Replace Just War Theory with Nonviolence—What about Syria and Genocide?

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A historic conference recently wrapped up at the Vatican that addressed the continued relevance of the traditional Catholic doctrine of just war theory.

Just war theory outlines the moral requirements surrounding the decision to use force and the ethical limits on using force justly. The decision to use force requires a just cause, right intention, a reasonable probability of success, and proportionality. It must be undertaken by a legitimate authority and only as a last resort.

The Church’s criteria for the justness of the conduct during the war include: all military action must be necessary to achieve the just end, all actions are done for the right intention, the military actions demonstrate proportionality in the good achieved as compared the harm inflicted on the enemy, and innocent civilians should be protected from unnecessary harm (it is always immoral to directly and intentionally target the innocent). It is never about the ends justifying the means; the means must be as pure as the end being sought. Despite the carnage inherent in war, the Church has taught that certain moral obligations must be maintained for a war to be just.

Instead of seeking to modify this traditional Catholic doctrine, the conference pushes for an encyclical advocating for nonviolence to replace just war theory entirely. The participants at the conference argue that there is no longer such a thing as just war and “suggesting that a ‘just war’ is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict.”

Supporters of this theory claim that instead of limiting the conditions for war, just war theory has often been used to exacerbate conflict and provide a pretext for aggressive, interventionist actions. Of course, moral rules cannot be eliminated simply because they are ignored or abused at times; Church teaching explicitly rejects that type of consequentialism. Ultimately, they contend that war is not the solution to stopping conflicts of any type and that non-violent means have been used with great success throughout history to resolve conflicts and overturn oppression.

To this observer, the call to systematically dismantle just war theory when Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has viciously butchered hundreds of thousands of his own citizens and Daesh is engaging in the ruthless slaughter of thousands of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Yazidis, and other religious minorities in territories they control sounds completely out of touch with reality.    Read More


Pope Francis should win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize

Millennial at NCR WeekIn the latest Millennial at Distinctly Catholic article, Millennial editor Robert Christian writes:

Critics of the Nobel Peace Prize often note its glaring omissions, perplexing choices, and selection of those with pasts that are checkered at best. But the award has gone to many extraordinary champions of human rights and genuine peace: Martin Luther King, Jr., Lech Wałęsa, Elie Wiesel, Wangari Maathai, Shirin Ebadi, Malala Yousafzai, Liu Xiaobo, and Jody Williams are just a few of the many worthy recipients.

While Mother Teresa won the award in 1979, no pope has ever received the honor of being a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. That should change this year.

For his leadership in confronting climate change and the degradation of the environment, Pope Francis should win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. He has had a transformative impact on the public’s consciousness of the grave threats facing creation, including the growing menace of climate change. He described these threats in stark terms, saying, “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”  And with this searing critique of the status quo, he has also offered a vision of a better future: sustainable development that is rooted in respect for creation and the dignity of the human person.

You can read the full post here.


Blessed are the Peacekeepers?

In a recent speech, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power described the vital interest and critical role the United States has in peacekeeping. Power described how intrastate conflicts can displace vulnerable populations, spill across borders, destabilize neighboring countries, undermine economic progress, reverse democratization and disrupt civil society, allow criminals and repressive regimes to thrive, and open up vacuums that are filled by extremists, including interstate terrorists.

But peacekeeping is not just about American or international security, but our values. Given American power and influence, there is a responsibility to do what we can to protect some of the most vulnerable people on the planet and build a more peaceful world. Power explained:

“We do not want to live in a world where more than 9000 kids are recruited in less than a year to become child soldiers, as has happened recently in South Sudan. We don’t want to live in a world where ethnic or religious communities who lived together for decades in harmony, such as the Muslims and Christians in the Central African Republic, learn to hate and fear and demonize one another.”

Of course, the risks and burdens associated with peacekeeping should be shared by the international community, as Power explained. And those who wish to foment conflict have trouble spreading accusations of imperialist designs when peacekeeping operations include representatives of many nations, including those from the global South. The need to revitalize peacekeeping and ensure that it meets the challenges of contemporary conflict is urgent and the shared responsibility of the international community.

Power explained some of the serious challenges that must be addressed: slow troop deployment, limited mobility, keeping units fed and hydrated in remote areas, and failure to confront aggressors and protect civilians. Two-thirds of UN peacekeepers are working in active conflict areas, the highest percentage ever. They are being asked to do more than they ever have been before in a world with suicide bombers and IEDs. And too often they are under-resourced.

Peacekeeping missions are often funded by developed countries, but the troops are typically from developing countries. Power called this unsustainable and unfair. The UN and US are asking Latin American, European, and East Asian countries to contribute more troops in response to this.

Power highlighted the successes and failures of various missions. In Democratic Republic of the Congo there has been some progress, but she noted that there is still a failure to protect local people from atrocities. In hundreds of attacks, peacekeepers almost never used force to protect civilians. Peacekeeping missions must embrace the responsibility to protect these vulnerable populations.

For more than 20 years peacekeeping has been evolving, and the realities of modern conflict support that evolution. As Power explained, consent and impartiality make sense when dealing with legitimate governments and even rebel groups, but less so with extremists and brutal organizations that perpetrate crimes against humanity. Restricting peacekeepers’ use of force to pure self-defense is something that cannot be justified when genocide or other mass atrocities are occurring. As Power stated, the gap between the mandates peacekeepers are given and their ability to carry these out must be closed.

Finally, past scandals involving peacekeepers, including sexual abuse and violence, highlight the importance of enforcing the UN’s zero tolerance policy on these crimes. A strict enforcement will deny peacekeepers any sense of impunity and show vulnerable populations that peacekeepers are working for their best interests. Such a policy, combined with the reforms outlined by Samantha Power, can strengthen the ability of peacekeeping missions to protect the vulnerable and serve the common good.


Peacebuilding in the 21st Century: An Interview with Dr. Maryann Cusimano Love

This Friday, Dr. Maryann Cusimano Love will present the annual Romero Lecture at the Rutgers University Camden Campus Center. This year’s theme is “Make Us Instruments of Peace: Peace-building in the 21st Century.” Dr. Cusimano Love is associate professor of international relations at The Catholic University of America, Washington. She is an author and editor of scholarly and popular works and has penned five best-selling children’s books. Dr. Cusimano Love serves as an advisor to the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Catholic bishops, the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, and the Jesuit Refugee Services. In anticipation of her forthcoming talk, the Catholic Star Herald interviewed Dr. Cusimano Love, which we are pleased to feature below:

What do Catholics need to know about the church’s teachings on peace? 

The good news is that it is working. Peace is breaking out in the world today, in part because of the tireless efforts of the church around the world, and the impact of Catholic teaching on nonviolence, the Just War tradition (which is the foundation of all arms control agreements and efforts to limit war and protect civilians), and the emerging just peace tradition.

The challenge is that we are not bystanders to this success story; the church calls all of us to build peace. It is not somebody else’s job, or the job of soldiers and statesmen. It is our calling and commitment, as followers of the Prince of Peace. “Peace be with you” is not just a nice greeting we say to one another at Mass on Sunday. Peace is the way we are to live in the world and the gift we are to share with the world every day of the week.

Church teaching on peace continues to grow. Pope Francis calls on all baptized persons to be peacemakers, and offers his own peace plan, for how to practice deep listening and dialogue with people of different backgrounds and with whom we disagree.

Does the church bring any unique perspectives or resources to peace-building? 

The church brings three “I’s” to peacebuilding: institutions, ideas, and imagination. Our global institutions such as Catholic Relief Services bring practical assistance to people in war zones, ministering to the most vulnerable while working to end the violence. Our institutions are both local and international, providing needed leverage and resources for peacebuilding. We worship a relational God in three persons, who calls us to greater communion; these ideas inspire the ways we build peace, starting with building peaceful persons and peaceful relationships as foundations of peaceful communities. That is different from others who start with governments of states to build peace; we put people first, before the interests of governments or countries. But more powerful even than our bricks and mortar institutions, and our ideas of peace, is our religious imagination. How do people build peace who have never known peace, in places like Colombia, the Philippines, or Sudan, where violent conflicts have gone on for decades? You can only build what you can imagine, and our religious imagination allows us to imagine peace even in countries where they have never experienced it. Our sacraments of reconciliation and Communion provide powerful healing in war-torn communities, and ways to reimagine how to live as the body of Christ, even with former enemies.

You have said that working for peace can heal not only political conflicts, but also divisions within the church. Can you say more about that? 

Pope Francis is calling us away from internal church conflicts and back to our basic mission of serving God by serving others. We know how to do this, how to bridge the gap of sharp words and frayed bonds. We need to apply the practices of Catholic peace-building here at home, practices of reconciliation and participation. Principles and practices of Catholic peacebuilding have been learned at great cost in conflicts around the world, from the Philippines to Colombia. Ideas prominent in Catholic peacebuilding-participation, reconciliation, right relationship, and a long-term time horizon-stem from the principle of the sanctity of human life and dignity. To build peace, we have to be able, as John Paul Lederach, a scholar of peace-building at the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame, notes, “to imagine ourselves in a web of relationships that includes our enemies.” Pope Francis calls us to deep listening and respectful dialogue with people different from ourselves. That applies close to home in the church hall as well as to conflicts far away.

In addition to being an accomplished scholar, you have written a number of best-selling children’s books. Does this relate to your work on peace-building? 

Yes. Peace education begins at home, in the stories we share. Children are our future, and families are where children learn to be peacebuilders. Parents and children are different; we move at different paces and sometimes want different things. My children want to stay up late, and I want them to go to bed. They want to jump in mud puddles and I want them to take baths. How do we solve conflicts and differences in our families? How do we respond to our differences in love? Too often our lives are so busy, with families torn in different directions or tethered to electronics, that we can forget that the greatest gift we can give our children is our time. My children’s books celebrate family time spent together, the various ways we can respect our differences and respond with love to each other. We don’t have to go to the Congo to build peace. It starts in our own kitchens and living rooms.



American Catholics need to get serious about Syria

This week, there has been a seemingly endless stream of deeply flawed articles and statements on Syria from Catholic scholars, journalists, and leaders whose knowledge of Syria is extremely limited. Most have employed “just war pacifism,” in which just war theory is supposedly applied but inevitably leads to a pacifist position of non-intervention (or, occasionally, farcical nonviolent intervention schemes). Many liberal Catholics have adopted the libertarian tendency to assume that the most likely outcome of government action is the worst conceivable manifestation of unintended consequences. The consequences of inaction are then entirely ignored. This is not serious moral thinking on an exceptionally complex matter.

The most common request is for prayer so that dialogue can resume and a negotiated settlement can be achieved. Yet they do not describe, even in the broadest terms, what the “political solution” they propose would look like if a ceasefire and negotiations were successful. Given the current realities on the ground, would it mean Assad retaining power and bringing Islamists and others into the government? Why would Assad do this when he is content killing as many people as necessary to maintain his power? Does anyone think the rebels would agree to living under an Assad regime? Given Assad’s brutality and the radicalization of the rebels, why would anyone think a regime of this nature would support human rights and religious freedom? Alternatively, if Assad would not be included, why would he negotiate at this point, given the current military realities? The man has set children on fire in schoolyards and murders whole families in their own beds to keep his power. Is there a reasonable person on the planet who believes he would voluntarily give up power?  This is not a plan; it’s a dangerous, delusional fantasy.

And what of the international norm that states should not be permitted to use chemical weapons with impunity? Should the Church no longer believe in such norms, or just not their enforcement? The refusal to fully examine and assess the justice, particularly the proportionality, of proposed American strikes within this context is inexcusable.

A political solution is the only long-term answer for establishing a just peace in Syria, but it can only be achieved if something is done to change the military dynamics on the ground. It’s fine for the pope to be prophetic, but if American Catholics want to put forward actual policy proposals, they need to be responsible. And if they merely want to restore orderly tyranny through negotiations, they should be clear. There is no peace without justice; the word peace should only be used by those who are serious about it. Declaring one’s self a partisan for peace or anti-war is not the same as supporting the establishment of peace or ending a war that has killed over 100,000 people so far. Peacemakers are called to achieve real peace, not to advertise their own moral purity. It is essential that Catholic thinkers and leaders apply serious moral reasoning to the possible use of force by the United States. If we declare the use of force just when it isn’t, we are responsible for the increased suffering. If we declare it unjust and it isn’t, we are complicit in Assad’s crimes, for as St. Ambrose reminds us, “He who does not keep harm off a friend, if he can, is as much in fault as he who causes it.”