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Let's Go to War - A Checklist

Cordelier

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Jus ad bellum - the "right to war". What makes a war or military intervention "just"? What are the criteria that any nation should have to meet before the use of military force is justified? That's what I want to explore in this thread, especially given all of the talk lately about the possibility of intervening in the Ukraine by establishing a no-fly zone - although there's no need to limit the conversation to Ukraine. I've even brought reading material:

The US Army War College Guide to Strategy (PDF)

I'm going to be referring to Chapter 3 of that PDF, entitled "Ethical Issues in War: An Overview", by Martin L. Cook (Pgs. 19-30; 23-34 of the PDF), specifically the section entitled "The Just War Framwork", beginning on Page 23 (PDF Page 27). In that section, he identifies 7 criteria that should be met before launching a military action:

1. Just Cause

Just Cause asks for a legitimate and morally weighty reason to go to war. Once, causes like “offended honor” or religious difference were considered good reasons for war. As it has developed, just war tradition and international law have restricted greatly the kinds of reasons deemed acceptable for entering into military confrontation. The baseline standard in modern just war thinking is aggression. States are justified in going to war to respond to aggression received. Classically, this means borders have been crossed in force. Such direct attacks on the territorial integrity and political sovereignty of an internationally recognized state provide the clear case of just cause, recognized in just war and in international law (for example, in the Charter of the United Nations).

Of course there are a number of justifications for war which do not fit this classic model. Humanitarian interventions, preemptive strikes, assistance to a wronged party in an internal military conflict in a state, just to name some examples, can in some circumstances also justify use of military force, even though they do not fit the classic model of response to aggression. But the farther one departs from the baseline model of response to aggression, the more difficult and confusing the arguments become.

As one moves into these justifications, the scope for states to lie and try to justify meddling in each others affairs grows. For that reason, international law and ethics gives an especially hard look at claims of just cause other than response to aggression already received. To do
otherwise risks opening too permissive a door for states to interfere with each other’s territory and sovereignty.

2. Legitimate Authority

Legitimate authority restricts the number of agents who may authorize use of force. In the Middle Ages, for example, there was the very real problem that local lords and their private armies would engage in warfare without consulting with, let alone receiving authorization from, the national sovereign.

In the modern context, different countries will vary in their internal political structure and assign legitimate authority for issues of war and peace of different functionaries and groups. In the American context, there is the unresolved tension between the President as Commander in Chief and the authority of Congress to declare war. The present War Powers Act (viewed by all Presidents since it was enacted as unconstitutional, but not yet subjected to judicial review) has still not clarified that issue. But while one can invent a scenario where this lack of clarity would raise very real problems, in practice, so far the National Command Authority and the Congress have found pragmatic solutions in every deployment of American forces.

3. Public Declaration

The public declaration requirement has both a moral purpose and (in the American context) a legal one. The legal one refers to the issue we were just discussing: the role of Congress in declaring war. As we all know, few twentieth-century military conflicts in American history have been authorized by a formal Congressional declaration of war. While this is an important and unresolved Constitutional issue for the United States, it is not the moral point of the requirement.

The moral point is perhaps better captured as a requirement for delivery of an ultimatum before initiation of hostilities. Recall that the moral concern of just war is to make recourse to armed conflict as infrequent as possible. The requirement of a declaration or ultimatum gives a potential adversary formal notice that the issue at hand is judged serious enough to warrant the use of military force and that the nation is prepared to do so unless that issue is successfully resolved peacefully immediately.
 

Cordelier

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4. Just Intent

The just intent requirement serves to keep the war aims limited and within the context of the just cause used to authorize the war. Every conflict is subject to “mission creep.” Once hostilities commence, there is always the temptation to forget what cause warranted the use of force and to press on to achieve other purposes—purposes that, had they been offered as justifications for the use of force prior to the conflict, would have clearly been seen as unjustifiable. The just intent requirement limits war aims by keeping the mind focused on the purpose of the war. Although there are justified exceptions, the general rule is that the purpose of war is to restore the status quo ante bellum, the state of affairs that existed before the violation that provided the war’s just cause.

5. Proportionality

Proportionality is a common sense requirement that the damage done in the war should be worth it. That is to say, even if one has a just cause, it might be so costly in lives and property damage that it is better to accept the loss rather than to pay highly disproportionately to redress the issue. In practice, of course, this is a hard criterion to apply. It is a commonplace notion that leaders and nations are notoriously inaccurate at predicting the costs of conflict as things snowball out of control.

But here too, the moral point of just war criteria is to restrain war. And one important implication of that requirement is the demand for a good faith and well-informed estimate of the costs and feasibility of redressing grievances through the use of military force.

6. Last Resort

The requirement that war be the ultima ratio, the last resort, stems too from a commitment to restrict the use of force to cases of sad necessity. No matter how just the cause, and no matter how well the other criteria may be met, the last resort requirement acknowledges that the actual commencement of armed conflict crosses a decisive line. Diplomatic solutions to end conflicts, even if they are less than perfect, are preferred to military ones in most, if not all cases. This is because the costs of armed conflict in terms of money and lives are so high and because armed conflict, once begun, is inherently unpredictable.

In practical reality, judging that this criterion has been met is particularly difficult. Obviously, it cannot require that one has done every conceivable thing short of use of force: there is always more one could think to do. It has to mean doing everything that seems promising to a reasonable person. But reasonable people disagree about this. In the Gulf War, for example, many (including Colin Powell) argued that more time for sanctions and diplomacy would be preferable to initiation of armed conflict.

7. Reasonable Hope of Success

The last requirement ad bellum is reasonable hope of success. Because use of force inevitably entails loss of human life, civilian and military, it is a morally grave decision to use it. The reasonable hope criterion simply focuses thinking on the practical question: if you’re going to do all that damage and cause death, are you likely to get what you want as a result? If you’re not, if despite your best efforts it is unlikely that you’ll succeed in reversing the cause that brings you to war, then you are causing death and destruction to no purpose.

An interesting question does arise whether heroic but futile resistance is ever justified. Some have argued that the long-term welfare of a state or group may well require a memory of resistance and noble struggle, even in the face of overwhelming odds. Since the alternative is acquiescence to conquest and injustice, might it be justifiable for a group’s long-term self-understanding to be able look back and say, “at least we didn’t die like sheep”?

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So those are the 7 items on the checklist. I think they're all pretty sound and each of them forces you to look at the problem from a different angle. But if anyone disagrees with any of the items or has another they'd like to suggest, I figure what this thread is for.

Bottom line... as I suspect President Putin is finding out for himself right about now.... it's all too easy to get yourself into a military conflict, but it's another matter entirely to get yourself out of one. I figure it behooves us all to have a checklist like this to run down before we support crossing that line.
 

Checkerboard Strangler

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Bottom line... as I suspect President Putin is finding out for himself right about now.... it's all too easy to get yourself into a military conflict, but it's another matter entirely to get yourself out of one. I figure it behooves us all to have a checklist like this to run down before we support crossing that line.

I guess it turns out Putin might have been a half decent spy for all we know, but now we know he's not such great shakes as a commander in chief.
The thing that amazes me the most is, if twenty-something years ago Putin had decided instead to pursue solid moves at recreating Russia
as a more democratic nation, he may very well have moved Russia so far into the developed free world that it would have become nearly impossible
FOR said free world to present a unified front against him as they are right now.

Don't forget, we almost DID welcome Russia INTO NATO or at the very least, some were making noises about it long before Trump got in the White House,
before he even ran for office. No one held a gun to Vlad's head telling him to turn into WWE's Iron Sheik and then later, the modern day Adolf Hitler.
He's the one who decided fascism was preferable to democracy.
From a strictly business point of view, how much bang for the buck is he getting?
I say he's in the heavy MINUS territory.
 

Juin

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I believed proportionality struck me most. The caution that the cost may outweigh whatever redress one intended to tackle. I was quite a neon con when Bush Jr embarked on a campaign to overthrow the baathist tyranny and institute a democracy. I am a lot less gung ho about such matters. The Iraqis most definitely want a prosperous, stable, vibrant Jeffersonian democracy. What they got was a thousand mini Saddams at every street corner, chaos, poverty, civil wars, terrorism. They exact opposite of what they hoped for.
 

Cordelier

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I believed proportionality struck me most. The caution that the cost may outweigh whatever redress one intended to tackle. I was quite a neon con when Bush Jr embarked on a campaign to overthrow the baathist tyranny and institute a democracy. I am a lot less gung ho about such matters. The Iraqis most definitely want a prosperous, stable, vibrant Jeffersonian democracy. What they got was a thousand mini Saddams at every street corner, chaos, poverty, civil wars, terrorism. They exact opposite of what they hoped for.

Don't forget... Don Rumsfeld was WH Chief of Staff when Saigon fell in '75... and he became Ford's SecDef in the immediate aftermath. If anyone learned the lessons of Vietnam, it had to have been him... and I think the biggest lesson he learned was that by going into Vietnam with a half a million men was that it meant we were taking over the war. At the end of the day, South Vietnam was only going to survive if they could find the will to do so on their own. By taking over the war, we undercut that will. I think that's why we purposely went in there with such a small footprint... we wanted to get Saddam out, but we really didn't want to take over their country for them. Only problem with that was that after 25 years of Saddam killing off his opposition, there wasn't really anyone in a position to take over.
 
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