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Duncan B. Forrester

The University of Edinburgh

Just war thinking is a rich tradition of disciplined reflection on the use of violence, coercion and force in the resolution of conflicts. It recognises that the use of violence is inherently sinful, although sometimes necessary in a fallen world, and it develops principles, standards, or criteria to moderate, control and limit the use of violence, and bring a violent confrontation to as speedy an end as possible. Many of these criteria, as we shall see, are also useful and appropriate in relation to non-violent ways of resolving disputes. Some of them, like ‘last resort’, already suggest that violence is in most circumstances inferior to other means of resolving disputes, and that there should be a predisposition towards non-violence. Just war theory as a whole tends to urge that there should as soon as possible be a return to politics or diplomacy, or other non-violent means of resolution. But it is recognised that this is not always appropriate or necessary in the short term. For example, in the early period of World War II pacifists betrayed an inability to take the measure of the evil of Nazism by their reiterated insistence at every stage of the developing war that matters could and should be resolved by immediate face-to-face negotiation. And, later on in the same war, the Allies’ insistence on unconditional surrender may well have prolonged the armed conflict unnecessarily. There is apparently a time when non-violence and negotiation can be inappropriate, or can even make the situation worse, by allowing preparations for military conflict to proceed apace unchecked.

This paper is not a re-run of the pacifist-just warrior debate, in its classic form, or as reformulated in recent time by John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas. In many ways that debate down the years has been rather misconceived, and has forced many into excessively polarised and unbalanced positions, suggesting that the alternatives are either an almost cynical ‘Christian realism’ or an absolutist pacifism. My assumption is that, without necessarily embracing either of these extremes, Christians must take social and political conflicts with the greatest seriousness and be passionate in seeking the best ways for their speedy and just resolution. Social, political and economic conflict is not always avoidable, undesirable and unnecessary. Reinhold Niebuhr was right to see social conflict as sometimes the necessary way forward to a more just situation. But the way conflicts are handled and resolved should always be of the greatest importance for Christians because it relates to the central stress in the gospel on reconciliation, and may have long-term implications for good or ill. In Ephesians 2, for instance, the overcoming of deeply entrenched hostilities and animosities, the breaking down of the ‘dividing wall of hostility’ and the making of peace is regarded as the work of Christ on the cross. Note how collective memories of victories or defeats of centuries ago have exacerbated conflicts of today in Kosovo or Northern Ireland.

The predisposition towards non-violence that I have suggested does not mean that non-violent means of conflict resolution are necessarily and always in every situation superior in a Christian moral calculus to the use of force. Sometimes non-violent measures may actually prolong conflicts and leave deep wounds – for example, Neville Chamberlain’s attempt to reach an accommodation with Hitler at Munich. But for all that, there is in the tradition of Christian thought about conflict a predisposition towards non-violent measures. But despite this there has been a steady reluctance to take non-violent and non-military methods of conflict resolution with the academic and practical seriousness that they deserve. Just war thinking can only be a part – if a central part – in a theology of conflict resolution. It itself points to the priority of non-military means. It treats the threshold of entry into violence with extreme seriousness, and the exit from violence as a doorway that should be gone through as soon as one can responsibly do so.

  1. Just War Theory and its Limitations

. In the Middle Ages, just war thinking was located squarely in a framework of Christian theological assumptions, central among which was the conviction that violence was inherently and unavoidably sinful and evil, if sometimes in a fallen world, inevitable. Christian just war thinking thus takes the sinfulness of active violence as axiomatic. In a fallen world violence may occasionally be necessary, and the responsible statesman is under an obligation to use force for self-defence. But it remains sinful, a course of action that is not to be celebrated or lauded, but something that calls for repentance. Violence because of its sinfulness and destructiveness needs to be controlled and limited. It should only be used when all other possibilities have been explored without a satisfactory resolution of the conflict. Just war thinking seeks to discipline the use of violence and confine it within as narrow limits as possible. It is an attempt to transform violence as vengeance into violence as an effective tool for the resolution of conflicts when all other possible ways forward have been tried unsuccessfully. The framework of just war theory is thus a predisposition against violence and in favour of non-violent ways of handling disputes. And beyond that it has as its telos reconciliation. The only just intention in war is ultimate reconciliation and the restoration of peace. Christians endeavour to relate the use of power and force in conflict resolution to the reconciling work of God in Christ. Violence remains theologically questionable even when exercised by a legitimate authority in a just cause, even when the various criteria of a just war are met, both ius ad bellum and ius in bello.

When this conviction as to the inherent sinfulness and undesirability of the use of force even in a just war, even in police action, is lost, just war thinking easily degenerates into the justification, even sometimes the glorification, of war, violence and force, because it is assumed that once the set criteria are met, the military action is no longer in any fundamental way questionable, deplorable and tragic, even if necessary.

The secularisation of just war thinking (which is, of course, part of natural law thought) from the seventeenth century onwards simplified the whole matter. Now the tendency was to suggest that war, or other acts of violence, were either just or unjust, and that was the end of the matter. One made careful and responsible calculations in accordance with the criteria offered by the just war tradition, and following this informed choice one’s actions should leave one with a good conscience, and certainly no need for penance.

But in actual situations of war and military conflict, such an approach is inadequate to the moral complexities and ambiguities involved. For example, I remember the case of a British general, a professional military man and a committed Christian, who spoke some years ago on a BBC television programme on ethics in warfare. In the final stages of the Second World War, he said, he had been responsible for the safe crossing of the Rhine by a large contingent of allied troops. His advice was that the only way to guarantee the security of his men was to ask the RAF to ‘take out’ the historic city of Cleves. He knew Cleves to be crowded with refugee civilians as well as German troops and command centres. He agonised as long as he was able, and finally ordered the destruction of Cleves. Cleves was flattened by blanket bombing; the crossing of the Rhine was uneventful, but certainly made a contribution to shortening the war. Yet, the general said, he still feels distress, guilt would perhaps be a better term, for the ‘taking out’ of Cleves. He believes it was necessary; just, according to the criteria of ius in bello. But it cannot be called good; rather it was something sinful but necessary, for which penance should be done. Because of his Christian faith, the general was operating instinctively with a theory of the just war which was still within a theological frame which recognised guilt and spoke also of forgiveness and reconciliation. An adequate ethic must be able to cope with the ambiguities of the ‘real world’, and respond not only to decisions but also to their aftermath. Perhaps secularisation of morals brought with it in relation to the ethics of war a narrowing and simplification which made modern secular just war ethics less capable of coping with the complexities and ambiguities of the real choices and decisions that have to be made.

One of the things that has always puzzled me about just war thinking is that, for all its predisposition against violence, its determination to control and limit the legitimate use of force, and its concern to constrain and channel vengeance, it has remarkably little to say about alternative, non-violent ways of conflict resolution and about the ethical issues that relate to transitions from violence to diplomacy and ‘normal’ politics.

This paper seeks to address in a very provisional way some ethical issues that arise in relations to three areas of conflict resolution, issues that are rarely taken up by those who operate within the parameters of traditional just war thinking. These are:

  1. Education, Nurture and the Roots of Violence
  2. Just war thinking tends to assume that the conflicts with which it is primarily concerned arise entirely or mainly out of deep-seated conflicts of interest between nations, or quasi-national groups. The roots of conflict are thus understood as structural matters, to be resolved either through patient diplomacy or political action, or by the controlled use of force. There is truth here, but just war thinking tends to neglect the deep roots in personality, psychology and group dynamics of a tendency to turn, perhaps prematurely, to violence in the hope that it might resolve matters. The potentiality of social institutions such as the family and the school to encourage peaceable resolution of conflicts and resist an easy recourse to violence is also frequently disregarded.

    The debate about the establishment by the World Council of Churches of its Programme to Overcome Violence illustrates the point I am making. The critics saw it as broad, ill-defined and over-ambitious. Thinkers like Ronald Preston rightly challenged the utopian sloganizing out of which it arose, like the Vancouver Assembly’s statement that ‘without justice for all everywhere we shall never have peace anywhere’. But the Programme, for all its excessive idealism, does endeavour to address the deep roots of violence, conflict and war in the life of nations, individuals, families and society, and indeed especially in churches. In doing this it is not taking up the classical pacifist stance, although it is influenced by the traditional peace churches whose witness is so influential in recent theology, through writers as diverse as John Milbank, Stanley Hauerwas, James McClendon and John Howard Yoder.

    If the Programme is not embraced with enthusiasm by those involved in defence policy and their traditional theological consultants, it does find grassroots support in a variety of contexts, ranging from Northern Ireland to South Africa. In the post-Cold War era we are still in great uncertainty about grand strategy, and there is much confusion about defence issues. The logic of the Cold War and nuclear deterrence seems hardly applicable to many of today’s conflicts, whereas a programme which encourages conciliation, negotiation and peaceableness at the grassroots may well have much to offer. We still have lessons to learn from Mahatma Gandhi and from Martin Luther King!

    It is a commonplace of social psychology that violence in the home makes it more likely that the children will be aggressive and prone to violence in later life. Cycles of violence often start in the domestic circle, and yet the family is the primary locale for moral education and the formation of character. In the family a child receives powerful messages and examples of the kinds of behaviour which are regarded as good and acceptable. Through being loved, we learn to love. Through being trusted we learn to trust. Through being treated reasonably and gently we learn how to handle anger, aggression and frustration. A violent family in which disagreements are met with violence, discipline is enforced with fear and children are intimidated is a breeding ground for violence in later life.

    The educational system too can entrench or undercut lines of social division and suspicion – or strengthen them. The formal content of education is not the only, or the most important, part of the total educational experience. The environment, the way the school as a community operates, the human relations, the general atmosphere, the discipline of the school, the way disputes are resolved, the behaviour towards others that is encouraged are all important and influential parts of education. Sometimes the structure of education effectively denies its content, and forms pupils and their relationships in ways which are at odds with the declared aims of the system, tacitly encouraging misunderstanding of others and an openness to violence in the settlement of disputes.

    The place of education and the public schools in the struggle about segregation in the United States is a case in point. Separate education, even if in some sense ‘equal’, even if liberal in content, powerfully reinforced segregation. The message of segregated education was the distinctness and inferiority of Blacks. In a country that was a melting pot of races and cultures, education had for long been not unreasonably regarded as a major tool of national integration, providing at least to second generation immigrants a degree of commonality of culture, language, values and character; segregated education was a moral and political anomaly which had to be removed. Social integration in the schools was seen as a prerequisite for a coherent nation, in which tolerance was regarded as a virtue, and conflicts and disagreements could be resolved without recourse to violence.

    Sooner or later, if our educational systems are to exemplify and support a moral education which centres on reconciliation, trust and tolerance, and discourages violence and aggression we have to confront segregation in our educational systems, both religious and ethnic, as well as the class segregation exemplified in private education. Schools cannot be bastions of one section of the community if they are to build trust, erode misunderstanding and encourage non-violence.

    We need an educational system which does more than inculcate the values of good citizenship and a proper patriotism. Since at least the time of Socrates, people have struggled with the question whether goodness can be taught. Socrates’s answer was that even if it is impossible to say authoritatively what goodness is, so that it cannot be packaged and sold to the pupil, true education has at its heart the moral formation of the disciple, or rather the drawing forth, or allowing to emerge, of a character and life-style which are directed towards the Good. Socrates saw education as an unending quest for the Good, involving the constant asking of critical questions. He taught his disciples to think for themselves, even to question the tradition. The tradition and the city were not holy and beyond scrutiny. The individual, he taught, is more than a citizen, and loyalty to truth and goodness should have priority over allegiance to the polis or the group. Socrates was done to death for questioning the ultimacy of the polis, and for commending higher and more fundamental values than those of the state. At his trial, Socrates declared, in words later echoed by Peter before the Sanhedrin, ‘Men of Athens, I honour and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy.’ Although he clearly was a devout man, in the words of Fustel de Coulanges, Socrates ‘founded a new religion, which was the opposite of the city religion. He was justly accused of not adoring the gods whom the state adored.’

    Socratic moral education, which has contributed so significantly to modern ideas of liberal education, is still inherently threatening to what major institutions such as the state often present as established certainties, and to the steady often unthinking loyalties on which they believe their stability to depend. Socratic education can thus contribute effectively to a deep suspicion of state sponsored violence.

    The WCC’s Programme to Overcome Violence, as is appropriate for an ecumenical initiative, puts the role of the Church in the centre of its attention as a place where people should experience reconciliation and be encouraged to seek the non-violent resolution of disagreements. Churches, in their own inner life, and in their relations to one another, should provide a model of reconciliation. Both the World Council of Churches and the Vatican have frequently spoken of the Church as the sign and sacrament of the coming unity of humankind. This is the calling of the Church, but it is painfully obvious that in many situations, especially perhaps in former dictatorships where civil society has been seriously eroded, the Church has become the guardian and expression of a rather chauvinist sense of national identity. Yet in this, as in other respects, both the Vatican and the World Council of Churches are playing an important role in summoning the churches to proclaim and to exemplify the Christian importance of reconciliation in the life of the world. Progress may be slow, but there has been progress in several areas.

  3. Transitions from Violence
  4. The transitions from armed force to non-violent means of dealing with conflicts that I wish to consider in this section are not the changes that results from a victory, but the more subtle transitions that can take place when many people discover that violence is incapable of achieving their objectives.

    I am not so much concerned with what one might call the Versailles or the Nuremberg ways of concluding a war, when in effect the victors determine the conditions for the restoration of peace, and the vanquished for a time at least are incapable of resisting the terms imposed on them by the victors. The victors seek redress, restitution, often revenge. At the Nuremberg trials justice was seen as the infliction of their just deserts upon the perpetrators of atrocities and crimes against humanity on the defeated side. But this was seen at the time as having little to do with reconciliation, forgiveness, the healing of memories and the restoration of relationships. That was regarded as a separate process.

    After the First World War the post-war settlement visited a punishment believed, by the victors, to be just upon the whole defeated population. The bitterness and recrimination which resulted fuelled the disputes which culminated in the Second World War. In neither situation was the process of the establishment of peace seen as primarily restorative, as oriented to the future, as concerned with healing relationships rather than settling past accounts. There was no easy escape from the cycle of recrimination, no healing of memories, little stress on penitence and forgiveness.

    I would like to reflect briefly on situations where neither side any longer believes it can win, and many people conclude that the continuation of military action makes the achievement of a good and happy resolution of the conflict less and less likely. The particularities of such situations vary widely, and it is difficult to generalise. But lessons can perhaps be learned from a brief discussion of two such situations in recent times – South Africa after the collapse of the apartheid regime, and Northern Ireland today.

    In South Africa they have been attempting an alternative approach to peacemaking after their apartheid past, with all its atrocities and wounds and bitterness. They are using ‘a different kind of justice’, which is restorative and healing, rooted both in Christian faith and in African tradition, and which sees justice as ‘indispensable in the initial formation of political associations’ with forgiveness as ‘an essential servant of justice’. They have been engaged in what Desmond Tutu calls ‘the difficult but ultimately rewarding path of destroying enemies by turning them into friends.’ The issues of guilt and of retribution are not avoided or disguised, but they are put within a broader frame and a fuller understanding of justice and its end. The truth must be faced and moral responsibility accepted; the attitudes of the victims towards the perpetrators must be taken into account, for reconciliation is the ultimate aim. Perpetrators as well as victims need rehabilitation and healing. Justice and reconciliation rest on truth-telling, which is in itself often healing. Villa-Vicencio explains the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission:

    Our task is to explain and to understand, making every effort to enter the mind of even the worst perpetrators - without allowing those who violate the norms of decency to escape the censure of society. Guilt rests not only with those who pull the trigger, but also with those who wink as it happens. It does, however, rest decidedly more with those who kill. The one who plots and designs death may well be more guilty than the person who pulls the trigger. The person, too terrified or even too indifferent to restrain the killer, is at the same time surely less guilty than the killer who may simply have followed orders. An appeal to superior orders or to due obedience is insufficient ground for claiming immunity - and the concern of the T[ruth and] R[econcilation] C[ommission] focuses clearly on those who gave the command to kill and those who did the killing - not on fearful bystanders or ‘passive collaborators’. It would at the same time be a betrayal of history to suggest that they alone supported the evils of apartheid and its crimes. To fail to identify the extent of the evasion of moral responsibility for the failures of the past, is to undermine the possibility of there emerging a moral fabric capable of sustaining a society within which the atrocities of the past shall never again occur.

    The Commission held hearings throughout the country under slogans such as ‘Revealing is Healing’, ‘Truth the Road to Reconciliation’, and ‘The Truth Hurts, But Silence Kills’,. inviting people to tell their stories and listen to the stories of others, for the healing of memories, for the redress of offences, for the overcoming of animosities and the lies that hostility engenders, and above all, quite consciously for reconciliation.

    An old woman tells of the disappearance of her fifteen year old son years before. She had heard he had been tortured and killed. She wanted to know what had happened, who had killed her son, and where. The only redress she asked for was to know that they were sorry. Then she could forgive and turn to the future.

    Top generals of the old Special Branch and the Army approached the Commission to enquire whether, if they accepted responsibility for a list of atrocities, killings and illegalities, there was a possibility of amnesty: a tricky question, because cheap forgiveness is no forgiveness at all, and outrages the memory of the victims. But the Commission is entrusted with the power to grant amnesty where clear penitence is expressed in a willingness to make restitution, even if largely symbolic (the dead cannot be brought back to life), and where amnesty serves for the just healing of the nation. But Archbishop Tutu is right to point out that general amnesty is amnesia rather than the healing of memories.

    The former President, Klerk, declares before the Commission: ‘The National Party is prepared to admit its many mistakes of the past and is genuinely repentant...and we have gone on our knees before God Almighty to pray for his forgiveness’. And when President Nelson Mandela visited a hearing of the Commission in Johannesburg the subject on which evidence was being given was atrocities committed by the African National Congress upon suspected dissidents in exile in Lusaka. The offences of the victors too need to be taken to the bar of justice, brought into the open, if healing and reconciliation are to be possible.

    Where did this understanding of the need for a resolution that is healing, relational, restorative come from? Informed commentators are quite clear: it is derived directly from the depths of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and finds significant affinities and resonances within African traditional culture and society. It seems therefore that theological insights have in this transition at least been important factors in enabling a relatively undisturbed move from a situation of civil war to one of reconstruction, reconciliation and community building.

    In South Africa there was an increasingly strong conviction that timing was of the essence. Back in 1986 the Kairos theologians warned against the dangers of seeking an easy and premature reconciliation which was formal and ideal rather than real. According to Terence McCaughey, ‘those who labour under the acutest sense of grievance, or who have simply suffered most, will recognise premature calls to reconciliation as a kind of impertinence.’ In South Africa many observers speak of moving from confrontation through transition to transformation – a long drawn out process, which needs to be handled with great wisdom and discernment because it is dealing with deep-seated conflicts of interest and understanding.

    In some respects the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland are similar to the conflicts about apartheid in South Africa. But the long history of oppression and injustice and the bitter memories of the past in Ireland run even deeper, and go back some five hundred years. The war in Kosovo reminds us that sufferings, defeats and violations that are many centuries old can be living political realities today, determining behaviour and responses to situations. Similarly, there are memories in Ireland that call out for healing, and which must be healed before a settlement, reconciliation and healing become possible. Timing, in situations such as this, is of the essence. There must be a kairos, an opportune moment, before trust and confidence and a new and broader, or perhaps more ambiguous, sense of identity can be built.

    At the present time there is such a kairos in Northern Ireland. This is partly because of a conviction which has spread slowly among all the main players that a lasting solution cannot be imposed by violence, and that military victory is impossible. This feeling has been strongly reinforced by a widespread weariness with the sufferings of civil war. Even the grassroots supporters of the paramilitaries appear to be insisting now that the cease-fire is observed, and that there is a move to political means of resolution of the underlying issues. The unproductive destructiveness of the violence of the Troubles is recognised by many as being a cul-de-sac. There is clearly a groundswell across both communities in favour of the approach of the Good Friday Agreement.

    The Good Friday Agreement recognises the necessity of gradualness, of the slow building of confidence between those who have been for long enemies, of the tolerance within one province of two or more types of citizenship identity. The long-term future of Northern Ireland can be left open for a prolonged period of time, on the assumption that as confidence and trust grow it may be possible to move slowly towards an agreed long-term political settlement. This gives time, for healing, for the ‘reconciliation of memories’, and for the steady gathering of support around a vision of the peaceable future of Northern Ireland. Such a vision may be articulated, commended and defended by politicians, academics, church and community leaders of integrity and imagination, such as Garrett Fitzgerald, the former Taoiseach of the Republic, John Hume, or David Trimble. Political and religious leaders, of course, cannot be simply visionaries; they need to be able to lead their people forward and retain the confidence of their constituencies of support. They must move, and move towards reconciliation, but they cannot go too fast if trust is to grow.

    Both South Africa and Northern Ireland show in striking form the continuing importance not simply of religious rhetoric, but of central religious insights in non-violent conflict resolution, as there is a move away from violence to other, less harmful ways of dealing with deep-seated conflicts.

  5. Alternative Modes of Conflict Resolution

I would like to consider in this section two alternative modes of dealing with conflicts: – Gandhi’s satyagraha, which has emphatically religious roots, and sanctions, as used against South Africa in the days of apartheid, or against Iraq today. I then want to make some brief comments on recent initiatives in ‘just peacemaking’ and conflict resolution.

Satyagraha was explained by Gandhi as follows:

It is a movement intended to replace methods of violence and a movement based entirely on truth. It is, as I have conceived it, an extension of the domestic law on the political field, and my experience has led me to the conclusion that that movement, and that alone, can rid India of the possibility of violence spreading throughout the length and breadth of the land, for the redress of grievances.

Satyagraha rests on rigorous spiritual discipline. It ‘laughs at the might of the tyrant and stultifies him by non-retaliation and non-retiral.’ It makes a sharp distinction between the evil and the evil-doer. A Satyagrahi ‘must have a living faith in God’; ‘must not harbour ill-will or bitterness’ against the evil-doer, and ‘will always try to overcome evil by good, anger by love, untruth by truth, himsa by ahimsa’. The means are believed to determine the end; violence seldom if ever leads to reconciliation.

In the Indian Independence Struggle, satyagraha operated remarkably effectively as a kind of moral blackmail of the agents of the British Raj. It was a technique of appealing to the conscience and the reason of one’s opponent by inviting suffering on oneself. The opponent, it is hoped, will be converted and become a friend and ally. The moral appeal to the heart and mind of the opponent is both more effective and more morally acceptable than the threat or exercise of violence. Satyagraha’s record of achieving independence with minimal violence and in binding together the community in the struggle so that it was not only a way of achieving independence, it was also the beginning of a process of nation-building which had great significance in the initial framing of the Republic of India after Gandhi’s death. Satyagraha also tackled, with some success, the purification of India from untouchability and the excesses of the caste system. It did not treat India as simply an innocent victim of imperialism; India roo had to be purified, disciplined and renewed if it was to be fit for independence. It is not surprising that it exercised great influence not only on the civil rights struggle in the United States, but in movements for independence throughout Africa and parts of Asia.

Yet even Gandhi himself recognised that there were situations where satyagraha could not be effective. But for all that, satyagraha should be recognised as an immensely significant non-military and non-violent way of resolving conflicts which leaves less entail of bitterness and hurt and enables reconciliation and nation-building. It is effective in some situations but not in others.

Sanctions have been much discussed and used in recent times as a non-violent or non-military way of resolving conflicts. But sanctions may mean different things, and may be used for very different purposes. Economic sanctions may be used as a way of punishing or disabling an antagonist before or after military conflict, or in support of armed action. Sanctions may be a serious way of bringing economic and political pressure to bear on an antagonist to force him to give way or compromise, or at least to come to the negotiating table. On the other hand, some sanctions are important primarily for their symbolic value, as a way of making a dramatic statement of principle. Some people suggest that sanctions are by their nature morally preferable to the use of military force, and appropriate in almost all circumstances, but this is, I think, questionable. But perhaps just war criteria may be helpful in analysing some of the moral issues that can arise in the use of sanctions.

The sanctions deployed against apartheid South Africa were of various kinds. Boycotts of South African goods were sponsored by a variety of church and anti-apartheid groups, and encouraged by a number of prominent church leaders and others within South Africa. These boycotts had rather little direct economic impact on the South African economy, but they represented a powerful expression of solidarity, and offered many opportunities for education about the realities of apartheid. The impact within South Africa of the sport and cultural boycotts was far more considerable. These, while in themselves exercising little economic or political pressure, forced many South African Whites to ask why the rest of the world was so vehement in rejecting apartheid, and assured many South African Blacks that they had much support outside South Africa.

Disinvestment and the arms embargo had more direct political and economic consequences, and it has been argued that the economic pressure on South Africa was the single most important cause for the release of Nelson Mandela and the mounting recognition that apartheid could not be sustained. It was frequently argued at the time that the main victims of economic sanctions were South African Blacks – an argument that is essentially the just war prohibition of attacks on non-combatants. The fact that sanctions were called for and supported by Black leaders such as Desmond Tutu, who argued that Blacks were willing to make sacrifices and suffer if this brought the end of apartheid closer, did not mean that questions about ‘targeting’ were redundant. But on the whole, sanctions against apartheid South Africa proved to be an effective and well targeted mode of non-military action, which kept the door to reconciliation and peace more open than it would have been if apartheid had disintegrated in face of military action internally and from outside.

The present sanctions against Iraq are, of course, of a different order. They follow a destructive military action which, in as far as it successfully achieved its stated objective by repelling aggression against Kuwait, seemed to fit ius ad bellum criteria. The Gulf War has had serious continuing impact on the Iraqi civilian population through destruction of the infrastructure. The War was less successful in achieving other, less openly stated, objectives such as removing Saddam Hussain from power, or destroying the capacity of Iraq to manufacture and use of weapons of mass destruction. Sanctions following the war are apparently aimed at objectives such as these, but have been singularly and disgracefully ineffective in achieving their objectives. In as far as their devastating effects are primarily on the civilian population they would seem to fall foul of the principles of discrimination and non-combatant immunity. Indeed sanctions against Iraq, backed up as they are by frequent air strikes in support of the non-fly zones, look like punishment of the people of Iraq rather than a responsible use of non-military means to achieve a political goal, in particular the restoration of peace in the region. If just intention means that the use of military or non-military means is only allowable to resolve a conflict and achieve peace and reconciliation, the present sanctions against Iraq seem to me to be highly questionable on moral grounds. Here sanctions are simply war carried on by other means, and perhaps without as close a moral scrutiny as armed conflict is accustomed to receive. Certainly sanctions against Iraq following its military defeat seem to be of a radically different moral order from sanctions against South Africa aimed at supporting the ending of apartheid.

It is much to be welcomed that a great deal of attention is being devoted today not only to what makes a just peace, but to ways of encouraging mediation and negotiations to resolve deep-seated disputes. Glen Stassen and his colleagues have laid down ‘Ten Practices of Just Peacemaking’, which they are testing out in situations of deeply entrenched conflict like the Balkans. In Stassen’s book, David Steele outlines ten criteria for effective ‘Co-operative Conflict Resolution’. These call for those involved to understand the perspectives and needs of their adversaries; to listen carefully before making judgements, to distinguish judgements about behaviour and actions from judgements about people or cultures; to acknowledge their own involvement in the creation of conflict; to be transparent and honest in all their dealings; to encourage partnership in problem-solving; to use force only to create space for a non-violent solution; to be willing to take risks; to support long-term solutions; and to recognise justice and peace as being correlative to one another. Such guidelines or principles have, of course, a variety of roots, in common sense, theology, and traditions of diplomacy, to name but a few. One of the more important of such roots may be Habermas’s ‘discourse ethics’, and positing of an ‘ideal speech situation’ in which consensus may be achieved, and all the participants are free to speak their minds without intimidation, constraint, fear, threat or privileged discourses. Everyone who has an interest, or something relevant to say, should be entitled to participate in the discussion

People concerned with conflict resolution who not only hear words, but listen to people carefully and critically are more likely, in dialogue with the people to whom they are attentive, to develop understandings of what peace may require in a particular context. In dialogue and in listening, relationship and community are built up and we discover together how conflicts may be resolved. According to John Forester, a planner much indebted to Habermas:

Developing the ability to listen critically is a political necessity. Listening well is a skilled performance. It is political action, not simply a matter of a friendly smile and good intentions. Without real listening, not simply hearing, we cannot have a shared, critical and evolving political life together. In listening we may still better understand, explain, and cut through the pervasive "can’t", the subtle ideological distortions we so often face, including, of course, our own misunderstandings of who we are and may yet be. Listening well, we can act to nurture dialogue and criticism, to make genuine presence possible, to question and explore all that we may yet do and yet become.

In the practice of peacemaking, Habermas’s discourse ethics can be shown to ‘work’, and only so can people be brought together and held together in a just community; because for Habermas the telos of speech and interaction is reaching understanding rather than asserting control.

David Schlosberg applies the theory of communicative action to conflict resolution in American cities. Such programmes in San Francisco are directed towards a just outcome from conflict situations through what they call ‘active listening’, aimed at deeper understanding: ‘As one participant put it, "the panel makes sure each disputant understands what the other is saying. Once there’s mutual understanding, the first hints of conciliation usually begin to emerge."’ The success rate is remarkably high: ‘For the two programmes San Francisco and Santa Cruz, once people agree to participate disputes are conciliated in a mutually agreeable manner in over 95% of the cases.’

Thus the procedures of discourse that Habermas proposes can provide a model for actual ways of achieving just outcomes from real conflict situations. Schlosberg’s other case, of non-violent action in social agitation, suggests that these methods may be appropriate in wider circles than in face-to-face relationships. Leonard’s examples see the approach of communicative action for justice as effective in broad social movements, mainly of critique and protest. Peacemaking should be a participative affair. At this point Habermas and the principle of subsidiarity in Roman Catholic social teaching point in the same direction. But just as the act of communication has implicit in it the telos of consensus and community, so Habermas’s account holds up the utopian hope of a broad community in which people attend to one another’s feelings and listen to what they are saying and what they are afraid to say. Justice is what holds people freely and peaceably together in community; lurking in Habermas’s account of the ideal speech situation is the hope of a reconciled community in which relationships are just and loving.



What has theology to say about non-military means of conflict resolution? The first and most emphatic point is to reaffirm the traditional predisposition against the use of violence, while recognising with regret that in some circumstances the controlled use of force is the only way of dealing with evil. There is, next, the recognition that many of the limitations and constraints put by the tradition of just war thinking are in fact necessary also for all forms of non-military action to resolve conflicts. Non-military actions, like wars, can have diffuse or questionable objectives, have little likelihood of success, can have devastating effects on the civilian population, can easily go out of control and escalate into violence, or can be vindictive and vengeful.

That is why the controlling emphasis on the goal of reconciliation, the restoration of peace, and the building of community are so vitally important. The means used should be co-ordinated with this goal, which comes straight from the heart of the theological tradition, and is one of the distinctive gifts that Christianity has to offer in a world that is full of difficult conflicts, hard to resolve.


DBF/03 September 2000