Since St. Thomas Aquinas enunciated his reasoning for when and why 'just war' can be waged - and what a 'just war' is - volumes have been written about how to interpret the phrase. More reams have come out recently in view of the UN resolution authorizing a group of Western nations to enforce a 'no- fly zone' over Libya with the primary purpose of keeping Libyan leader Qaddafi from using his armed forces against the civilian population.
Qaddafi's armed might has been significantly reduced, but he is still in power, the 'no-fly' coalition is divided over their actual goals and who gets to command what, and even whether their military action can be considered war.
Nuncio in London to represent
Holy See at Libya conference
Mons. Mennini presented his credentials to Queen Elizabeth on March 2, and was honored at a welcome Mass in Westminster Cathedral.
LONDON, March 28 (SIR) - “It will be very important if the parties concerned will listen to or at least will act with the same spirit as that with which the Pontiff spoke yesterday, to ‘support even the weakest sign of openness and reconciliation between all Parties concerned in the search for peaceful, lasting and fair solutions”.
Thus spoke the apostolic nuncio to Great Britain, mgr. Antonio Mennini to SIR today, after the Vatican spokesman, father Federico Lombardi, announced that the Holy See, through Mons. Mennini, will take part in the World Conference on Libya tomorrow as an observer.
“It will be important," the Nuncio said, "for the suffering population of Libya to have security and wellbeing again and for the parties concerned to take up even the ‘weakest sign of openness and intention of reconciliation' as wished for by the Pope”.
About the option of a political solution in Libya, the Nuncio hopes that “even the so-called Italo-German project that is being rumoured about and that I have learnt about from radio and TV will be supported by the others for a shared quest, for getting out of this conflict, not just because of unpredictable consequences if it should last too long, but above all to restore security and peace to that long-suffering region”.
Commenting on Benedict XVI's words at the Angelus yesterday. Mons, Mennini said they "properly show concern for the civilian population and confirm the specific call of the Holy See, and first and foremost of the Pope, giving voice to the deepest aspirations of the human family, to find unity based on peace, justice and friendly, brotherly relations”.
In announcing the conference, the British Foreign Minister said this:
At the conference we will discuss the situation in Libya with our allies and partners and take stock of the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 (2011).
We will consider the humanitarian needs of the Libyan people and identify ways to support the people of Libya in their aspirations for a better future. A wide and inclusive range of countries will be invited, particularly from the region.
It is critical that the international community continues to take united and coordinated action in response to the unfolding crisis. The meeting will form a contact group of nations to take forward this work.
More than 40 Foreign Ministers and representatives from key regional organisations are expected to attend.
These include the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, the Chairman of the African Union Dr Jean Ping, OIC Secretary General Dr Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Prime Minister of Qatar, Foreign Ministers from key regional countries including Iraq, Jordan, UAE, and Morocco, Secretary Clinton, and Foreign Ministers from across Europe and NATO members, along with Secretary General Rasmussen. The Arab League, Lebanon and Tunisia will also be represented.
In the run-up to the Conference, the UK and others are co-ordinating closely with the key Libyan opposition figures including the Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC) which the British Foreign Office described as "a legitimate political partner and who alongside civil society leaders could help to begin a national political dialogue, leading to a representative process of transition, constitutional reform and preparation for free and fair elections".
Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicholas Sarkozy issued a joint statement today explaining the aims of the conference.
Meanwhile, here are two views on whether the current situation in Libya is a 'just war':
What does Catholic teaching
on just war say about Libya?
By Fr. Robert Barron
March 28, 2011
Why, in God’s name, are we entering a third war in the Middle East? America finds itself embroiled already in armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now we have rained missiles down on Libya.
When President Obama was asked about the Libyan incursion during a press conference in El Salvador, his answers were distressingly vague.
As to the direction of the endeavor, the President said, “NATO is meeting today…to work out the mechanisms for command and control. I expect that over the next several days you will have clarity and a meeting of the minds of all those who are participating in the process.”
One might be forgiven for wondering why greater clarity hadn’t been achieved prior to the dropping of bombs. And after assuring the gathered reporters that the mission in Libya was clearly defined as humanitarian assistance to the Libyan people and that our involvement would be a “matter of days and not weeks,” Obama admitted that as long as Gaddafi remains in power he will always pose a threat to his own people.
In other words, the mission isn’t that clearly defined and the time of our involvement is more or less open-ended.
Are we there to help the rebels? To protect innocent lives? To get rid of Gaddafi? To establish political stability in Libya? To assure that a democratic polity is established there? I’m not the least bit convinced that the administration knows, and if they don’t know, they won’t know when to declare victory and go home.
Lest this discussion move exclusively in a “political” ambit, I would like to analyze the incursion into Libya in light of the Catholic just war theory.
According to the Catholic social teaching tradition, going to war can be undertaken morally only when definite criteria are met. These are 1) declaration by a competent authority, 2) the presence of a just cause, 3) some proportion between the good to be achieved and the negativity of the war, 4) right intention on the part of those engaged in the conflict, and 5) a reasonable hope of success.
One might argue that the first criterion has been met, since the President sanctioned our involvement upon the resolution of the United Nations to offer humanitarian aid to Libya.
In regard to the second standard, things get a good deal murkier. Traditionally, legitimating causes included the repulsing of an unjust aggression against one’s nation as well as the righting of wrongs in other nations or cities.
Thus, in accord with that second specification, Thomas Aquinas said that a nation could go to war to punish a wicked king. Here we might see a ground for our pre-emptive moves against both Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qadaffi. Also, it would seem to provide a justification for sending troops into, say, Rwanda while the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocents was proceeding there without any interference.
On the other hand, the Popes of the twentieth century, taking into account the terribly destructive nature of modern warfare, have ruled out the righting of wrongs criterion and have accepted only the repulsing of unjust aggression as a legitimating cause.
In applying the third criterion to the Libya situation, a good deal of ambiguity remains. No one doubts that Gaddafi, like Saddam Hussein, is a wicked man who has done terrible things to his own people, but one might well wonder whether the employment of the blunt instrument of the American military is in proportion to the achievement of the end of removing Gaddafi?
The issue becomes even more complicated when we think of the long-term effects of invading a third Muslim country at a time when relations between our country and the Islamic world are already so strained.
This was a major concern of Pope John Paul II at the time of our invasion of Iraq in 2003: How would the American attack on Iraq affect, not only the Iraqis, but the nearly one billion Muslims around the world? [In hindsight, it seems the Iraq experience has emboldened and 'inspired' the wave of anti-dictatorship that has now swept the Arab world in a way no one had expected or predicted!]
In regard to the fourth criterion — the right intention of the belligerents — I think that we can assume the American soldiers, for the most part, are going about their work responsibly and with a sense of moral purpose and proportion.
When we apply the fifth and final criterion, we come perhaps to greatest clarity. The Catholic just war tradition teaches that a war can be legitimately waged if and only if there is a reasonable hope of success on the part of the government that authorizes the fighting.
For example, a war fought against an overwhelmingly more powerful opponent might be noble and brave, but it wouldn’t be just. But another reason for questioning the reasonable hope of success is the absence of a clearly defined mission and purpose.
As I stated above, if we don’t know precisely what it is that we’re fighting for, we cannot, even in principle, determine when and whether we’ve won.
A poorly-defined war is one that enjoys no reasonable hope of success. I believe that the strict application of this final criterion would render our action in Libya unjust.
I have found that a principle formulated by Gen. Colin Powell is both wise and congruent with the intentions of the Catholic just war tradition. Gen. Powell said that the American military should be unleashed only when three criteria are met: there is a defined objective, massive force can be brought to bear, and a clear exit strategy is in place.
If any one of these factors is missing, the blunt instrument of the military should not be used. As far as I am concerned, none of Gen. Powell’s criteria are met in the current Libyan situation.
I am not a pacifist. I do think that sometimes, in our finite and conflictual world, violence has to be used in defense of certain basic goods.
However, I believe that the criteria provided by the just war theory should be strictly rather than loosely applied. And I believe that such a strict application would rule out what our government is currently sanctioning in Libya.
The air strikes over Libya undoubtedly
meet St Thomas’s conditions for a just war
This is a risky venture: but the risk
of doing nothing was much greater
By William Oddie
Monday, 28 March 2011
Mary Kenny asks in this week’s Catholic Herald
whether St Thomas Aquinas would have backed the NATO operation to install a no-fly zone over Libya and to take “all necessary measures” to defend civilians from their own government’s bloodthirsty behaviour.
It is true that we don’t actually know what the final outcome of all this will be. But that can’t surely affect the question of the morality of this military operation, even if, as some claim, it actually, in effect, tacitly includes the ambition of “regime change” – the ousting of the Gaddafi family from power – since it is difficult to imagine how else the Libyan population is ultimately to be defended.
As for unpredictable outcomes – the question “what happens then”, which Mary says makes the NATO operation, from the point of view of “the Aquinas conditions”, borderline – they surely can’t come under the just war criteria.
There were originally only three conditions laid down by St Thomas himself:
1) The war must be started and controlled by the due authority of state or ruler – in other words, it can’t be a civil war or a rebellion. This rules out the war being waged by the Libyan rebels, but not the military intervention of the NATO forces, since that was indeed started by the due authority, not of one nation, but of the United Nations itself.
2) There must be a just cause. This wouldn’t include, say, a war for territory, but it would include the protection of a civil population, self-defence and the prevention of a worse evil. The UN resolution emphatically fulfils that condition.
3) The war must be for good, or against evil. Think what Gaddafi said when he thought his tanks were about to roll virtually unopposed into Benghazi: that he would go “from alley to alley, from house to house, from room to room” and that he would show “no mercy”. Thousands would have died. Without any doubt, the airstrikes have been against a very great evil indeed.
The Church later added two more rules, though St Thomas usually gets the credit for them (and why not?).
The first is that the conflict must be a last resort. In other words, every other option must be tried first. In this case they had been. Sanctions, diplomacy, phone calls from Tony Blair to his pal Muammar, freezing of assets, the lot. None of it had any effect. The UN military measures were not only a last resort, they were employed only at the last possible moment, just in the nick of time.
Lastly, the war must be fought proportionally. This means that more force than necessary must not be used, nor must the action kill more civilians than necessary. Enormous pains are being taken to fulfil this condition, too.
The supposed “smart bombs” they talked about in the first Gulf war (which constantly missed their targets and killed large numbers of civilians) appear to have been in the last 20 years perfected in the most remarkable way, so that tanks can be taken out surgically even inside urban areas without damage to their surroundings (special missiles are used, with a considerably reduced explosive charge).
I know that some Catholics with whom I am usually prone to agree are strongly against the whole thing. “Bang, crash, wallop,” writes Stuart Reid this week in his Charterhouse column,
“Here we go again. Which of the western allies will be the first to bomb an aspirin factory or an orphanage?… We have been in Afghanistan for almost 10 years and in Iraq for eight and all we have to show for all that innocent blood and treasure – and for all those innocent victims – is two failed states and a world that is more dangerous than ever.”
But the whole point is that we are extremely unlikely this time to bomb any orphanages. (My readers will undoubtedly hold that against me if I’m proved wrong). And this is emphatically not Afghanistan, and it is not Iraq.
Here we do not go again. There will be “no boots on the ground”, this time. That’s the most unshakeable condition of all. And as for innocent victims: this action will save them – has already saved them – in their thousands from a merciless tyrant bent on a bloody revenge.
So, here we all are, whether we like it or not. Maybe I will come to regret sticking my neck out so publicly: but I think that Parliament was right, this time, to give such overwhelming support to a military venture.
Of course, we cannot watch what is going on without great anxiety. It was risky: but there was an even greater risk in doing nothing. There is much more to be said, of course. But for the moment, perhaps, it would be better leave it at that: this is not a subject, I fear, that is going to go away soon.
While I love Pope Benedict dearly, it is difficult to see how dialog can work in the Libyan situation. Who is there to talk to? If the other side of the dialog is Qaddafi and his sons, they have already made it clear they will fight to the last Libyan, even if that means themselves!...
On the other hand, if the transitional Libyan Council in London represents the rebels who are now fighting to get to Tripoli again, then that is where dialog can begin, while everyone prays that Qaddafi somehow some time in the few days or weeks will leave the scene, and the transitional Council has a country to go home to and lead... That's a lot of if's. Let us all pray.