. In this case I looked carefully at the military options and concluded that there was a high probability that none of them would stop Assad and that some of them could make matters much worse. The failure of diplomacy does not guarantee the success of force. Federalists are far from being isolationist. Accused of being Utopian, we are actually the only people who are realistic about what is necessary to stop war. Obama was foolish to draw that red line. Assad's regime has behaved appallingly but not only with chemical weapons. Being killed by shells or missiles or napalm is just as bad. The old imperialist answer of Britain in the nineteenth century was to use force not just to intervene but then to govern and colonise. The modern American version lacks that commitment and leaves chaos behind it. I do not advocate either approach.