Notes on the Atrocities Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...
Thursday, April 03, 2003
Part 4 - Other Thoughts If 9/11 made just war theory mutable, it became mutable for everyone, not just the US. It is a system that describes ethical behavior among nations. As the world changes and unexpected behavior emerges, the ethics of response will also change. The US has taken the lead on redefining ethics (ill-advisedly, in my judgment) in the new millennium, when aggression is committed not by nations but groups of individuals affiliated by religion or cause.
But the US’s action also unwittingly exposed something else: that we live in an age of enormous imbalance. This imbalance has existed for some years or decades (in Israel, for example), but it’s more obvious now that the cold war has ended. Just as the powerful nations look to confront terrorists or “rogue nations,” so the less powerful nations (and non-national groups) are also considering how to manage their weakness.
One of the conditions for war is the possibility of winning. In the year 2003, the rest of the world has been given a reminder that conventional war is never winnable against the United States. Because of the US’s new doctrine of unilateral pre-emption, other countries must consider that the war might be brought to them, whether they can win or not.
From this kind of imbalance—which is surely an unethical one—the just war theory will have to admit the possibility that something like attacks on civilians is ethical, if certain other conditions are met. When the President announced the policy of pre-emption and reserved for himself the decision of whether and whom to invade, did he consider that other countries would also be able to adjust their behavior in war? If the US, rather than making itself safer, actually created the environment in which terrorism is considered the only—and just—response, would it have invaded?
Things are changing. Much as the US was surprised to see stiff resistance in Iraq, it may well find that theories of war are unpredictable and changing. After this war ends, the US has its work cut out for it: to show the rest of the world that it is accountable, that it does still stand for democracy and liberty, and that it is willing to work in a collective way to defeat terrorism. Otherwise, ironically, it may actually create a world in which terrorism is the only response.