Saturday, July 22, 2006

A just war

An excellent summary by John Krenson of a Christian position on current conflict in Lebanon and surrounds. As he defines it, a just war satisfies these four conditions:

1) the threat must be lasting, grave and certain; 2) other means to counter the threat are ineffective; 3) there is a likelihood of success; 4) the actions taken must be proportionate to the threat.
The first condition has been present since 1948 in varying degrees of gravity. What is significant about now is, as he notes,
the kidnappings of Israeli soldiers both by Hamas and Hezbollah demonstrated a new level of sophistication Israel has not seen before. In addition, the arms used by Hezbollah also are proving that they represent a far graver threat to Israel than they ever have before - now they can cause mass casualties within Israel itself.
This is important because it signals the heavy hands of Iran and Syria on the timing and 'quality' of the attack. It is important also because, given the involvement of those two, the potential for conflagration is so much greater.

Condition 2 is, as well, easily dealt with. It is impossible to negotiate with an adversary whose ultimate and declared aim is your annihilation. Such is the case with Hamas as much as with Hezbollah. Regarding Fatah, Krenson writes
In 1998, at the Wye River negotiations, Ehud Barak offered almost everything Yasir Arafat had long demanded from Israel and yet he turned it down. (Dennis Ross, the US ambassador to the negotiations, has said that Barak agreed to “ninety-five percent” of Arafat’s long-stated demands.)
Every concession Israel makes is seen only as a means to get more.

Personally, I have grave doubts about the third condition. The best possible outcome here would be a buffer zone in South Lebanon with Hezbollah defanged. That is going to be very difficult to achieve without the Syrians and Iranians backing it.

Condition 4, Proportionality. That's a tough one if you look only at the incident that provoked the Israeli attacks. Even a newspaper like The Daily Telegraph sees fit to run a readers' poll (scroll down) that sums up the situation thus: "Is Israel right to use force to get its soldiers released?" And a minister of state, Kim Howels, comes out with this:
"The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people. These have not been surgical strikes. And it's very very difficult I think to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used. You know, if they're chasing Hizbollah, then go for Hizbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation."
What kind of tactics would he suggest against fighters that use children as shields?

RC2 (to whom, thanks for the link to John Krenson) puts it well.
"Proportionate response" means that the damage inflicted is sufficient to a just end.In this case the just end is the neutralization of Hezbollah.

"Proportionality" thus means that Israel must limit itself to the means sufficient to accomplish that end. Nothing more --but also, please note, nothing less-- is proportional. You don't get to "retaliate" under Just War theory, you get to achieve tactical ends to defend yourself and ultimately restore peace. Peace understood not as cease-fire --anybody can have "peace" at any time by simply surrendering his natural rights to the tyrant-- but a just peace.

And may I add that, knowing that your enemy deliberately uses human shields and plants itself in population centers, if you give up the tactical element of surprise --using leaflets and loudspeakers in order to warn civilians what's coming so they can flee-- you cannot be said to be unjustly targeting civilians. That fault sits squarely on enemy shoulders.
As is often said, this is an asymmetric war. In such a war, it is not possible to fight at all (whether you are justified or not) if civilian deaths are to be absolutely excluded. The usual hysterics calling for Israel to be tried for war crimes are, in fact, calling for Israel not to defend itself.

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