Wednesday, December 02, 2015

A just war

The BBC has a web page which summarises what a just war is. It is so concise and simple that it's hard not to quote the whole thing, although it does leave quite a few questions unanswered - what is a "just cause"? What are "good intentions"?

The UK government is debating launching air strikes against Syria. To me, if this is to be considered engagement in war, I strongly suspect that it fails to meet the fifth criterion given on the BBC page:
  • There must be a reasonable chance of success
How do you measure "a reasonable chance of success"? What even are the success criteria?

Two of the other criteria are also matters for debate:
  • The means used must be in proportion to the end that the war seeks to achieve.
  • All other ways of resolving the problem should have been tried first.
 And two of the remaining three require proper articulation:
  • The war must be for a just cause.
  • The intention behind the war must be good.
Even assuming that the idea of a just cause is not ambiguous, what is the cause for which we would be fighting? And what is the intention, and can we at least agree that it is a good one?

Let's assume that these matters can all be addressed. We then have to look at the conduct of the war. Can we be confident that "innocent people and non-combatants" will not be harmed, if our chosen way of conducting it is by bombing? If not, then the war ceases to be just.

People have said, "what should we do, then?" Personally, I think the cause is just - namely, to attempt to protect the people who are there. But the means of fighting is wrong. If it is agreed that the cause is just, then it is hard to argue with the logic that says we actually ought to be fighting there. This cause is less ambiguous than seeking regime change in another sovereign state, regardless of how much you have come to dislike it.