UPDATE: Just war theory v. Libya? 2nd thoughts…

UPDATE: My natural suspicion about the use of military action in Libya has been deepened by the scale of the bombing (see proportionality below), which has included more than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles and multiple attacks against Libyan infrastructure well away from the besieged civilians of Benghazi (see just cause). Add to it the discovery that most Libyan oil goes to Europe, led by France and Italy and Ireland (see right intention), and this action starts to struggle to meet just war criteria.

Less than a week into this operation, I worry that what we have is another intervention by Western colonial powers to secure the natural resources of a weaker nation. Muammar Gaddafi, like Saddam Hussen before him, may be a bad man who does cruel things and oppresses his people. But the world is filled with those kinds of people, and we aren't bombing them.

P.S. I know this is a mix of ad bello (reasons for engaging in war) and in bello (action during war), but I think both are legitimate points of exploration when judging a war unjust. For example, I think it fair to say that Afghanistan has ceased to be a just war–whether it was in the first place–because of the use of drone strikes in Pakistan alone, which have indiscriminantly killed innocents as well as militants.

ORIGINAL POST: The Afghanistan (possibly just?) and Iraq (definitely unjust) wars keep me on high alert whenever talk of further military misadventures surface, but my pacifist-leaning conscience wondered how to take the news this morning that the UN Security Council approved military action against Libyan government forces for the sake of protecting civilians in the rebel-held areas of eastern Libya.

In one sense, this military action, if it happens meets some just war criteria, depending on how you slice it:

Just cause: Defending civilians counts, but taking sides in a civil war probably does not.

Comparative justice: Fair to argue that unarmed residents of rebel held areas will suffer greater injustice than the soldiers in the Libyan army will once Western forces intervene.

Legitimate authority: Some don't think the Security Council has the authority to authorize military action, but its members do, so check.

Right intention: As long as this isn't an attempt by Western powers to secure Libyan petroleum…

Proportionality: No boots on the ground, we are promised. Famous last words, but OK, enough force to prevent aerial bombardment.

Last resort: Not sure we've gotten here yet, but it looks pretty dire, given Col. Gaddafi's threats against the whole population.

So, straight moral calculus leans in favor of military intervention in this case, though the equation neglects the inevitable slippery slope–at the same time the resolution may already have resulted in a ceasefire, though facts on the ground are in question, according to the BBC.

So, can Catholics support–for moral reasons, not geopolitical ones–military intervention in Libya?


About the author

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones is a writer living in Chicago.