Father Richard Neuhaus on the Iraqi CrisisZENIT
Father Neuhaus, would the just war principles of Catholic doctrine allow for military action against Iraq?
YORK, MARCH 10, 2003
As part of its ongoing coverage of the
arguments surrounding the Mideast crisis, ZENIT spoke with Father Richard John
Neuhaus, editor in chief of First Things and president of the Institute
on Religion and Public Life.
whether there is a just cause for an attack against Iraq, many observers question
if there is enough evidence of a direct connection between Baghdad and the Sept.
11 attacks. Others doubt that there is clear evidence of an imminent attack of
a grave nature by Iraq against other countries. What do you think?
Neuhaus: First it must be said that although it appears that
military action against Iraq may be only a matter of days or weeks away
faithful Catholics are joined with the Holy Father in fervent prayer that war
may yet be avoided.
As he has said, war represents a defeat of the right
ordering of peace what St. Augustine called "tranquillitas ordinis"; in
history nothing is inevitable; and with God all things are possible.
St. Thomas Aquinas and other teachers of the just war tradition make clear, war
may sometimes be a moral duty in order to overturn injustice and protect the innocent.
The just cause in this case is the disarmament of Iraq, a cause consistently affirmed
by the Holy Father and reinforced by 17 resolutions of the Security Council.
Whether that cause can be vindicated without resort to military force, and
whether it would be wiser to wait and see what Iraq might do over a period of
months or years, are matters of prudential judgment beyond the competence of religious
In just war doctrine, the Church sets forth the principles
which it is the responsibility of government leaders to apply to specific cases
see Catechism No. 2309.
Saddam Hussein has for 11 years successfully
defied international authority. He has used and, it appears, presently possesses
and is set upon further developing weapons of mass destruction, and he has publicly
stated his support for the Sept. 11 attack and other terrorist actions.
the judgment of the U.S. and many other countries, he poses a grave and imminent
threat to America, world peace and the lives of innumerable innocents. If that
judgment is correct, the use of military force to remove that threat, in the absence
of plausible alternatives, is both justified and necessary.
government who are convinced of the correctness of that judgment would be criminally
negligent and in violation of their solemn oath to protect their people if they
did not act to remove such a threat.
As a theologian and moralist, I
have no special competence to assess the threat posed by Iraq. On the basis of
available evidence and my considered confidence in those responsible for making
the pertinent decisions, I am inclined to believe and I earnestly pray that they
will do the right thing.
Q: Strong objections have been raised to the
concept of preventive or pre-emptive uses of military force to overthrow threatening
regimes or to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Is the
use of pre-emptive force justified according to just war principles?
Neuhaus: Frequent reference to preventive or pre-emptive use of military
force, and even to "wars of choice," have only confused the present discussion.
War, if it is just, is not an option chosen but a duty imposed. In the
present circumstance, military action against Iraq by a coalition of the willing
is in response to Iraq's aggression; first against Kuwait, then in defiance of
the terms of surrender demanding its disarmament, then in support of, if not direct
participation in, acts of terrorism.
This is joined to its brutal aggression
against its own citizens, and its possession of weapons of mass destruction which
it can use or permit others to use for further aggression.
To wait until
the worst happens is to wait too long, and leaders guilty of such negligence would
rightly be held morally accountable.
In the Catholic tradition there
is, in fact, a considerable literature relevant to these questions. Augustine,
Aquinas, Francisco de Vitoria and Francisco Suarez, for example, all wrote on
prudential action in the face of aggressive threats. The absence of reference
to such recognized authorities in the current discussion among Catholics is striking.
Many voices within and outside the Church ask that the United States not go ahead
with an attack without specific U.N. authorization. Is U.N. approval just a prudential
course of action, which could in the last resort be bypassed? Or is it obligatory,
given the provisions of the U.N. charter and the growing importance of international
Father Neuhaus: Resolution
1441 of the Security Council, unanimously approved last November, demands that
Iraq immediately disarm or face the consequences. Nobody claims that Iraq has
complied, and proposals for "extended timelines" and the like appear to invite
no more than a repeat of the defiance of the past 11 years.
U.N. "authorization" is required. The larger and more interesting question is
posed by the frequently heard assertion that the U.N. is the locus of legitimate
authority in international affairs. That is asserted but it has not been argued,
certainly not in terms of Catholic doctrine regarding legitimate authority.
In view of the U.N.'s frequent hostility to the Church on family policy, population,
the sacredness of human life, and related matters, some Catholic leaders may come
to regret their exaggerated and, I believe, ill-considered statements about the
moral authority of the U.N.
Moreover, if the U.N. is not prepared to
support the enforcement of its own resolutions resolutions which it cannot
itself enforce it is likely to go the way of the old League of Nations.
The coalition led by the U.S. intends to act in support of the U.N. If
a minority on the Security Council rejects that support, the credibility and future
usefulness of the U.N. will be gravely undermined.
There is a necessary
connection between power and moral responsibility. Every nation acts and should
act in its own interest, in the hope that interests can be coordinated to serve
the common good. The U.N. has sometimes been useful toward that end. Many would
understandably regret its self-inflicted diminishment or demise.
in its absence I expect that new institutions more attuned to the nexus of power
and responsibility would emerge in order to coordinate national interests in the
service of peace, never forgetting that peace as "tranquillitas ordinis" will
always be sadly deficient short of Our Lord's return in glory.
Q: On the question of proportionality, many
fear that an attack could destabilize the Middle East and cause even greater hostility
among Muslims. Others point to the high cost that civilians might pay, due to
the precarious nature of life in Iraq. Is the United States giving sufficient
weight to these dangers?
Father Neuhaus: It
is striking that the Bush administration has addressed the Iraq crisis with very
specific reference to Catholic just war doctrine, including proportionality.
Widespread statements in parts of Europe about American inexperience and "cowboy"
impetuosity would be insulting were they not so adolescent. They are especially
unbecoming when made by distinguished prelates associated with the Holy See.
To take but the last 100 years, the record of the U.S. in combating tyranny,
defending freedom, providing humanitarian aid, motoring economic development,
and securing a modicum of world order compares very favorably with that of, for
instance, Germany, France, Russia, or Italy.
You ask about possible consequences
of military action, including Muslim reaction and civilian casualties. The simple
answer is that such consequences are unknowable and therefore unknown, except
I know that possible consequences have been considered, day and
night for many months, by competent parties. I know there is a determination to
minimize damage to innocents, and a reasoned expectation that successful action
will weaken Islamist enemies of civilization and strengthen the Muslim forces
of decency and freedom. Nobody can know for sure what will happen.
leaders should bring more to the public discussion than their fears. Nervous hand-wringing
is not a moral argument.
At this point, we should, with the Holy Father,
be on our knees in prayer that Iraq will disarm without military action. If war
comes, we must pray that a just cause prevails quickly, with minimal damage
to innocents, and with a long-term determination to help the Iraqi people then
freed from a brutal tyranny.
The Church cannot bless this military action
as though it were a Christian crusade. After the war, if there is to be a war,
the Church, and the Holy Father in particular, will be indispensable as a dialogue
partner in moving Islam away from the most ominously destructive possibilities
of a "clash of civilizations."
sum, military action in order to disarm Iraq can be morally justified in terms
of just war doctrine. Whether, in the retrospect of history, it will be viewed
as a prudent course of action, nobody can know. If such action is undertaken,
however, it seems to me that we have no moral alternative to praying that a just
cause will prevail justly. ZE03031021
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