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COUNCIL ON CHRISTIAN APPROACHES TO DEFENCE AND DISARMAMENT: OPEN MEETING, 30TH MARCH 2004

 

In the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster Abbey, 18.30

 

Speaker: the President of CCADD, the Rt. Revd. Richard Harries

 

The 2004 Open Meeting was attended by about 50 people, many of whom were newcomers to CCADD.  The Chairman invited them to consider coming to forthcoming meetings, and to join CCADD as members.  He then introduced the President, who talked about ‘New Interpretations of the Just War Criteria’

 

1.      George Weigel and the political ‘charism’.

The President began by quoting George Weigel, a well-known US authority on the subject of ‘Just War’ thinking.  While agreeing with much of Weigel’s recent analysis, entitled ‘Moral Clarity in Time of War’, he registered some points of disagreement.  Weigel had been critical of the interventions of the US Bishops Conference, suggesting that these smacked of ‘clericalism’.  Authority for political and military action lay with the lay authorities, who, according to Weigel, had their own special ‘charism’.  But the speaker added a) there is a factual basis of action which is not confined to politicians, except in so far as they may have intelligence unavailable to others; and b) politicians are always liable to ‘spin’ such intelligence to suit their own case.  Some groups know things which the government does not. Certainly the clergy should preserve a due modesty in these matters, as Paul Ramsey had often insisted; and bodies such as the World Council of Churches were quite often mistaken.  Nevertheless it was right, for example, to ensure that the House of Lords was reminded of just war principles in debates on the Iraq war.  Church leaders were also citizens, and had the same rights to speak as others.  The concept of a special politicians’ ‘charism’ had rightly been dismissed by Rowan Williams in his recent lecture at the IISS.  The just war tradition is for everybody, not especially for those engaged in statecraft.

 

2.  The authority for going to war

The President then turned to the question of authority. Weigel’s cynicism about the UN was not justified, even though the Security Council is an arena of competing interests.  It is precisely from that arena that international authority comes.  Legality alone is not enough to justify war: if there is no consensus at the UN then there is no authority (other than self-defence under Article 51 of the Charter).  There was a huge difference between the cases of Kosovo and Iraq, as Sir Michael Quinlan had recently pointed out.

 

2.      Just Cause

On this subject, the speaker referred to recent work by Professor Oliver O’Donovan, and criticised it for being couched in excessively judicial terms; that is on the basis of what an ‘ideal judge’ would say.  The role of the policeman is a better analogy than that of a hypothetical judge: for the policeman arrests people on suspicion of wrongdoing rather than on the basis of objective guilt.  This is nearer to what happens on the international plane.  On pre-emptive, or preventative war, Weigel says that we cannot always wait for a state to launch its weapons before we go to war; the mere possession of (say) weapons of mass-destruction is evidence of aggressive intent, except when they are in the hands of stable states.  The speaker disagreed with this: Grotius was right to insist that the danger must be present and ready to fall upon us.  Mere probability is not enough.

 

5.      Last Resort

As Sir Michael Quinlan had said, ‘last resort’ cannot mean that every alternative to military action has already been exhausted.  It must mean choosing the least bad option; and time is not neutral.  An early use of force may be better, and less destructive, than a later.  But pace Weigel, there must always be a presumption against violence.  As Aquinas says, the prima facie case is always against war.

 

6.      Reasonable chance of success

‘Success’ must be measured in more than military terms.  Perhaps we should include in our thinking a jus post bellum.

 

Finally the speaker alluded to a thought of John Langan’s, that we should distinguish between wrong things done in war, from wicked things done in it, and invited the meeting to think about this idea.

 

DISCUSSION

 

Topics raised and points made included:

 

‘Humanitarian intervention’ and its legitimacy.

 

Aquinas insisted that those attacked must have done some actual wrong; this is relevant to the WMD issue in Iraq.

 

There must always be a very strong presumption against war, although such a case can sometimes be rebutted

 

How far does the dubious nature of Bush’s election, especially in Florida, undermine his ‘duly constituted authority’ for war?  (The speaker sympathised with this point, but said we have to accept what the US courts eventually said).

 

Comparison was suggested between Israel’s advanced level of WMD with Iraq’s low level.  Yes: but this does not invalidate UN inspections in Iraq, however flawed.

 

If the war on Iraq had had nothing to do with WMD but had been solely to promote democracy and human rights in the region, would it have been merely ‘wrong’ or also ‘wicked’? (Chair took a straw poll from the meeting on this question: a big majority thought it wicked)

 

The case for the Iraq war was not just ‘legalistic’ (Adam Roberts, Christopher Greenwood).  Were there not some good reasons in its favour?  Yes, but the speaker wondered how it would have been decided by the International Court of Justice.

 

More attention ought to be given to non-military forms of ‘security’.

 

There is plenty of disagreement within the USA itself – it is an arena of conflict.

More needs to be said beforehand about the justification for war.  Justification of WWII began with invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland: only afterwards did it turn to confront the destruction of Jews etc.

 

Is humanitarian intervention a moral imperative?  (The speaker said: Yes)

Was the Haiti intervention a good thing? (also: Yes)

 

The spokesman for the US Bishops had insisted that it was imperative to hold to high ethical standards, over against political expediency.

 

The speaker ended by reminding the meeting of Luther’s emphasis on the lay vocation, and of the church’s duty to remind people about ‘unfashionable’ wars, such as the Congo.