So what to do with Just War doctrine when considering what transpired the other day?
In the raid that bagged Osama bin Laden, the United States sent a military team into another country without that country’s explicit authorization or involvement to conduct a military operation against a target within that country’s borders. The team accomplished its narrowly defined mission and then left, without even considering further military action against the country.
That’s still an act of war, isn’t it?
I mean, I’m with Josh: I’m happy that Osama bin Laden breathes death and destruction no more. I also pray that he saw the Light and made some act of conversion before the SEALs’ bullets entered his face after he refused to surrender, thus ending his earthly journey.
I’m also happy that pretty much every single other terrorist leader is likely a little less comfortable these days.
But what does this means from the perspective of the Just War tradition?
I’ll state right out, I believe the invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban, as well as the multi-national invasion of Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein were both justified. Part of the reason is the realities of modern, non-linear warfare.
Gone are the days when the greatest threats to a nation-state were neighboring nation-states and their infantry, canon, and cavalry. Gone are the days when wars consisted of battle lines drawn on maps, criss-crossing national boundaries, pitting war machine against war machine. We have entered an age when non-state organizations establish bases in sympathetic countries, train non-uniformed, militarized civilians, seek to acquire terrible weapons for use in non-conventional ways, and intend to wreak havoc in other countries, with no advance warning or declaration, usually against civilian targets, for ideological or sectarian reasons. That simply does not fit anywhere into the Christian Just War tradition.
And any thought that the domestic law enforcement and domestic judicial structures are the proper arena to deal with such threats is just silly. Prosecuting as a common criminal the terrorist who gets caught alive while not addressing the larger organization that produced that terrorist and many like him does nothing to uproot the problem. It’s like picking a few leaves off of a tree that threatens your house, but ignoring the drooping branch and the leaning trunk planted in your derelict—perhaps openly hostile—neighbor’s yard. International politics are Hobbesian rather than Lockean, and we best not forget that.
Now, we cannot jettison the principles of Just War doctrine in formulating our response to such acts of aggression as 9/11 (or even the bombing of the USS Cole), but it certainly calls for a consideration of what the Just War tradition can allow; how the tradition must be further developed in light of technological advances and the threat posed by such non-state aggressors. Threats that were simply unfathomable to Ambrose, Augustine, and Aquinas, but are all-too-real nowadays.
Is it really “pre-emptive war” if the despotic leader of the target nation has already committed acts of war, even if not conventional military invasion of other countries, through sponsorship of aggressive actions by international terrorist organizations, and is also known to be pursuing greater means of inflicting harm against neighbors? Or does a state of war already exist between the despotic leader and the targeted nation, even if not declared, thus taking the “pre-emptive” tag away?
Is it legitimate to topple a government known to sponsor and/or give safe harbor to international non-state aggressor organizations that have carried out aggressive actions against other countries?
Is it legitimate to send strike teams into another country with whom you are not at war—but who either lacks the political will or the ability to handle certain situations on their own—to eliminate individuals known with certainty to be responsible for acts of international aggression? This is with the explicit understanding that the strike teams mean no proximate threat to the sovereign government and will leave upon completion of the task at hand.
I don’t propose that I have the final answer, but at this point I believe all three cases are legitimate expressions of Just War in the new and continuing age of international non-state aggressor organizations that usually target civilians. I’m sure many here disagree, but it is a discussion that needs to be had.