Pre-emption, Just War, and the Defense of World OrderGEORGE WEIGEL
Papal biographer George Weigel spent part of his career studying Catholic international relations theory, the just-war tradition and the pursuit of peace in its classic Catholic sense of "public order." Here from Zenit is George Weigel on "Getting Just-War Straight" and "Pre-emption, Just War, and the Defense of World Order".
It's important, at the outset, to understand what the just-war tradition is, and isn't. The just-war tradition is not an algebra that provides custom-made, clear-cut answers under all circumstances. Rather, it is a kind of ethical calculus, in which moral reasoning and rigorous empirical analysis are meant to work together, in order to provide guidance to public authorities on whom the responsibilities of decision-making fall.
From its beginnings in St. Augustine, just-war thinking has been based on the presumption better, the classic moral judgment that rightly-constituted public authorities have the moral duty to pursue justice even at risk to themselves and those for whom they are responsible. That is why, for example, St. Thomas Aquinas discussed just war under the broader subject of the meaning of "charity," and why the eminent Protestant theologian Paul Ramsey argued that the just-war tradition is an attempt to think through the public meaning of the commandment of love-of-neighbor. In today's international context, "justice" includes the defense of freedom (especially religious freedom), and the defense of a minimum of order in international affairs. For these are the crucial components of the peace that is possible in a fallen world.
This presumption that the pursuit of justice is a moral obligation of statecraft shapes the first set of moral criteria in the just-war tradition, which scholars call the "ius ad bellum" or "war-decision law:" Is the cause a just one? Will the war be conducted by a responsible public authority? Is there a "right intention" (which, among other things, precludes acts of vengeance or reprisal)? Is the contemplated action "proportionate:" is it appropriate to the goal (or just cause); is the good to be accomplished likely to be greater than the evil that would be suffered if nothing were done, or if the use of armed force were avoided for the sake of other types of measures? Have other remedies been tried and found wanting or are other remedies prima facie unlikely to be effective? Is there a reasonable chance of success?
It is only when these prior moral questions have been answered that the second set of just-war criteria what scholars call the "ius in bello" or "war-conduct law" come into play, logically. The positive answers to the first set of questions, the "war-decision" questions, create the moral framework for addressing the two great "war-conduct" issues: "proportionality," which requires the use of no more force than necessary to vindicate the just cause; and "discrimination," or what we today call "non-combatant immunity."
Under the moral pressures created by the threat of nuclear war, Catholic attention focused almost exclusively on "war-conduct" questions in the decades after World War II. This, in turn, led to what can only be described as an inversion of the just-war tradition: the claim, frequently encountered in both official and scholarly Catholic commentary today, that the just-war tradition "begins with a presumption against violence."
It does not. It did not begin with such a presumption historically, and it cannot begin with such a presumption theologically. For as one of America's most distinguished just-war theorists, James Turner Johnson has put it, to do this to effectively reduce the tradition to "war-conduct" questions is to put virtually the entire weight of the tradition on what are inevitably contingent judgments. This error, in turn, distorts our moral and political vision, as it did when it led many Catholic thinkers to conclude, in the 1980s, that nuclear weapons, not communist regimes, were the primary threat to peace a conclusion falsified by history in 1989.
That just war-fighting must observe the moral
principle of non-combatant immunity goes without saying. That this is the place
to begin the moral analysis is theologically muddled and unlikely to lead to wise
statecraft. If "war-conduct" judgments drive the analysis, the moral foundations
are knocked out from under the entire edifice.
Much of the opposition against U.S. military action centers on worries
about endorsing the concept of a pre-emptive strike. What does Catholic moral
teaching have to say on this matter?
ZENIT is an International News Agency based in Rome whose mission is to provide objective and professional coverage of events, documents and issues emanating from or concerning the Catholic Church for a worldwide audience, especially the media.
Reprinted with permission from Zenit - News from Rome. All rights reserved.
George Weigel, a Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Roman Catholic theologian and one of America's leading commentators on issues of religion and public life. Weigel is the author or editor of The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy, Against the Grain: Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace, Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism: A Call to Action, God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God, Letters to a Young Catholic: The Art of Mentoring, The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church, and The Truth of Catholicism: Ten Controversies Explore.
George Weigel's major study of the life, thought, and action of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (Harper Collins, 1999) was published to international acclaim in 1999, and translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Czech, Slovenian, Russian, and German. The 2001 documentary film based on the book won numerous prizes. George Weigel is a consultant on Vatican affairs for NBC News, and his weekly column, "The Catholic Difference," is syndicated to more than fifty newspapers around the United States.
Copyright © 2002 Zenit
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.