Monday, 23 July 2012

Just War

Some thoughts on my readings for my International Ethics class. A case that was given to support just war was that of the Rwandan genocide. Genocide is an unthinkably evil act, and one that we should have a moral duty to prevent whenever possible. But does the prevention of genocide by one government justify military action? If we take "objectional moral actions" as just cause for war, then any conflict in history can arguably be justified by defence of the moral values of the aggressor. Yet at the same time, can we allow genocide to be carried out simply because the perpetrators occupy or even work for a different state to our own?

War in my view can never be jusified. So how to treat cases of genocide as in Rwanda? My answer would be to treat the perpetrators not as a state that may be invaded, but as criminals that must be stopped. UN peacekeeping forces should act not as soldiers but as the global policemen that they are intended to be, with the world as their jurisdiction. If murder is commited and the government in jurisdiction is unable or unwilling to bring the murderer to justice and prevent further crimes, then the UN must step in to protect the global citizens at risk. This intervention should not be military in nature but instead protective, seeking not to remove a genocidal government (and so engage in a protracted war with the intent of killing or disabling any supporters of the regime) but instead simply to stop the individuals concerned, as policemen do within their own jurisdictions. And just like policemen, if the UN peacekeepers encounter opposition to their attempts at preventing this genocide, and all other options are exhausted, then they may have to resort to lethal measures. These deaths however must be incidental, unavoidable and unfortunate, never a primary goal of the mission.

Those who commit genocide are killers, and those who try to stop them need not be engaging in war. Humanitarian intervention does not justify war against a government, only justice against a group or individuals.


  1. The problem is those people UN 'policemen' would seek to stop/arrest etc.. are often linked to the government of the state the genocide took place in and are therefore protected in most cases by the state at fault for not dealing with the perpetrators of genocide. With a state protecting these individuals, a simple 'arrest' is not possible, and in a state on state war the UN is not equipped to fight in. Sadly in the Int. Arena the state remains the highest power in terms of military might, and therefore states must fight, and state vs. state is war, Humanitarian or otherwise.
    Good read fellow blue floor bro :D

  2. You have a good point. Individual states are fairly effective at protecting their own. I guess I'm talking about some idealised world, in which the UN has the power to effectively police the world and treat genocidal dictators as criminals to be apprehended and tried. Ideally I wouldn't want to see any difference between a police raid on a gang headquarters and a UN raid on a dictator's palace.

    1. I'm not quite sure you have a full grasp on how a modern military works. You mention that the intervention should not be "military in nature", but rather protective. And instead of "killing or disabling any supporters of the regime" we should be arresting and acting as glorified police officers to the individual perpetrators of the crime.
      If you've ever seen the Armed Offenders Squad in action, you'll understand that there are sometimes situations where the threat is so high that force is potentially going to be part of the solution. Police use lethal force as a last resort, on what is known as the "force continuum". Lower on the continuum being "Please stop doing that", ranging through to use of non-lethal tools and finally through to use of lethal force to achieve their aims.
      When we (And when I say "We", I assume Emma has explained what I do for a living) go to war, it's because the threat level has reached a point where the use of lethal force is almost guaranteed. Downtown Auckland has a low threat level, so domestic Police are capable of handling the job. Downtown Damascus is a different threat level, and so requires different tools and tactics to do the same job. There is little difference between a police raid on a gang HQ and an international force raid on a dictator’s palace. In both instances, anybody not presenting a threat is likely to be arrested and dealt with as criminals or PoWs. Anybody presenting themselves as a threat will be engaged. We can’t just engage whoever we want because it’s open slaughter. If I kill somebody in combat, and it’s not fully justified, I will be shipped back to New Zealand and tried for murder, or possibly war crimes.
      When we go out and inflict casualties on the enemy, it’s the same kind of lethal force used by the Police. We acknowledge that there are people who are armed and motivated not only to kill us, but to hurt others. And we have to stop that. And we stop that by killing them. It’s not to be glorified. It’s not to be celebrated. Our goal is not the just kill people for the sake of it. We do it because it’s the only option left.
      There is such a thing as “Just War”. In 1942 the Australians knew they were about to be invaded by Imperial Japan, and so they fought the Japanese. There was no option there to play policeman in the jungles of the Kokoda Trail. The options were to kill and stop the Japanese force, or else they were going to invade Australia. That’s a “last resort”, and I fully support the use of the military for that purpose. It’s got to be done, because the alternative is not acceptable.
      In 1995 in Sierra Leone the RUF, under the rule of Foday Sankoh, were massacring their way to power. No Western government was willing to step into this conflict and stop the atrocities which were occurring. It ended in March 1995 when a mercenary company by the name of Executive Outcomes was hired to end the conflict. Months later they had forced the conflict to standstill, halted the atrocities and pushed both parties to the negotiating table. The alternative was not acceptable. Sadly, Executive Outcomes faced the international stigma of being “mercenaries” and they were forced to dissolve the company. Weeks later, the capital of Sierra Leone was overrun by the RUF, and the atrocities continued for years.
      Never say never, mate. It’s a tool in the toolbox. There’s a time and a place for the use of military force. But nothing good can ever come from war. However, if you neglect to use force at the right time in the right way, things can turn out a hell of a lot worse.

  3. Sorry it's taken so long to reply, busy weekend. Splitting this in half for length.

    First, I do understand the accountability of the modern military. I prefer talking about theory and principles, and so I do tend to generalise in my language. I don't mean to imply any sort of bloodthirstyness or eagerness to engage, and if that came across then I apologise.

    That said, I still hold that the military exists to apply force. While it can fulfil many roles, as peacekeeper or deterant, ultimately soldiers are trained to kill other people. I'm sure that it is every soldier's hope that they will never have to go to this extreme, and that any conflict can be solved in a less extreme way. However, killing is a soldier's ultimate resort.

    I would say that that resort is never acceptable, no matter the circumstances. I don't really want to argue the morality of killing or the importance of context. Immanuel Kant has the best argument for that in my opinion. In any case, I think that we can agree that killing people is bad, even if you hold that it can be acceptable for a greater cause.

    I would ask, what cause is greater than human life? You mention two examples, 1942 Australia and 1995 Sierra Leone. For Australia, you argue the right to self-defence, and for Sierra Leone you would justify humanitarian intervention, am I right?

    Which is worth more, national self-defence or preservation of human life? National pride is all good and well, but if it comes at a cost of thousands I don't see it being worth it. If there are no people, there is no nation. If an aggressive nation like Japan attempts an invasion, a better response in my mind than fighting back is to cooperate. Save lives. Say "you want to rule Australia? Sure. We are now citizen and subjects of Japan." Change a few flags, start teaching Japanese in school, probably a few years of military government, but ultimately in a case of complete national surrender what harm would come to the people of Australia?

    It sounds radical, but why should it? Which is more radical, giving up your national sovereignity or sacrificing thousands of lives on both sides?

    Of course, there are more sides to the coin. What if the aggressor you have just surrendered to is a tyrant? Gandhi has already shown that peaceful resistance can relieve that without resorting to war. What if the new leaders demand your participation in further expansion? Simply refuse to fight. If a whole nation the size of Australia peacefully surrenders and refuses to bear arms, what could be done to them?

  4. There's my answer to national self-defence. It's not worth it. More lives will be saved by peaceful submission than fighting back. Humanitarian intervention provides more of a problem.

    You're very right about Sierra Leone. Something should have been done. However, that something should not have been war against the state of Sierra Leone. War against a state is won by forcing that state to admit defeat, to be unable to fight, and that means attacking the people, attacking the resources, attacking the leadership. All of this causes loss of life and an increase in hardship for civilians and soldiers alike. Is it worth it for ultimate liberation from tyranny?

    Maybe. But here's another idea. Treat the RUF as criminals. They are killing people in Sierra Leone, so it is up to the police in Sierra Leone to arrest them and bring them to justice. If those police are unable or unwilling to do so, then it is the responsibility of others (UN peacekeepers, perhaps) to step in and assume that role. Not to attack Sierra Leone, but to bring the RUF to justice. If they resist arrest, then as an absolute last resort, just as on the streets of South Auckland, there may ultimately be deaths. This will be regrettable. Death, no matter who's death, is something tragic.

    Why didn't this happen? Because noone wanted to declare outright war on an uninvolved nation. But all policemen should want to serve justice on those who deserve it, no matter what borders they hide behind.

    A touch idealistic maybe, but I'm an idealistic person and I don't apologise for that. I believe that killing is wrong, it should be avoided, and that no matter what the circumstances it almost always CAN be avoided. If there is any scenario in which people do not suffer, then it is infinitely preferable to one in which people suffer, no matter what abstract ideas like national independence are lost.

  5. The problem with theory and principles is that they are exactly that. One thing I mention from time to time is that there is a growing divide between the academic world and the “real” world. We now have academics with little understanding of reality, and vice versa. It’s a problem that I’ve started noticing more and more in the past two years.

    Peaceful submission?

    No. Absolutely not.

    Allowing the Japanese to simply come ashore and take control would have been a complete and utter disaster. It is a lot more than just changing flags and your language. It would mean Australia would be under the rule of a totalitarian, ultranationalist and fascist government. Imperial Japan was a militarist state, with a secret police force known as “Kempeitai” – who were similar to the Gestapo in form and function.

    In fact, there is ample evidence that Imperial Japan was even worse in human rights offending than Nazi Germany. Imperial Japan is responsible for the deaths of over 30 million Chinese, Filipinos, Malays, Vietnamese and Indonesians. Allied POWs almost had a 30% death rate under the Japanese, compared to 4% under the Germans. Even worse, Chinese POWs were almost always summarily executed – Japan released a grand total of 56 Chinese POWs at the end of the war. I would assume you are familiar with the Shinyo Maru Incident, the Rape of Nanking and the Baatan Dead March, so I won’t even touch on some of the war crimes and atrocities committed by the Japanese Empire. A lot of it had to do with the scored earth strategy ordered by the Emperor, called the “Three Alls Policy” – Kill all. Burn all. Loot all.

    I can’t even begin to imagine how allowing Imperial Japan to take Australia and New Zealand could ever be justifiable for “preservation of human life”. It’s quite simply not. It was self defense, pure and simple. Not defense of the country. Defense of the people.

    1. A couple of things here. Firstly, the Kempeitai. The Kempeitai were effective in Japan because they were a secret police. Anyone you talked to could be a member, an enforcer, or an informant, so you couldn't talk to anyone. Would that work in occupied Australia? Not a chance. If a Japanese person comes along and says "anyone here hate our imperial overlords?" I think it would be safe to assume that no-one would be stupid enough to openly agree with them. Australians informing on other Australians? Could happen, trying to curry favour with the new government and all that. But realistically (since you do love realism) a small group of foreign nationals cannot effectively rule a much larger ethnic and cultural group through fear and intimidation.
      Even government would be difficult. In this scenario we're discussing, Japan is trying to rule over a landmass that is on the other side of the Pacific, which is filled with hostile nations. How many politicians, bureaucrats and administrators could they ship over? Not enough. In the case of total peaceful surrender, they would have no choice but to keep many Australian officials in place, as long as they toe the line.
      This is part of a bigger theme of diluted power. If you have an aggressive totalitarian empire, the easiest way to reduce its power is simply by increasing the people it must govern. You might think sure, a Japanese military force in Australia could keep the country in fear, but how large would that force have to be? While Japan is still fighting the war too. Or even better, what if every single country on earth simply said "sure Japan, you're the boss now. We are all a part of your empire." The combined population of every combatant nation in WWII (according to wikipedia at least) was around 2 billion. The Japanese population was 71 million. Lets say that every Japanese national became a policeman, a member of the ruling class enforcing the will of the government. That's still 28 "subjects" to every one "ruler." Not bad odds, but consider that most of those rulers would be women or children. Could a totalitarian policy really be maintained under those circumstance? Especially if people engaged en-mass with Gandhian peaceful resistance to unpopular laws.

      Next up, your casualties of war and the brutality of the empire. Notce you're talking about POWs. Soldiers who took up arms against Japan and then surrendered. The Japanese treated them poorly because, in their view, those who surrendered in battle had no honour. Compare that to those in Japanese culture who acknowledged the superiority of the aggressor before battle and peacefully bent the knee. Kill all, burn all and loot all is only a desirable policy when you are attempting to shock and overpower an enemy, not when you already rule over the ground you're burning.

      If a nation is attacking you, don't give them a target. Treat them like a little kid, say well done, you win, and then they have nothing left to fight. You can't stop war by making it, and you can't stop death by killing other people. That's realism.

      And speaking of theory and principles, even if I'm wrong I would rather be killed upholding my principles than survive by killing others. You can't talk about defence of the people when that means killing other people. Either way, people die.

  6. You’ve misunderstood the entire Sierra Leone situation. Nobody “went to war” with SL.

    In 1991 the RUF (Supported by Liberia’s Charles Taylor) hit the Southern regions of Sierra Leone where the diamond deposits were. Interestingly, the RUF claimed it was a civil war and they were there to oust the government – but they had zero political or ideological affiliation. They were more in line with an organized criminal group. In 1992, after the SL government failed to contain the RUF, there was a coup and a new government came into power. The new government, by 1993, had pushed the RUF back to the Liberian border. In 1995, when the RUF were again pushing into SL, the mercenary group Executive Outcomes was hired to protect Freetown and the SL government, as well as to repel the RUF. They were successful. The United Nations, being the fucks they were, forced the termination of the contract with the mercenaries. Hostilities recommenced.

    See where I’m heading with this? Nobody went to war with Sierra Leone. It was a civil war, and a criminal group was responsible for widespread atrocities across the country. The problem is – how do you arrest criminals when there’s tens of thousands of them, they’re heavily armed and you have a highly ineffective and poorly trained peacekeeping force? You can’t. Fuck theory. It’s not realistically possible, because the guys on the ground can’t do it. There are no police in SL, and the military wasn’t much better. The UN forces were 1) useless and 2) getting massacred.

    The only way anybody could stop the RUF from pillaging, raping and killing it’s way to the capital was to hire a South African pilot by the name of Neall Ellis and let him loose in the jungle to kill the RUF. There was little other option. Either kill enough RUF that they retreat, or allow them to rule the country. And it wouldn’t have been a pretty regime, either. Similar to the Imperial Japanese.

    I could go on. I understand full well there are plenty of cases where people go to war for bullshit reasons. The Falklands was a prime example (In my opinion).

    But for a large number of people, the possibility of dying on your feet is far preferable to living on your knees. A lot of conflicts right now, and in the past, involve protecting people. It’s contradictory to wage war to save lives, but if you consider than sometimes war is necessary to save further lives, it makes a bit more sense.

    It’s all good to be idealistic – but temper that with some realism once in a while. The world is an imperfect place. Sometimes there is no situation where nobody suffers – and so being 100% idealistic is going to get you into hot water pretty quickly. Especially when lives depend on it.