Would an Invasion of Iraq Be a "Just War"?

Published: 
January 13, 2003
By: 
David Smock

Summary

Ethical Analysis of War Against Iraq, Gerald Powers
  • The United States, in collaboration with others, has not only a moral right but a grave obligation to defend against mass terrorism and the threat Iraq poses. But the difficult moral issue is not mostly about ends but about how to defend the common good against such threats.
  • What is disturbing is that the Bush administration has taken the concept of preemption as an option in exceptional cases and turned it into a new doctrine about the legitimacy of the unilateral use of preventive war to deal not just with imminent threats, but with merely potential or gathering dangers. Justifying preventive war in this way would represent a sharp departure from just war norms.
  • In addition to raising strong concerns about dramatically expanding just cause to justify war against Iraq, the Catholic bishops have questioned the wisdom of acting unilaterally.
  • The burden of proof is on those who would justify war to make a convincing case that it would not result in the unintended and untoward consequences that so often accompany modern war and that could well be the result of war against Iraq.
  • Based on available information, there is no new evidence, no new precipitating event, no new threatening actions by the Iraqi government, no new reason to go to war that did not exist one, two, four, or even six years ago.
Just War and Iraq, Robert Royal
  • The global expansion of terrorism in the approach to 9/11 and since have made all previous assessments obsolete. The wrong weapons in the wrong hands can threaten people from Moscow to New York, from Capitol Hill offices to Tunisia and Bali. And we have to ask ourselves where in the contemporary world the most worrisome weapons of mass destruction are likely to come from. Baghdad is one such source.
  • I take as axiomatic that the classic conditions of jus in bello can be reasonably achieved by American military planners. And the traditional jus ad bellum principles—just cause, right intention, right authority, reasonable hope of success, and proportionality of good achieved over harm—can be met as well.
  • We might turn the usual questions the other way around: "If not Iraq, who?" and "If not now, when?" The international community can replace the use of force with the rule of law only if it is itself willing to use force when called for.
Invading Iraq: Is It Justified? George Hunsinger
  • A threat that is not clear, that is not direct, and that is not imminent cannot justify going to war. Measured by just war standards, the war proposed against Iraq fails completely of a sufficient cause. Preemptive strikes must meet a high standard of justification. Otherwise, they are acts of aggression that violate international law.
  • Just war tradition stipulates a reasonable chance of success, but the most probable outcome of an invasion of Iraq would be a long drawn-out bloody war.
  • An invasion would also wreak havoc on a civilian population already tortured by war and sanctions, clearly violating the noncombatant immunity stipulation.
Just War and a Post-Modern World, Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
  • As a postmodern, I can still use classical just war theory for several good reasons. It has the force of history and the virtue of clarity. It says "halt" to a Pax Americana and says you may not justify a first-strike attack. But this is not the time of Aquinas or Augustine; there is no orderly universe just waiting to be upheld again.
  • Ours is a symbolically convoluted world. Simplistic divisions of good and evil, religion and secularism, violence and non-violence, and us and them no longer hold. Snipers, anthrax, the economy, the prospect of war, terrorists, and tactical nukes are all good causes for anxiety. But what is causing us to feel like we have suddenly been told the floor of the room is actually built over a bottomless well is our deep suspicion that the old narratives no longer explain these irrational events. Our anxiety is that deep. The world is changing before our eyes and we cannot fundamentally explain the change away. In such a pluralistic and multi-dimensional world, just war theory may be helpful, but it is not, by any means, all the help we need.

About the Report

To contribute to the public discussion of whether the United States and its allies should invade Iraq, the U.S. Institute of Peace organized a symposium on December 17, 2002 to address the question "Would an Invasion of Iraq Be a "Just War"? To debate this question the Institute invited four experts to write papers and make presentations. The four are Gerard Powers, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Robert Royal, president of the Faith and Reason Institute; George Hunsinger, professor at Princeton Theological Seminary; and Susan Thistlethwaite, president of Chicago Theological Seminary.

This symposium served as a corollary to a symposium organized by the Institute in 1992 to address the question of whether the Gulf War met just war criteria. A summary of that discussion is contained in an Institute book written by David Smock (Religious Perspectives on War: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Attitudes Toward Force, revised edition 2002).

This report has been prepared by David Smock, director of the Religion and Peacemaking Initiative.

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policies.

January 13, 2003
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