Sunday, April 10, 2011

Francisco de Vitoria: Just war theory.

Having just read the account of the conquest of Mexico, I thought it would be a good time to check out the original source of Just War Theory that Vitoria wrote. This scholar has many references back to classical history, Christian fathers, the Bible, and established practice. Overall I find it as humane as the typical western conservative and a long ways from what I would have imagined from listening to leftists.

The primary thing that seems to be missing is the third party. Vitoria's notion of Just War is always state A vs. state B. What if state C intervenes on behalf of state A or B? Can this be a Just War? We face this today constantly in the case of Libya, the Ivory Coast and Afghanistan. The Vietnam and Korean wars were the same. From history, the Roman empire - of which Vitoria has much to say - owed its expansion primarily to intervention in conflicts as a third party. Vitoria's lecture notes are intended to provide guidance regarding Spain vs. "Indians", however, reading the account of the conquest of Mexico, it is clear that this is a wild simplification. The natives consisted of a large number of city states who were constantly abusing and exploiting one another with no shortage of legitimate claims to waging Just War on each other. Cortes was quite skillful in involving himself on the apparent side of justice, and restraining his actions so that everything more or less fell with in the bounds that Vitoria established for Just War.

There is one point in this that I would like to highlight:

"25. Third proposition: Other lesser folk who have no place or audience in the prince's council or in the public council are under no obligation to examine the causes of a war, but may serve in it in reliance on their betters."

I don't want to pretend to exhaust the issues here, but Just War theory as outlined here is specifically based on the concept of a monarchy. Our egalitarian culture immediately recoils at the notion of lesser folk and better folk, yet Just War theory as outlined here is premised on the existence of such distinctions. How should we modify a classical Just War notion to make it both morally defensible and applicable to Democracy?

5 comments:

Delirious said...

You might be interested in this scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants that talks about "rules of war":
33 And again, this is the law that I gave unto mine ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue, or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them.

34 And if any nation, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue;

35 And if that people did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord;

36 Then I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out to battle against that nation, tongue, or people.

37 And I, the Lord, would fight their battles, and their children’s battles, and their children’s children’s, until they had avenged themselves on all their enemies, to the third and fourth generation.

38 Behold, this is an ensample unto all people, saith the Lord your God, for justification before me.

Doctrine and Covenants 9:33-38

Looney said...

Does that permit us to intervene in a war between two other nations?

Max Coutinho said...

Hey Looney,

"How should we modify a classical Just War notion to make it both morally defensible and applicable to Democracy?"

Excellent question. Let me see:

- "The Justice of a war must be thoroughly and carefully examined" - this should be maintained, and it is not hard to do.
- An established State (one comprised by three factors: a proper land, physical boundaries and recognition by the International Community [should one of these factors miss from the equation, the qualification of statehood does not apply]) can serve in and make war against against another State and it can wage a defensive war against foreign foes (if these do wrong against civilians, instead of attacking soldiers).
- If civilians in one nation are being deprived from their basic human and civil rights (as per the UN Human Rights Charter) by their own government, it is not just for other States to sit and watch while people are being murdered [we have seen this before and we must not allow it to happen again]. In such cases it is just for a State to wage wars (after carefully analysing all aspects of the conflict) against the authoritarian State.
- After the conflict the State that wins the war should help the State getting back up on its feet (e.g. building a new government, setting economic and democratic goals, building infrastructure etc).

And these are the first things coming to mind...

The military interventions in Libya and Ivory Coast constitute Just Wars. The interventions in Afghanistan are Just. The military interventions in Bosnia were Just. The military intervention in Rwanda would've been Just, if the international community weren't so bias when it comes to Africans.

Cheers

Looney said...

Max, now you have me wondering something else: There are vastly more agreed upon human rights today then in times past. Do the legitimate causes for Just War increase as the definition of human rights is expanded?

I certainly agree with you that Rwanda was a much more compelling case of intervention than many others.

Max Coutinho said...

Looney,

"There are vastly more agreed upon human rights today then in times past. Do the legitimate causes for Just War increase as the definition of human rights is expanded?"

Naturally (after all, civilization has been evolving over the years and centuries). Nothing is static: as the definition of human rights broadens so must the causes for Just and Ethical War.

"I certainly agree with you that Rwanda was a much more compelling case of intervention than many others."

That is one serious blot in the political history. But it was also a warning to Africans: wake up, stop relying on Westerners (colonisation is over for good).