Thursday, December 8, 2011

Future of just war

There are only two legitimately justified grounds for going to war as far as I know currently in international law. 1. Defense from an unjust invasion or attack. 2. Humanitarian intervention (for stopping crimes such as genocide and other crimes against humanity). Both motives require high standards of proof because of the moral seriousness of war. But in the future I wouldn't be surprised if other reasons for just war are added. This is because of the nature of globalization in bringing the world "closer".

Consider pollution. I can imagine that nations in the future may go to war with each other because one nation's pollution affects a neighboring country so much that many deaths occur in the later country from such pollution. Pollution is one of those modern phenomenon that crosses national boundaries and ought not be regulated internally according to state's sovereign rights because its effects are global. 

However, if pollution affects others and those people have exhausted all diplomatic and other methods to try and stop the offending nation from harming their people through pollution, may they go to war to stop or curb it?

The issue then will be formulating just war principles in going to war in such cases such as the one here about pollution. How culpable must a country be in allowing pollution to affect people in another country for a neighboring country (or any other country seriously affected) to justly go to war to force the polluting country to comply in changes to domestic policy so that the harmful pollution is stopped or reduced? Ought economic considerations also be allowed as justification? If the pollution affects another nation's economic development by spoiling their resources but has few or not very serious health effects for the people (say because few people live near polluted areas), can that nation still justifiably go to war to stop or reduce the pollution using deadly force? 

What will the principles of just war theory be? There seems to be so much gray area that such principles will be difficult to formulate. Philosophers need disparately to apply their skills in this area in the future. Matters of such importance and difficulty ought not be left to lawyers.


  1. You should check out the articles on humanitarian interventions in the November issue of Foreign Affairs. Jon Western and Joshua S. Goldstein write a defense of how humanitarian invervention has now "improved" but Benjamin A. Valentino makes a strong case that it causes more problems and saves fewer lives than not and contrasts the cost of such an intervention and lives saved to things like vaccination programs. You would find them interesting.

  2. I'll check it out. Thanks for the heads up. The worries over humanitarian intervention can be satisfied I think with a few basic principles of just war.

    There are normally two criteria that wars waged on humanitarian interventions must satisfy in order to be just. One is consent. Two is proportionality. The standards these two criteria are set are very high to avoid unnecessary suffering.

    A just nation waging war for humanitarian grounds must satisfy consent in that it must secure reasonable evidence that the group it seeks to give humanitarian aid in war actually wants military intervention and that they understand the likely consequences of that military intervention. Granted sometimes consent cannot be directly obtained (due to a lack of access to polling the population in some isolated country, etc) but some evidence must be secured that reasonably proves consent by the warring nation.

    Secondly, the war waged must have reasonable expectations that it will satisfy proportionality constraints.

    Both criteria must be secured before a war is justified.

    Now in the case of the Iraq war in 2003, it's likely that the US failed in BOTH accounts by any standard. It's almost certain that Iraqis did not want the US to overthrow their government despite the fact that they wanted their government overthrown. Just because a people want their government overthrown does not mean they want some particular country or group to do it. They may want to do it themselves and may have good reasons to distrust US invasion and occupation of their country. Many if not most Americans may want a regime change in their own country but it would be unjust for China to use that as an excuse to invade and overthrow the US government. In any case, the US failed even in attempting to secure any form of reasonable consent.

    The US also failed proportionality constraints because the war's damage far exceeded even the tyranny of Saddam's regime. The whole country is destroyed and over a million Iraqis have lost their lives from the invasion and occupation. The vast majority of Iraqis think the war is wrong and disproportional to the benefits obtained.

    That's why I think present just war theory is correct on the humanitarian account but I also think that most wars in the last 50 years based on humanitarian grounds are unjust. The Iraq war was unjust not because it is based on humanitarian grounds (along with others) but because it failed to satisfy some criteria for just war.