Monday, November 21, 2005

Is the "War on Terror" a Just War?

i rarely wax political, but this is what i've been busy with for the past few weeks now, my MA studies in Conflict and Reconciliation. 'thought to share a paper i recently did here, as it's an issue that actually goes beyond political and challenges the very foundations of how we live today--

The War on Terror/Terrorism

International terrorism has long existed before Sept. 11, 2001, and has, in fact, been documented by the U. S. Department of Defense since the beginning of the 1960s (U.S. Army, 09/09/04), but the scale and impact of Sept. 11, 2001 has prompted the U.S. Government, through its President, George W. Bush, Jr., to officially declare a “War on Terror” after the attack.

With the mastermind and financier of the Sept. 11 attack identified as Usama Bin Ladin and his al Queda group of Islamic extremists, the U.S. launched an attack on Afghanistan, believed to be the hideout of Bin Ladin, on Oct. 7, 2001 (9/11 Commission Report Executive Summary, 07/04). A year later, the ruling Taliban government of Afghanistan has been toppled and replaced by the U.S.- supported Northern Alliance, but Bin Ladin hasn’t been caught.

A year after Sept. 11, President Bush, with the support of U. K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, pushed for a pre-emptive war against Iraq, on the grounds of suspicion that Iraq was heavily building up weapons of mass destruction, and that if not stopped pre-emptively, could hand over these weapons of mass destruction to Bin Ladin and his terrorist group (Falk, 09/27/02). Today, Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein, is in jail, a U.S.-supported government is in place in Iraq, but Bin Ladin still hasn’t been found or caught.

The U.S. Defense Department reports that it has foiled many other terrorist attacks since then, because of the joint cooperation of nations in sharing intelligence information across borders. It says that this international cooperation has led to the hundreds of arrests in more than 50 countries and the detaining of around 1,100 people in the U.S., mostly of Middle Eastern origins, for immigration offenses. (BBC News, 03/04/03).

Meanwhile, issues of concern arise, which mainly spring from President Bush’s using the state of war to justify the introduction of new legislation that widens his power and strengthens law enforcement, which includes, among many—the creation of military tribunals to try suspected terrorists who are not U.S. citizens, the expansion of powers of law enforcement agencies to detain people without trial on immigration violations or on grounds that they may be material witnesses in terrorism trials, and the tightening on the release of information to the public on ongoing investigations. It also includes the power to indefinitely imprison alleged Taliban and al Qaeda fighters at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, especially those who have never taken up arms against the United States. Detainees seized in Britain, Bosnia and Zambia are among those indefinitely imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, at present (Leonnig, 12/02/04).

There is no deadline on the “War on Terror” and its boundaries are unlimited. President Bush has explicitly announced that his war on terrorism will not end until "every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated". (BBC News, op. cit.)

The Just War Theory

The Just War Theory evolved from the recognition that although there are ideal values to uphold, the realities of the real world as it is have to be contended with, too, and that there are times when it might be necessary to resort to violence to defend or pursue that which is good and valued. The thirteenth-century theologian, Thomas Aquinas, developed and refined the theory, by laying down three conditions for waging war:

1. that the decision to wage war should be made by a legitimate authority;

2. that war should be waged for a just cause; and

3. that combatants should resort to war with right intention, for the purpose of achieving peace and justice, not revenge.

Later on, other considerations were added by other scholars:

4. that the evils of war should be proportionate to the injustice to be prevented or remedied by war;

5. that the resort to war should be a last resort; and

6. there must be a reasonable hope of success. (Rigby, Coventry University)


In the light of the foregoing discussion on The War on Terror and the Just War Theory, let us examine whether the Just War Theory is relevant to justify the War on Terror:

1. The decision to wage war should be made by a legitimate authority. According to U.S. and international laws, the decision to wage war must be ratified by Congress.

The attack on Afghanistan appears to be a military sanction authorized by the U. S. President, allegedly to flush out Bin Ladin, but with the effect of toppling the Taliban and installing the Northern Alliance, without finding or capturing Bin Ladin. No Congress resolution can be found on the net authorizing the attack on Afghanistan, but then, this was a time when the “War on Terror” was not publicly bandied about yet.

The attack on Iraq was officially authorized by the U. S. Congress (Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq, 10/10/02), albeit after much debate both in and out of Congress. There is even debate now on what, exactly, the U.S. Congress specifically authorized, as the resolution appears couched in vague and inaccurate terms. For example, the October 2002 joint resolution authorized the use of force in Iraq, but it did not directly mention the removal of Hussein from power. (Milbank and Pincus, 11/12/2005)

2. The war should be waged for a just cause. According to Falk (8/27/02), in international law, a "just cause" for war can only be made under the following conditions--

To go legitimately to war in the world that currently exists can be based on three types of considerations: international law (self-defense as set forth in article 51, backed by a UN mandate as in the Gulf War), international morality (humanitarian intervention to prevent genocide or ethnic cleansing; i wonder now why the U.S. or any other super power didn't take advantage of this to wage war on the perpetrators of the genocide in Rwanda in the mid-90s, the genocide that killed around 800,000 people in just 3 months!), and necessity (the survival and fundamental interests of a state are genuinely threatened and not really covered by international law, as arguably justified the Afghanistan War).

Still according to Falk, too,--

With respect to Iraq, there is no pretense that international law supports such a war and little claim that the brutality of the Iraqi regime creates a foundation for humanitarian intervention. The Administration argument for war rests on necessity, the alleged risk posed by Iraqi acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, and the prospect that such weapons would be made available to al Qaeda for future use against the United States.

Therefore, President Bush’s “just cause” for The War on Terror, is, at best, dubious, essentially based on scanty proof (Falk, 9/27/02) that indeed, weapons of mass destruction exist in Iraq and that they will be used on the United States soon or late.

3. Combatants should resort to war with right intention, for the purpose of achieving peace and justice, not revenge.

This is still open to a lot of debate. What is right intention? What is the concept of peace and justice for the U. S., and what is it for Iraq? Is forcibly waging war on a country already economically and socially ravaged by more than ten years of U. N. punitive sanctions, on mere suspicion that it might contain weapons to attack you someday, just? Will that lead to peace? What kind of peace?

4. The evils of war should be proportionate to the injustice to be prevented or remedied by war.

Has the U.S. Congress even stopped to cautiously weigh this? Has it considered the human, social, cultural and economic costs of war in Iraq (not to mention Afghanistan) against the foreseen advantages of finding out if indeed, there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and if so, annihilating these weapons? What about the weapons of mass destruction presumably developed and stored elsewhere in the world, including the U.S.? Will not that, and the costs of war in Iraq, still cancel any foreseen advantages from destroying those in Iraq?

5. The resort to war should be a last resort.

It appears now, that the move to declare war on Iraq was hasty, and, on hindsight, even unjustified (because there were no substantial enough weapons of mass destruction found). The twin methods of deterrence and containment, which worked so well to contain a former super power like Russia, has not even been fully maximized with a small country like Iraq, which has already been ravaged by a decade of U.N. economic punitive sanctions, even.

6. There must be a reasonable hope of success.

Obviously, on hindsight, the war on Iraq was successful in the sense that it was able to topple Saddam Hussein when the U.S. only sought to find and destroy weapons of mass destruction, which it never was able to accomplish, as it did not find any.

However, the War on Terror still continues, apparently, because of President’s Bush’s pronouncements and what is actually happening in anti-terrorist operations all over the world.


The Just War Theory is still as relevant today in evaluating whether The War on Terror justifies itself, because it still springs from the same dilemma faced today—the tension between universal and global humane ideals and the demands of real global situations.

Examining The War on Terror against the light of the criteria of The Just War Theory, in fact, serves to illuminate the fact that The War on Terror is not a just war at all, and that its employed means dramatically highlight and make suspect its avowed ends of “ending terrorism all over the world” to achieve global peace, presumably. It points to other, more selfish suspicious ends, like global dominance at the cost of true peace and justice, instead.

The War on Terror has, in fact, not only been examined under the constraints of The Just War Theory in this paper, but even the constraints of international laws, and it fails both sets of criteria in more ways than it satisfies them.


MA-CRS 2005-06 Course Pack CD

Falk, Richard. “War on Iraq – Not The President’s Decision”. Sept. 27, 2002. (refer also to: articles)

___________. “Impending Constitutional Crisis: The Rush to War”. August 27, 2002. ( refer also to: articles)

Rigby, Andrew. “Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Justice”. Coventry University.

Internet Sources

“Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq”. Oct. 2, 2002.

9/11 Commission Report. Nov. 20, 2005. America’s War Against Terrorism. July 22, 2004. University of Michigan Documents Center.

BBC News. Nov. 20, 2005. “Investigating al-Qaeda: An Overview”. March 4, 2003.

Leonnig, Carol D. Nov. 20, 2005. “Judge Questions Sweep of Bush’s War on Terrorism”, Dec. 2, 2004.

Milbank, Dana and Pincus, Walter. Nov. 20, 2005. “Asterisks Dot White House’s Iraq Agreement”. Nov. 12, 2005.

U.S. Army. Nov. 20, 2005. “Timeline of Terrorism”. Sept. 9, 2004.

Post a Comment