The Authority to Wage War

Review of Anthony F. Lang, Cian O’Driscoll, and John Williams, Just War: Authority, Tradition, and Practice (Georgetown University Press, 2013), viii + 328 pgs..

President Obama mentioned the concept of “just war” four times in his December 2009 Nobel Peace Prize address in Oslo, Norway. He introduced the concept thusly:

War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man.  At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease—the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences. And over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers and clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war.  The concept of a “just war” emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met:  if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

The president immediately went on to say that “we know that for most of history, this concept of ‘just war’ was rarely observed.” He stated that “no Holy War can ever be a just war.” He also remarked that the challenges to the problems of war “will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.”

That someone who was the “Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars” and “responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land” could be awarded a “peace prize” in the first place is ludicrous. Nevertheless, “it was in light of these remarks” that the editors and contributors to Just War: Authority, Tradition, and Practice met in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2010 “to discuss the current state of play and future prospects” of the “just war” tradition in “an interdisciplinary workshop.” Except for two of them, the papers delivered at the workshop, which was “both funded and hosted by the US Institute of Peace,” make up the essays in Just War: Authority, Tradition, and Practice.

The sixteen essays in the book are organized into three parts: The Practice of Authority (8 essays), Authority in Practice (6 essays), and The Triumph of Just War? (2 essays). They are preceded by a preface and an introduction and followed by a conclusion. There are notes at the end of each chapter (and the introduction and conclusion) and a detailed index. War, Empire, and the M... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $16.00 Buy New $9.95 (as of 05:50 EDT - Details)

The editors of Just War: Authority, Tradition, and Practice are Anthony F. Lang, a reader in the School of International Relations at the University of St. Andrews and director of the Centre for Global Constitutionalism, Cian O’Driscoll, a lecturer in international politics at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow, and John Williams, a professor of international relations at Durham University. Lang and O’Driscoll authored the book’s introduction and O’Driscoll alone the book’s conclusion. Lang and Williams also contributed essays to the book. Most of the contributors will be unknown to all but those who are specialists or well-read in just war theory, except for James Turner Johnson, the Distinguished Professor of Religion and Associate of the Graduate Program in Political Science at Rutgers, who has written many books over the years related to just war theory. Information about the editors and contributors appears at the end of the book.

The book focuses on just war theory’s jus ad bellum concept of the proper authority to wage war. In their introduction, Lang and O’Driscoll posit that “the principle of ‘proper authority’ has, with a few honorable exceptions, been largely overlooked.” They consider this omission “surprising,” “disappointing,” and “startling” because “before one can evaluate the merits of a particular claim to just cause, or ascertain what order of military response it licenses, one must first determine whether the agent bringing the charge is entitled to do so, and if so, on what grounds.” The editors believe that “the principle of proper authority has been obscured, or even obviated, by the emergence of the sovereign state as the locus of Western political thought.” The requirement of proper authority “was rendered coterminous with the idea that only sovereign states were permitted to wage war.” The editors regard with suspicion “the War, Christianity, and... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $4.00 Buy New $9.95 (as of 05:50 EDT - Details) idea that the principle of proper authority is reducible to the concept of state sovereignty.” Their passing reference to Max Weber’s definition of the state as “the agency that exercises the monopoly of legitimate violence within a given territory” is something that we must return to.

The essays that make up part I, although they “reflect a healthy diversity of approach and opinion,” all “subscribe to the view that if the just war tradition is framed as a practice of political authority, it cannot be understood as a purely intellectual conceit that exists in isolation from the practical and material world.” The essays in part II “draw attention to the way in which the authority of the just war tradition—and the various accounts of political authority it in turn invokes—is reflected in practices of various sorts, from military ethics education to counterterrorism.” The two chapters in part III ask “whether the ascendancy of the just war idiom in the official rhetoric of political and military leaders, as well as in the public sphere more generally, is likely to serve a progressive end by restraining the more barbaric aspects of modern war” or “more likely to verge toward the opposite extreme and facilitate barbarism by providing it with a gloss of moral respectability.” Taken as a whole, “the chapters of this volume are intended to provoke readers to reconsider what it means to characterize the just war tradition as a practice of political authority.”

In “The Right to Use Armed Force: Sovereignty, Responsibility, and the Common Good,” James Turner Jackson reminds us that “in class just war thought the requirement of sovereign authority for any just use of armed force holds first priority among the requisites for moral use of force.” The War on Drugs Is a ... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $8.95 Buy New $5.95 (as of 05:50 EDT - Details)

In “Just War and Political Judgment,” Chris Brown states that the aim of his chapter “is to defend the position that while the categories associated with just war thinking may help us to exercise judgment in particular cases, we should avoid just war theorizing altogether.” His core argument “is that just war thinking should not be approached as though it could provide us with an algorithm to determine what course of action to follow.” He also raises some interesting questions about sovereign states being the proper authority for the use of force and the relation between the presence or absence of a military uniform and being a legitimate target.

In “Natural Flourishing as the Normative Ground of Just War,” Nigel Biggar offers “a Christian, theological account of the grounds of the authority of just war discourse, and of their moral implications.”

In “’Not in My Name’? Legitimate Authority and Liberal Just War Theory,” John Williams bases his discussion of proper authority on the slogan “Not in My Name” that was carried on thousands of banners in London in February of 2003 during a demonstration by “upward of 1 million people” expressing their “opposition to the impending invasion” of Iraq. The idea behind the slogan “challenges established notions of legitimate authority in just war thinking—that this is the authority of the sovereign.”

In “The Inseparability of Gender Hierarchy, the Just War Tradition, and Authorizing War,” Laura Sjoberg argues that “through gendered lenses, the just war tradition is a net liability.” The Other Side of Calv... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $23.98 Buy New $29.95 (as of 05:35 EDT - Details)

In “Legitimate Authority and the War against Al-Qaeda,” Nahed Artoul Zehr discusses the role of non-state actors in relation to the legitimate authority to undertake the use of force. In doing so he critiques the justification for “offensive jihad” put forth by “al-Qaeda’s most prolific theoretician and strategist, Abu Mas’ab al-Suri.”

In “Problems of Legitimacy within the Just War Tradition and International Law,” Tarik Kochi opens with the reply given to Alexander the Great by a captured pirate that was recounted by Augustine in The City of God: “The same as you do when you infest the whole world; but because I do it with a little ship I am called a robber, and because you do it with a great fleet, you are an emperor.” He discusses “three problems of legitimacy within the just war tradition.” His observation that “just war scholars across the tradition have built a tower of arguments in which the moral theory of just war has historically been used to condemn acts of brutality and aggression, and used to justify uncountable acts of aggression, killing, and violence” is something that I have mentioned in my critiques of the very concept of just war.

In “Narrative Authority,” Anthony F. Lang observes that “public discourse about war in democratic states tend toward the nationalistic or even jingoistic.” He finds this tendency exacerbated “in such states by the assumption that democracies only use force for good purposes and never resort to war for self-interested reasons.” Any judgments about war “tend to be ones that reinforce the right and good of war-making by democracies rather than critical moral debate about just or unjust wars.” King James, His Bible,... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $2.46 Buy New $61.01 (as of 05:45 EDT - Details)

In “Culpability and Punishment in Classical Theories of Just War,” Gregory M. Reichberg gives us a look into the just war writings of Aquinas, Cajetan, Vitoria, Molina, Suarez, and Grotius. It is certainly the most informative chapter in the book.

In “The Necessity of ‘Right Intent’ for Justifiably Waging War,” Joseph Boyle argues that “just cause” and “proper authority” are “not sufficient for morally justified war-making.”

In ”Revenge, Affect, and Just War,” Brent J. Steele analyzes the concepts of revenge and justice in just war theory.

In “Just War and Guerilla War,” Michael L. Gross raises the question of guerilla fighters and other non-state actors having the proper authority to justly wage war.

In “Bugsplat: US Standing Rules of Engagement, International Humanitarian Law, Military Necessity, and Noncombatant Immunity,” Neta C. Crawford states that the issue of authority “is also at stake in decisions about the use of military force once war has begun.” She maintains that she has shown that “the US military is acting as an imperfect moral agent.” As such “it bears collective moral responsibility for noncombatant killing, even though its efforts show that it has taken due care and obeys the laws of war.”

In “Just War and Military and Military Education and Training,” Martin L. Cook, a professor of military ethics (an oxymoron if ever Against the State: An ... Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. Best Price: $10.76 Buy New $9.95 (as of 05:55 EDT - Details) there was one) at the US Naval War College, says that “some lectures and elective courses dealing with the just war tradition are a part of every level of professional military education in all the military services.” This means nothing since there is no doubt that all U.S. wars are at the same time said to be just. This chapter not only adds nothing to the book, it detracts from it.

In “The Triumph of Just War Theory and Imperial Overstretch,” John Kelsay makes the good point that “’good’ just war thinking requires consideration of the range of concerns suggested by each and all of the criteria associated with the jus ad bellum and jus in bello.” To fix “on one or even several criteria in ways that raise it (or them) above the others leads to mistakes.”

And finally, in “The Wager Lost by Winning? On the ‘Triumph’ of the Just War Tradition,” Nicholas Rengger concludes that althought “the just war tradition may well have ‘triumphed’ as the preferred language for the moral assessment of the use of force,” insomuch as it has triumphed “in alliance with a teleocratic conception of politics and all that brings with it, its triumph will, I suspect, ultimately be a defeat: a wager lost by winning.”

Just War: Authority, Tradition, and Practice is neither an introduction to just war theory nor a general discourse on the subject. Although I recommend the book as a unique contribution to the mass of just-war literature, it is a book for the specialist and those well-versed in just war theory, not the layman. Nevertheless, the book raises important questions about the authority to wage war that should be of interest to anyone who is concerned about war and peace—questions I’m sure the editors and contributors never Social Insecurity Laurence M. Vance Buy New $5.95 (as of 03:45 EDT - Details) intended to be raised.

One of the arguments made against the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that these wars were not fought as a result of a constitutional declaration of war, which violates the “proper authority” tenet of just war theory. (I myself have even pointed this out on several occasions). Indeed, in spite of all the military conflicts the United States has been engaged in since World War II, the last time Congress issued a constitutional declaration of war was in 1941 (Japan, Germany, and Italy) and 1942 (Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania). (It is inexcusable for James Turner Johnson to write in his contribution to Just War: Authority, Tradition, and Practice that the authority to declare war rests in the U.S. Senate.) Supporters of these wars have countered that this is just an exercise in semantics since Congress did issue the “Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Those Responsible for the Recent Attacks Launched Against the United States” in 2001 and the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution” in 2002.

But, as I have also pointed out, just because Congress issues a declaration of war does not make a war just. In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress could have issued a declaration of war every day and it still wouldn’t have transformed those unjust, immoral, and senseless military interventions into just wars.

The other point I want to raise is the legitimacy of the state.

If it is true, as Herbert Spencer said: “Be it or be it not true that Man is shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin, it is unquestionably true that Government is begotten of aggression and by aggression.”

And if it is true, as Frederic Bastiat said: “The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.”

And if it is true, as Hans-Hermann Hoppe explained, that the state:

is defined as an agency characterized by two unique, logically connected features. First, the state is an agency that exercises a territorial monopoly of ultimate decision making. That is, the state is the ultimate arbiter in every case of conflict, including conflicts involving itself. It allows no appeal above and beyond itself. Second, the state is an agency that exercises a territorial monopoly of taxation. That is, it is an agency that unilaterally fixes the price that private citizens must pay for the state’s service as ultimate judge and enforcer of law and order.

And if it is true, as Murray Rothbard said: “The State is nothing more nor less than a bandit gang writ large,” and:

The State provides a legal, orderly, systematic channel for the predation of private property; it renders certain, secure, and relatively “peaceful” the lifeline of the parasitic caste in society.

The State has never been created by a “social contract”; it has always been born in conquest and exploitation.

The State is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion. While other individuals or institutions obtain their income by production of goods and services and by the peaceful and voluntary sale of these goods and services to others, the State obtains its revenue by the use of compulsion; that is, by the use and the threat of the jailhouse and the bayonet. Having used force and violence to obtain its revenue, the State generally goes on to regulate and dictate the other actions of its individual subjects. One would think that simple observation of all States through history and over the globe would be proof enough of this assertion; but the miasma of myth has lain so long over State activity that elaboration is necessary.

And if it is true, as Charles Tilly said: “If protection rackets represent organised crime at its smoothest, then war risking and state making—quintessential protection rackets with the advantage of legitimacy—qualify as our largest examples of organised crime.”

And if it is true, as Randolph Bourne said, “War is the health of the state.”

Then the desire of the government of a modern nation-state to go to war against the government and people of another nation-state should always be viewed with suspicion, and all the propaganda about national security, self-defense, patriotism, supporting the troops, national interest, and fighting them “over here” so we don’t have to fight them “over there,” and anything to do with just war theory should be dismissed as lies.

In his conclusion to Just War: Authority, Tradition, and Practice, Cian O’Driscoll writes for the editors and contributors that “we would be very happy if this book prompted scholars of the just war tradition to think a little bit more deeply about how they treat the principle of proper authority in their writings on just war.” I couldn’t agree more.