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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

On The Philosophy of War

There are three philosophical positions on ethics of warfare: pacifism, realism, and just war theory. The liberal political groups are generally inclined towards pacifism or just war theory depending on their political agenda. The conservative groups reject pacifism as a utopian ideal—they are inclined towards realism but they may also espouse a just war theory in certain circumstances.

Pacifism rejects all violent actions—some extreme pacifist groups advocate peace initiatives even when the nation is under direct attack. The pacifist groups are inspired by the teachings of Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. In the time of the Soviet Union, the communist groups made use of pacifist rhetoric to create antiwar sentiments in the countries that they planned to attack. I think pacifism is an immoral doctrine because it constrains the nation from retaliating when its own interests are under attack.

The realist view entails that a nation has the right (and the moral obligation) to defend its interests. According to the realists, if need arises, the nation should go to war against an enemy power, but only after making an objective analysis of its own military power. The realists (who as I said earlier are mostly conservatives) generally believe in maintaining peace through a balance of power among the nations.

The just war theory is divided into two branches: jus ad bellum, which examines the moral and political principles for deciding whether it is just to participate in a war; and jus in bello, which seeks to ensure that the war is conducted ethically. In some cases, jus in bello seeks to constrain a nation from undertaking military action that will lead to civilian casualties in enemy territory, even if the avoidance of such military action will endanger the life of the nation’s own soldiers—this viewpoint is rejected by the conservatives.

In his 1977 book On Just and Unjust Wars, Michael Walzer, an important leftist intellectual, rejects both pacifism and realism. He says that a war can only be justified on the basis of the just war theory. He approves the Israeli military action during the Arab-Israeli Six Day War of 1967. However, the purpose of his book is to justify his opposition to the Vietnam War. He makes a number of assertions which smack of liberal pacifist thinking. For instance, he writes, “It is a crime to commit aggression”.

He also says, “Any use of force or imminent threat of force by one state against the political sovereignty or territorial integrity of another constitutes aggression and is a criminal act… Aggression justifies two kinds of violent response: a war of self-defense by the victim and a war of law enforcement by the victim and any other member of international society.” But such arguments will lead to the utopian conclusion that war is essentially a bad thing.

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