Global Justice and War: Introduction

War is the antithesis of justice: it manifests the breakdown of just relations; it undermines the possibility of justice in relationships; it threatens the institutions of justice; it testifies to the abandonment of just goals.  In short, where peace and justice go hand in hand, war stands against them.

Yet even if those simple points seem self-evidently true, a contrary line of thought is this: sometimes war may be necessary to end injustice or even to create conditions for peace and justice. Accordingly, a long tradition of ethical thought has included reflecting on the circumstances in which it might be possible to wage a Just War.

One of the necessary conditions for justice of a war is that its aim is defence. If it has typically been nations that are thought of as participants in wars, then defence has meant self-defence on the part of a nation attacked.  Sometimes, of course, the principle of self-defence might be served by means of alliances, so there is some scope for thinking about the legitimacy of nations committing to mutual defence. A particular advantage of mutual defence – for those interested in peace and justice – is that would-be aggressors may be deterred from attacking a smaller nation if it has some more powerful allies standing behind it.

More complicated considerations arise when we ask if war can ever be justified as a pre-emptive measure.  Must a nation wait to be attacked before it can respond to an imminent threat that constitutes a ‘real and present danger’?  What if the attack is anticipated to compromise the defender’s subsequent capacity to respond after the event?  It seems hard to insist that the victim should wait until it has been incapacitated before it has a right to act. Still, criteria of just war would need to apply to its pre-emptive strike. In particular, the possibilities of averting the threat by other means ought to have been exhausted, so that a pre-emptive strike could reasonably be called a last resort.

The question of justifying pre-emptive war is one of several controversial innovations to the just war tradition of thinking in recent years.

Another is the inclusion of a whole new category of warfare.  Under the doctrine of a ‘responsibility to protect’ it is deemed legitimate to engage in warfare on a state’s territory if that state is not protecting its own citizens against ongoing grave human rights abuses. Under that doctrine, it is even seen as legitimate to attack the forces of the state itself if it is complicit in those abuses.

Such warfare is not always called war as such, for it is often referred to as humanitarian intervention. Humanitarian intervention as a general idea does not need to be thought of as military intervention: it could involve any kind of support offered to people in distress on the basis of humanitarian concern for them.  In fact, the potential additional harms to people in distress that can come from adding warfare into the mix of ills assailing them are liable to make their plight worse.

So we have the difficult situation that the criteria of Just War are relaxed – since an attack on another nation is not in defence in the traditional sense – and additional ethical questions are raised about the consequences of how the war will be waged.  For with the ad bellum requirement having been finessed, in bello considerations are rendered more complex. It is also reasonable to pay some heed to the likely aftermath.

Post-bellum considerations are not foregrounded in the traditional thinking about Just War, since that was primarily about removing harmful threats, where there is a prospect of doing so without doing a disproportionate amount of harm in the process. But there is good reason to look carefully at them in the context of humanitarian intervention. For the purpose of a humanitarian intervention is to improve a situation on the ground, where the problem on the ground is the fault of the government, whether due to being too hard on peaceable citizens or too weak against armed factions. This means that the traditional considerations about prospects of military success need to be supplemented by more serious considerations about the political prospects that will be produced.

The significance of this additional concern is all too evident from the bitter experience of so-called humanitarian support in real interventions of recent years. Those actual interventions seem to have been undertaken with shockingly scant thought to their foreseeable consequences. So much so, in fact, that there is doubt in many people’s mind as to whether improving the situation of the people living on the ground was really even the intention of the action.

Right intent is one of the core criteria of a traditionally Just War. Many members of the  public worldwide believe that neither of these conditions has been satisfied by some of the major wars and interventions of recent years. This criterion obliges us to cut directly to the chase on matters of good faith, an obligation that should be regarded with deep seriousness when the plight of an entire civilian population on the ground is at stake.

If we, the public, want – at least in principle – to hold political leaders accountable for decisions of interventionist warfare, we need to press for tangible guarantees of due diligence in the gathering and interpretation of intelligence; we need to be able to insist on appropriately exhaustive analysis of realistic scenarios to be aimed at or avoided for life after the war.  How effective we can ever expect to be in achieving our aspirations I don’t know.  I do, however, want to say something about a particular area of concern that bears on the matter of right intention.

I am going to examine reasons for ascertaining where financial interests lie in relation to warfare.  And I don’t mean solely in relation to a particular case, although I shall consider briefly some specific ones. The thesis to be explored is a more general – and more profoundly disturbing – one.  Could it be that not only particular financial interests, but the interests entrenched in the very constitution of global finance as it is today, are the drivers of the incessant warfare afflicting our fellow human beings around this biosphere?

That is the question for this blogpost: Finance, War, and the Rule of Rogue Law