Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Rony Brauman on the idea of "just war" (and the rare occasions for it in practice)

An excerpt from an interview in Harpers between Regis Meyran and Rony Brauman:

brauman: By “just wars” we mean wars ostensibly motivated primarily by humanitarian concerns, that is, the protection of civilian populations: saving a population from a famine in Somalia, an impending massacre in Kosovo, or oppression in Afghanistan. I draw a distinction between these and other wars or military operations fought in the name of security, such as the war in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2002 or in Iraq since 2013. 
meyran: Why is the idea of “just war,” in itself, a problem?
brauman: Because, while claiming to protect populations, the United Nations is rehabilitating war—when in fact it was created to prevent it. And in granting itself the right to declare war and to call it “just,” the UN is acting as both referee and player, and legalizing the conflation of judges and parties to a conflict.
I reject the very notion of just war as a contradiction in terms; war is a lie, war is hell—it can never be just. But unless I wanted to take a radical pacifist position—which I respect but do not share—I feel it necessary to understand the exceptions, that is, the situations in which war might be justified, and on what terms.
meyran: A just war is based, legally, on the “responsibility to protect”; can you explain what that phrase means?
brauman: Basically, the legitimacy of the use of force rests on the seriousness of the threat, on its being used only as a last resort, and on the proportionality of the response. There one would find, together with “reasonable chance of success,” the classic criteria for just war that have been around since Thomas Aquinas...As the political theorist Michael Walzer reminds us, “The object in war is a better state of peace”...
In a public debate on the right to intervene, political scientist Pierre Hassner cited two contradictory ideas from the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz: On one hand, no sensible person would start a war without a clear idea of what they hope to accomplish with the war and how they want to conduct it. On the other hand, because of friction, the fog of war, and changing means leading to changing objectives, no war ends as originally planned. These two ideas, synthesized by Hassner, sum up the inherent practical contradiction whenever one goes to war, whether humanitarian or not...a war’s “reasonable chances of success” are impossible to assess when the stated aims are vague and general—like democracy, women’s liberation, general well-being, and so forth...


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