Sunday, January 04, 2009

How just war theory defends

Quoting an IDF spokesman on the objectives of war in Gaza, a notorious blogger asks, “How does just war theory defend the deaths of many innocent civilians as a means to increase ‘deterrent strength’?”

Like this. According to the philosopher Brian Orend, writing in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, just war theory imposes six requirements “for any resort to war to be justified”:

(1.) Just cause.
(2.) Right intention.
(3.) Proper authority and public declaration.
(4.) Last resort.
(5.) Probability of success.
(6.) Proportionality.

Let’s take these one by one.

Just cause. Only one just cause is recognized by most philosophers: namely, to stop aggression. “An aggressor has no right not to be warred against in defence,” Orend writes, underlining every word. Hamas-controlled Gaza has struck the state of Israel with over six thousand rockets in the past three years, a violation of Israeli sovereignty and a widespread indiscriminate threat to the lives, welfare, and property of Israeli citizens. The Israeli government has a duty to protect its sovereignty and citizens, or it has forfeited its right to exist. Since the destruction of the Israeli government would be a preliminary step in the achievement of Hamas’s ultimate objective to destroy the Israeli state, Jerusalem has the moral obligation to defend its rights. Whether it really is the case that “The operation’s real purpose is to improve the standing of two politicians, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak, in impending elections” is thus irrelevant. The current government of Israel must govern its territory and citizens; not Hamas through rockets.

Right intention. “The only right intention allowed is to see the just cause for resorting to war secured and consolidated,” Orend holds. Revenge, expansion, ethnic hatred—these ulterior motives are corrupting. Last night Barak, the defense minister, was explicit about Israel’s war aims:

Our aim is to force Hamas to stop its hostile activities against Israel and Israelis from Gaza, and to bring about a significant change in the situation in southern Israel.That is, the intention is to achieve the just cause for which Israel has gone to war: namely, to stop Hamas aggression.

Proper authority and public declaration. Except for Hamas and its partisans—a not-insignificant portion of elite opinion—Israel is a legitimate state, and its government patently has the proper authority to take the state to war. What is far more telling, prior to launching attacks Israel engaged in the morally scrupulous but militarily dubious practice of “roof knocking,” warning Gazans of impending strikes by phoning them and warning them to get out. This is more of a public declaration than most countries would issue.

Last resort. All the liberal hand-wringing over the Israeli blockade of Gaza misses the point. Israel tried everything to stop the rocket attacks on its territory and citizens. The international public outcry over these attacks, which as everyone knows was far angrier and more extensive than the well-mannered and restrained demonstrations against Israeli action in Gaza, failed to stop them. Diplomacy failed to stop them. Citizens of Gaza, rising up against their government, failed to stop them. Israel faced two choices. Either abandon its territory and citizens under attack from Gaza or go to war to defend them.

Probability of success. Oddly enough, this is the requirement that gives me the most trouble. In light of its hesitant and deferential behavior in the Lebanon war of 2006, I am not confident that Israel has the will to succeed in achieving its war aims. No one doubts the IDF’s capacity to do so, however.

Proportionality. And this is the requirement that gives me the least trouble, although French President Nicolas Sarkozy was quick to accuse Israel of using disproportionate force. Proportionality is not a matter of arithmetic, placing the greater number of Palestinian Arab casualties against Israeli deaths. (And if it were a matter of arithmetic, as I suggested in an earlier post below, Israel still trails badly in the number of rocket or missile strikes.) Orend identifies a principle overlooked by those who condemn the “disproportionate force” of the IDF attacks. “A state must,” he says, “weigh the universal goods expected to result from it . . . against the universal evils expected to result, notably casualties.” The italics are his. Orend does not mean to be sweeping. He means only that the warring states must tally something more than their own benefits and costs. To justify the inevitable casualties and damage, a victory in war must secure an aim that benefits the region or even the international order.

Here is what few minds come to when thinking about the war in Gaza. As Victor Davis Hanson put it with furious exactitude, one of the parties to the war is “a constitutional state” and the other is “a murderous terrorist clique, with annhilation its aim and religous fascism its creed.” Hamas is not a legitimate governing authority; it is the sworn enemy of governing authority—that is, of secular human civilization. To remove it from power would benefit the entire world.