Edited transcript of a debate which was part of "The Moral Nation?" Forum cosponsored with the Center for Religious Inquiry and The Interreligious Center for Public Life. Held at St. Bartholemews Church, New York City, 6/1/06.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Thank you all for coming. This is a grand and wonderful venue for this event.
The reason that we are here this evening is that the response to this series, and to this topic in particular, Just War?, was so overwhelming that we felt that we needed the capacity for people to participate. I am delighted to see that there is such great interest in this topic.
Some of you may have seen on your way in or may have received in your New York Times supplement or in the mail the announcement of this particular series, called “The Moral Nation?” (Rabbi Schoolman and I are big on question marks.) We are asking for your input in helping to answer these questions.
The idea was that there were significant moral and ethical issues at the heart of our public life that needed more attention, needed more reflection, needed more analysis.Could we create a forum with likeminded institutions—the Center for Religious Inquiry, also our partners in Boston, the Interreligious Center for Public Life—to create some kind of standing forum where we debate these issues, to get a range of different views?
You will see in the series announcement the ethos behind this, as well as the first four panel discussions — and we want these to be genuine discussions — listed. If I remember correctly, the first discussion was Are We a Christian Nation?, which took place last week in Boston. Tonight’s session is on the concept of just war. We also have next week, here in this venue, a discussion of intelligent design. Just over the horizon, we hope to put together a panel on the concept for the debate over patriotism and dissent. I hope you avail yourselves of those conversations.
We have with us tonight two very distinguished scholars, thinkers, public intellectuals, to help us with this concept of just war, particularly as it relates to current events. You will see in the announcement of this program that the topic that we raised is this idea of preventive war. Is the preventive war a new standard? Should it be the new standard? That will be our point of departure.
But I can't help at least remarking on the news of the day, which is directly related to the concept of just war. Right off the top of the CNN World Web site: "U.S. Orders Values Training for Troops in Iraq." I will just read to you the first paragraph:
"The U.S. military chief in Iraq Thursday ordered troops to undergo fresh training in legal, moral, and ethical standards for the battlefield." This is obviously a response to Haditha in Iraq. So maybe we can get to some of that, in addition to our previously announced agenda.
I will not give very long and involved introductions to our speakers, but I do want to say a little bit about each of them, to give you a sense of the resource that we have available with us tonight. These are two very distinguished speakers.
Sitting to my left is Jean Elshtain, who has come to us all the way from the University of Chicago to be with us this evening. I will just read to you briefly from her very long and distinguished biography.
In 2003, she published a book called Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World, which was named one of the best nonfiction books of 2003. In addition to her book-length studies, Professor Elshtain writes widely for journals of civic opinion. You will see her in various publications, newspapers and the like. She is the recipient of many honorary degrees and awards. I will just name a few. Most recently, she was the second holder of the McGuire Chair in Ethics at the Library of Congress. In 2006, Professor Elshtain will deliver the prestigious Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh.
Tom Nichols, sitting to my right, is chairman of the Department of Strategy and Policy at the United States Naval War College, which is in Newport, Rhode Island, where he also holds the Forrest Sherman Chair of Public Diplomacy. Tom holds a Ph.D. from Georgetown and a certificate from the Harriman Institute of Advanced Study of the Soviet Union—you remember that, the Soviet Union?—at Columbia University. Tom previously taught international relations and government at Georgetown University and Dartmouth College, and he has taught as a Secretary of the Navy Fellow at the Naval War College. He served as an aide in the United States Senate and was a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
Among his many publications—I will just name a couple—is his book called Winning the World: Lessons for America’s Future from the Cold War, and also an article that appeared in the World Policy Journal a couple of issues back related to the theme that he will be talking about tonight on preventive war.
With that introduction, I'm going to turn it over to Tom Nichols, who will kick it off. Professor Elshtain will chime in after, and then we'll have general discussion.
Thank you all.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Let me begin with two disclaimers. First, it's important to point out that I do not in any capacity represent the United States government. My opinions are my own. We enjoy full academic freedom at the Naval War College. I am not here representing Washington or anybody else.
My other disclaimer is that I'm no longer chairman of the department. I have been freed from those administrative responsibilities to go back to the life of an idle academic.
We are going to spend a good part of the evening talking about the issue of justice and of right and of wrong and should and should not. But first I want to begin by asking you to make a distinction here between a normative argument and an empirical phenomenon—that is, what I see actually happening in the world. There has been a lot of anguish about the term "preventive war." It's almost a taboo to discuss it or to call it by that name. Even the administration refers to its actions and the current national security strategy as "preemptive" rather than "preventive." Of course, preemption indicates justly striking someone who is about to strike you, rather than anticipating a threat further down the line.
I would like to throw out what I think is an empirical finding, and one that is somewhat controversial, but which I am willing to defend. That is, I believe that we have already entered, in this period of the 21st century, an era of preventive war. That is to say, I believe we have moved into a period where the norm regarding preventive war, which previously was a norm prejudiced against the launching of preventive or discretionary—perhaps a less charged word—uses of military force, has changed significantly, is in the process of change, and that in the not-too-distant future preventive violence, discretionary violence, is going to become more acceptable and more practiced, not just by the United States, but by the developed powers who feel themselves under a particular kind of threat.
Let me back up for a moment and tell you why I think that happened, how I think that new norm is evolving, and then say a few words about what I think ought to be done about it, and then turn it over to Jean.
First, I think the idea that one state can't interfere in the sovereign affairs of another—that is to say, use violence against another state without some kind of just cause (that is, having been struck first or being immediately threatened or its interests being severely threatened)—that norm has been eroding for quite a long time, and not because of terrorism, not because of 9/11, not because of the Bush administration. These are all convenient scapegoats that have become shorthand for people that are worried about the way the world is moving.
Rather, I would argue that if you look back at the humanitarian disasters of the 1990s, it was already becoming an acceptable norm to say, under certain circumstances, when there is such grievous human suffering, the protections of sovereignty simply don't apply, that you simply cannot butcher 800,000 people within your own borders and then yell, "Ollie, Ollie, oxen free. I'm within my own country. You can't do anything about that."
There was a certain amount of, I think, well-placed international shame after the disaster in Rwanda, a failure to act on the part of the developed world for which the United States and Great Britain bear no small amount of the responsibility. I think by the time a second genocide loomed in Kosovo—and this is how international politics happens—there was a sense among key people in the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and other places that this couldn't be allowed to happen again and that, simply because sovereign borders were involved, that was not enough of a justification to allow the butchering of thousands and thousands of human beings.
So even though there was this sense—this is an overused phrase, but to steal the old line from Casablanca, when the National Security Strategy of the United States came out in 2002, people were shocked—shocked—to see that it advocated the use of force to prevent certain kinds of threats to the United States. In fact, the use of force to alleviate human suffering, even if that meant a hostile movement over a foreign border—that norm has already become internalized in the international community. In 1999, even Kofi Annan, who fought this for quite some time, gave a seminal speech in the United Nations in which he said, "Maybe this isn't such a bad thing after all. Maybe it's something we need to embrace, something we need to think about, and something we need to actually start doing." I think a lot of people feel this way: we didn't go through the horrors of World War II and the nerve-rattling tensions of the Cold War simply to make the world safe for genocidal maniacs.
That was followed by the creation of an international commission, led by the Canadians (of all people), and, I would argue, an international group that is of impeccable pedigree, which represents all the regions of the world, people of different political stripes. They issued a report that, again, Kofi Annan finally embraced and the United Nations decided to look further into, called The Responsibility To Protect. I would argue that this was a moment in human history that really was overlooked, in a way, and future historians are going to wonder why we didn't see this signpost until it was already in our rearview mirror.
What it essentially argued was for the overturning—and it doesn't say this; this is my interpretation of it—the overturning of the entire 350-year history of the Westphalian system of international relations. It says, not only may states intervene in the affairs of other states under certain circumstances, but under these terrible circumstances they have an absolute responsibility to intervene against the sovereign right of other states.
This is something we thought had been cleared up after the Thirty Years' War, and for 350 years, it was a fairly settled matter, at least as a legal issue, at least as a norm in the international system—even if it was, in fact, breached, even if, particularly during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union interfered in the sovereign affairs of other countries at will. Nonetheless, it was done almost with that nod of hypocrisy that vice pays to virtue, saying, "We're not really invading Afghanistan. We're answering a call for fraternal assistance." That kind of language. Even under those circumstances, the superpowers understood that the norm established and enshrined in the Westphalian system is, you leave other countries alone unless they are bothering somebody outside their borders.
With The Responsibility To Protect and the emergence of a new norm, that simple rule was overturned. You no longer had the right to engage in all kinds of wickedness within your borders so long as you kept the ruckus down and didn't wake the neighbors. That period is now over.
What followed from that—and I will get to 9/11 in a moment—even before that, as these humanitarian disasters were happening, as the world was moving toward a more permissive norm of intervening in the affairs of other countries, concerns were developing about things like nuclear proliferation. You can see in debates going all the way back to the early 1990s. will give you one example. John Deutch, who was President Clinton's CIA director, back when he was a professor at MIT, fourteen years ago in 1992, wrote an article saying, "You know, if push comes to shove, we might have to go to places like North Korea or elsewhere and destroy their nuclear programs by military force."
The reason I am emphasizing this is that we really need to have a historical perspective on this. The kinds of debates we are having now about WMD and taking out nuclear programs did not come about with the Bush administration or with 9/11 or with al Qaeda or any of those phenomena that we tend to write them off to now. This has been brewing for a good fifteen or sixteen years.
Let me just remind you, by the way, that nuclear weapons were invented when airplanes still had propellers and television was a curiosity. The first space shot was launched when Howdy Doody was still big. These are old technologies. It's not a matter of whether they will proliferate and spread; it's a matter of when and where and by what channels.
So people were already thinking about what to do about that particular problem. These two issues—you can see them in the debates among public intellectuals and defense thinkers and military people and so on—start to gravitate closer and closer together through the 1990s, as these kinds of wall-less zones become havens for people who have interests in getting the kind of technologies that we obviously don't want them to have.
Then there is the catalyzing event of 9/11. That's when terrorism, mass terrorism—and more importantly (and this is an important word to enter), mass suicide terrorism—suddenly takes all of these disparate debates that we were lurching through, even in 1998, when President Clinton gave a speech about the imperative of stopping Saddam Hussein and destroying his weapons of mass destruction that is so bellicose that you could print it today under George Bush's name and you would not know the difference. Clinton came right out and said, "He has the WMD capacity, and sooner or later, he is going to use it." His exact words were, "I guarantee that someday, some way, he is going to use this arsenal, and therefore has to be stopped."
But it wasn't systematic. You had the Iraq debate. You had the proliferation debate. You had the humanitarian disaster debate. After 9/11, what you really see is all three of these debates now cross threads in the minds of key decision makers, both in the United States and around the world, who begin to say, "Wait a minute, this is no longer a notional threat, a potential catastrophic terrorist attack, a potential threat from a rogue state, where maybe we can intervene." All of these suddenly become woven together in the minds of a lot of decision makers, who say, "Rogue starts were a threat, but we could tolerate them. Terrorists were a threat, but we could tolerate them. Suicide bombings were a threat, but we could tolerate them. We cannot tolerate them all together." The door was already kicked open by the changing thoughts about sovereignty due to humanitarian interventions in the 1990s.
The Americans, obviously, acted on this in the most forceful way in Afghanistan and then Iraq. I hope most people would agree that Afghanistan easily passed the test of a just war. We were struck by an enemy who had an address there. The regime in place was given a chance to cough them up and chose not to do it.
Iraq is a different matter. But if you look at what other countries were thinking and saying, in their defense white papers, in their internal debates, in their public pronouncements, even before the United States went into Iraq, I think it would shock you. To take the most obvious example, the Russian president, President Putin, has said point-blank that Russia reserves to itself the right to preventively strike threats to Russia's interests, particularly terrorists, anywhere in the world they find them, period.
The French have talked about it—other people find this shocking. I don't. I always recall that this is the country that bombed a Greenpeace boat. The idea that the French would engage in preventive action without anybody's permission I find totally unsurprising. But they are talking about it more openly—in a very guarded way, but, nonetheless, they are talking about it. Of course, recently, President Chirac reserved the right to respond against state sponsors of terror with nuclear weapons. I thought there would have been an interesting reaction if George Bush had said the same thing.
The Australians have called for amending the UN charter to allow preventive strikes against terrorists. The Japanese recently had a very interesting, shall we say, moment of unintentional honesty, when their defense minister said that if the North Koreans were to begin any sign of preparing their missiles, they would consider it tantamount to an act of war and would want to strike first.
This has been a debate that has been happening throughout the developed world. I would argue that it's because the people responsible for national security throughout the developed world have realized that they are up against a different kind of threat, that the classic model of interstate warfare that we all found so comforting during the Cold War, in a sort of strange way, is gone.
To go back to the French for a moment, it's important to remember that the French already, long before 9/11, had to foil a terrorist attempt to ram an airliner into, we believe, the Eiffel Tower. The hijackers commandeered an airplane, and demanded that it be refueled so that it would make that much bigger of a fireball when it hit whatever landmark in Paris—again, we think the Eiffel Tower—they were going to ram it into.
This last issue—and I will just end this part of my discussion with you on this—this last issue about suicide is really important. This is what I think pushes a lot of defense thinkers toward the idea of preventive military action. The traditional assumption is that your opponent wants to live. How did we survive the Cold War? I'm of a certain generation. I remember Sting and his famous song about the Russians that had the line, "I hope the Russians love their children, too." It turns out they not only love their children, they are pretty fond of themselves and didn't want to die. They were communists, they were atheists; they didn't think they were going to heaven when they died. They thought their country would turn to ashes.
How do you deal with someone who says, "I'm quite willing to die. I'm quite willing to ignite a global conflagration, if necessary. It will mean transcendental goals for me. It will mean seventy-two virgins. It will mean paradise. It will mean redemption in the eyes of my deity," whatever it is that you think will happen on the other side of death's "dark and silent gate"?
How could 9/11 even happen? Because people have been trained to believe that hijackers want to land the plane and eventually get off—an assumption that no one will ever make again.
That changes the calculus of how people think about threats to their security. They don't believe that they are dealing with people like the Soviets.
I was a Sovietologist. As Joel pointed out, I trained up here at Columbia in Soviet affairs, which is why I'm doing something else now. The job market got a little tight after 1991, but let's talk about something else.
But one of the things that we were able to assume about the Soviets is that they may be evil—and I personally believe that the Soviet system was, in fact, quite evil, and I think it should be called by its proper name. I believe that Soviet Communism was a decided inhuman evil. But I also didn't believe that the members of the Politburo were nuts; I didn't believe they were crazy. I believed that I had enough common ground with them that they valued their own lives, that if push came to shove, and Ronald Reagan and Yuri Andropov got eyeball to eyeball, they both wanted to get through the day and see their grandchildren when they got off work at the end of their shift.
What happens when that assumption goes away? What happens when someone says, "I'm willing to do whatever it takes, even if I lose my life"? That creates an intense pressure, from the sheer point of view of military logic. I'm not talking about justice or right. I'm simply saying, as a military planner, if you believe that your opponent is willing to attack you at drastically inferior odds, does not really intend to have a strategic victory, but simply wishes to do as much damage as possible, your temptation to reach out and snuff out that threat before trying to negotiate, before trying to see how bad the attack will be, becomes intense.
I think that logic, that pressure, is being felt by people who deal with national security issues, not just in Washington, but in London, in Paris, in Rome, in Berlin, in Canberra, in Tokyo. I think it's universal at this point. It's certainly the case in Moscow.
Here I just want to say one word about one thing I do think is going on in the international system that will lead us toward the issue of justice, and then we'll start talking about more ethical issues.
I do believe there is a great deal of hypocrisy taking place around the world about this issue. I traveled through Russia last year. I talked with Russian diplomatic and military people. They all say, "Absolutely not. Preventive war, we don't believe in it. Only the United Nations can sanction force," etcetera.
I would say, "But you're contradicting your own president. Your own president has said it."
Then you see the "well, maybes" come out. "Well, maybe if there were terrorists in a neighboring republic."
The Russians have actually taken more of the brunt of terrorist action since 9/11 than the Americans, including the butchering of scores of young children in a school in Beslan. I can tell you that, whatever the diplomatic language says—"the United Nations should control this, and we don't believe in preventive attacks," and so on, after the tragedy of scores and scores of young children being butchered and burned alive—again, this is a good moment to say that I don't represent the opinion of the U.S. government—I personally believe that the Russians are not in any mood to wait and see whether potential attacks will coalesce against them. I think they will take action.
I think most of the countries of the world are now thinking about doing it. So I find a certain amount of hypocrisy in the fact that there is a great deal of criticism of talk of preventive war, or talk of the strategy documents of the United States. I think it's happening around the world. I think these discussions are taking place. They are taking place very quietly, because nobody wants to yet break that taboo. But I think it's happening. But I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing.
I will end by saying that I do not want to see the most powerful nations of the world running around like rogue elephants stomping on every mouse they see out of fear. On the other hand, I think the nature of the threats that we are facing in the 21st century has made traditional notions about the use of force simply unworkable.
I think that without some kind of rethinking of this in a calm and sober way, we will get to a system of anarchy where the great powers are simply acting in their own interests.
So we have to have the discussion. We have to think about how to regulate the use of force in that new world. That is part of the reason that we are here.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Thank you, Tom. Characteristically provocative and clear. I really appreciate that.
I will now turn it over to Professor Elshtain.
JEAN ELSHTAIN: Thank you. Thank you, Tom.
I am sure that, like me, some of you have seen bumper stickers on cars or even signs in people's front yards that say, "War is not the answer." When I see that, my immediate response is, but what is the question? What is the question that war isn't the answer to?
War surely was the only answer to Nazism, and that war came almost too late. Certainly, deployment of coercive force and armed intervention would arguably have been a better course in Rwanda—we have already heard about the slaughter there—than temporizing inaction and lots of apologies in the aftermath.
In other words, there is danger in doing too little, as well as in doing too much.
For centuries in the West we have worked on a way of talking about the deployment of force. What are the occasions when its use can be justified? If one has committed oneself to the use of force, what are the limits to the kind of force that can be used?
Tom went back to the 1940s and the early television shows. I'm going to go back even further, a lot further back, and take you back to the 4th and 5th centuries, when we began to see what came to be known as the just or justified war tradition starting to emerge, through the writings of St. Augustine, carried forward, then, in St. Thomas Aquinas, then the great reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin. Then it entered into that stream of thinking that came to be known as international law. One of the most important early international-law just-war thinkers was a Dutchman named Hugo Grotius, who wrote a classic book about the rules of war and peace.
How do we think about what this just-war tradition was intended to do? First of all,all just-war thinkers have condemned from the beginning holy wars. They have condemned from the beginning wars of acquisitive conquest. They have condemned from the beginning wars of vengeance. Those are, by definition, ruled out.
They have also kept open the possibility that the use of force may be the only means available to deal with a massive injustice. Then, having arrived at that conclusion, they had to think about what those occasions might be.
One such occasion, according to St. Augustine, was to protect the innocent from certain harm. The innocent in just wars are basically civilians, those who have no means to protect themselves. So the use of force under these circumstances, he argued, one could reasonably see as an obligation, a Christian obligation, to respond to the cries of the neighbor.
We know something about what it means to kill the innocent, clearly. People in this city certainly do. In just-war teaching, all those folks who were in the Twin Towers on that awful day were innocent in that sense. They were having a cup of coffee, getting ready for the day, when suddenly they became victims of an attack. They were not in any position to defend themselves.
The just-war tradition consists of two parts. I have already mentioned that Augustine argued that one occasion for the justifiable use of force would be to protect the innocent from certain harm. But there are others. This set of norms is called in Latin jus ad bellum, the norms under which we evaluate occasions for the use of force.
So we have the possibility of protecting the innocent from certain harm. It was set in motion all those centuries ago. It's interesting that it has come back now through this new norm— although it's a very ancient one, really—under the rubric of The Responsibility To Protect. It's fascinating, because you can see the way this new articulation has common ground with the earliest formulations of the just-war tradition.
When we got to the classical state system, the primary occasion for the justified use of force was declared to be a response to a direct act of aggression: the armies of the state next to you invade your land. It could also be the imminent threat of such, a preemptive war. The armies are massed for an attack. They haven't crossed the border yet, but you know it's going to happen.
There are other criteria. War has to be declared by right authority. This was to try to prevent private violence, if you will—some lord somewhere getting up his own army and starting his own war. This was a way of trying to stop, actually, to restrain the use of force and violence, rather than to encourage it. So public authority.
War must begin with the right intention. That is, you are not trying, as I said, to promote your faith. You are not trying to annex the country next to you. You are trying to punish a harm that has already occurred or to prevent one from occurring in order to spare the innocent.
War is also supposed to be a final resort. That wasn't in the classical just-war teaching, but added later. What this means is that you have considered other ways to possibly deal with the situation, and all of them have fallen short. You can't find any other way to respond to what has occurred or is likely to occur.
You are also supposed to reflect on the possibility of success. That is, don't embark on something as serious and grave as war unless you think that there's a good chance that this intervention, this use of force, will succeed.
All of these criteria taken together form the framework for the just use of force. I think one of the things that you can see immediately is that the just-war tradition rejects both a kind of Machiavellian world where anything goes—it's just brutal realpolitik, and if it serves our interest, we can do it—that is rejected, and, as well, what is rejected is some kind of absolute pacifist stand, the view of just-war thinkers being that that often lends itself to a kind of civic irresponsibility, because others are going to be the victims of your principles; and pacifist groups historically, of course, have always relied on the state, the nation, the government for their own protection.
So it rejects both those positions.
The vision driving just-war thinking, as I mentioned, is some notion of justice. But this notion of justice is inseparable from an understanding of peace. That is, we shouldn't set these at odds with one another—it's either justice or it's peace. Within the just-war thinking, the endpoint of intervention, ideally, will be a more just and more peaceful world, because a certain threat has been removed or those who have been violators have been stopped from carrying out their respective reigns of terror.
The political realm within this way of thinking is a realm where we can never achieve the perfect justice that for Christians awaits them in the kingdom of God, but the peace that we can attain on this world is a precious thing. But you cannot attain it if, in fact, there are massive, systematic, and egregious injustices that are going forward. The worst injustice of all is to be the victim of capricious, random violence, premature death. So there is an assumption about the natural right of human beings to live in civic peace within this particular program.
That's the first part of the tradition. There is a second part that has to do with how a war is fought. This is in Latin jus in bello, during the war itself. There are two primary principles.
The first is the principle of discrimination. What that means, very, very simply, is that every attempt must be made to distinguish between combatants and noncombatants as you fight a war. Sometimes it's very difficult to do that, as you know, if you are in the midst of a guerilla war and combatants do not identify themselves, as the rules of law declare you are supposed to, by uniforms and so forth. But the attempt must be made. You are not permitted simply to throw up your hands and say, "This is impossible. I can't make the distinction." That's the heart of this norm of war fighting, making that distinction.
There are some who are very cynical about all this and say, "What does it matter if someone winds up dead, whether we intended to kill them or not?" I think it's very easy to refute that kind of cynicism. You might just think, for instance, of the following as an example. Suppose that you are walking in a garden and you see a body lying there and the person is dead. You don't know at that point whether the person keeled over from a heart attack, stumbled and hit his head and died as a result, in which case the death is an accident—it wasn't intended by anyone—or if you will find a stab wound to the heart when the person is turned over. We have a name for that. We call it murder, and we punish the people who did it, murder being unjust killing. In fact, the command, "Thou shalt not kill," is better translated as, "Thou shalt not murder," according to the distinguished Hebrew scholars at my university, that it was a rather unfortunate translation in some ways. "Thou shalt not murder."
We assess degrees of responsibility depending on whether this was an accident—perhaps some negligence was involved. They knew that this was a slippery walkway and didn't do anything about it, so there is a degree of negligence. That's not the same as the culpability that comes with having murdered someone.
Similarly, we make discriminations in time of war. We want to know, if you are working within this framework, when civilian lives have been lost, whether it was preventable, whether it was an accident that could not have been prevented, or, worst of all, if civilians were targeted explicitly. As we are now seeing with our own military, with the Marines, an army that has as its rules of engagement this principle of discrimination will start an investigation and, if need be, take punitive measures, if indeed it winds up being the case that civilians were explicitly the target of violence.
The second norm for war fighting is the principle of proportionality. Over simply, that means that the force deployed to restore or to achieve justice should be proportionate to the injury incurred and to the end that you seek.
There are also some critics of the use of force in our day who make the argument that we should never resort to war, to the use of force, because modern war is, by definition, indiscriminate and disproportionate. It follows perforce that it must be opposed.
But I would submit that that argument is at least a half-century out of date. The models that the critics are working with are the models, really, of the saturation bombing of cities in World War II, which resulted in massive loss of civilian life, as you know. The bombing of World War II was a knowing violation of the principle of discrimination, in the view that the enemy we faced in Nazism, to take the European theater, was so horrific, and a Nazi victory so unimaginably grotesque and awful, that, in fact, we had to take this extreme step, acknowledging as we did so that it was such.
There are others who say, apropos of that, "No, that should not have been the way we pursued that war. In fact, the norm of discrimination should never be violated, no matter what the provocation."
So that's an ongoing debate.
But the point I want to make here is that, in fact, with modern weaponry, precision weaponry, war can be much less disruptive than it was at an earlier point in time, causing much less damage to the infrastructure of cities, harm many fewer civilians than ever before. I would submit that this means, correlatively, that our standards should become ever higher, because it's now easier to try to protect civilians than it was at an earlier point in time.
I suspect that my own time is starting to wind down, but I want to make common cause with what Tom said, in this sense.
I indicated that this new norm, the responsibility to protect—you know it's a new norm when academics start saying "RTP," "responsibility to protect." I heard that when I was giving the Gifford Lecture. When I was in Edinburgh on that occasion, there was a discussion about war issues. It really wasn't what I was lecturing on, but people wanted to have the discussion. One of the international relations experts at the University of Edinburgh was talking about "RTP," and I had no idea what he was going on about. Then I realized that it had to be "responsibility to protect." So you know that it's in when it's identified by certain capital letters strung together in that particular way.
The principle with the responsibility to protect is, as Tom suggested, simply that. You can no longer hide behind the cordon sanitaire of sovereignty if you are committing systematic, egregious violence against your own people or a significant element of your population. That's not going to protect you anymore.
That doesn't mean that for those outside who know this is happening, that is an automatic call to arms. What it means is that the use of coercive force to try to stop this must be considered seriously. It has to be taken up. It has to be debated. You can't any longer say, "We can't do a thing about it. It's inside country X, Y, or Z."
This leads us to a whole set of questions, I think, as Americans, about our particular responsibility. If you subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, if you believe that all persons are created equal, if you believe, as Christians do, that all are children in God, there are certain things that follow from that.
One of the things that may follow from that is that when people are being slaughtered with impunity, one may well be obliged to take up arms, the use of force in some way, shape, or form, to try to interdict that violence, to interpose those who can come to their assistance between the ones harming and the ones being harmed. That may well be an implication of the very norms, the very moral ideals that you profess.
I think that is what we often don't want to come to grips with, because those, often, who want to take the moral high ground seem to suggest that that high ground is always occupied by those who say we should never resort to force.
I beg to differ. I don't think that's the automatic high ground. When one stands by and watches the blood of millions of victims, hundreds of thousands of victims, flow and says, "Well, I really can't do anything. I wash my hands of it, because it's a sovereign country," or for some other reason, I don't think that that is the moral high ground. I think that is abandonment of the responsibility that the entire world community has, and the United States in particular ways, simply because we are so powerful.
I agree with Tom that it doesn't mean that the powerful go everywhere and do everything. It does mean that you are obliged to assess these situations, to think about what you can reasonably do, knowing that there are going to be some horrific situations where the use of force may well be justifiable, but you can't think of an effective way to do it. One can well imagine situations like that as well.
One thing to keep in mind is that people who are besieged, beleaguered, tormented, who are victims of misrule, whether it's a republic of fear or it's a rogue state or it's a failed state, do not make very good neighbors. In fact, the violence happening internally flows across their borders. The situation in Rwanda led to a refugee crisis for neighboring Uganda, led to epidemics of cholera and a whole range of other things. And it leads to a tremendous amount of resentment that no one came to their aid. That resentment, one can be sure, is felt keenly and it may well pop out at some future point in some other way.
If force is resorted to, I would submit to you that it needs to be deployed within the framework of this tradition of restraint called the just-war tradition. Again, to summarize, to include a tradition that says, yes, if certain criteria are met, it is justifiable to use force, and that further says, if force is to deployed, we must exercise that force with restraint.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Wonderful. Thank you very much, Jean. I hope the audience found these comments challenging, provocative.
What I'd like to do is open the floor for questions, and perhaps I could ask the first one.
Tom, you made a very convincing argument, really a descriptive argument, that this norm of prevention is with us, and this is not new, but very much present over a period of time, and also from a variety of sources—Russia, the French, Clinton, Bush, and so on. My question is, if the norm is really there and we can see it building for so long, why was the Iraq piece so difficult? In other words, why did the United States have to virtually—I won't say "go alone"; there is the Coalition—why was there such a split, if this norm is so present?
That's one question. Then I want to get to Jean, too, about this question of restraint. Again, I'm going to talk about Iraq. We can talk about the news of the day. One part of that question is, how are we doing?
But the other is one that has always sort of bugged me: How does that map on to this concept of "shock and awe"? Was "shock and awe" just a little Pentagon PR, so the taxpayers could get their money's worth, or was the purpose of the Iraq enterprise, in some ways, to demonstrate American power, in a way that may be proportionate in some way, because you could say target selection and so forth and so on, but on the other hand, was clearly a demonstration of violence?
Those are just two questions to maybe get us going.
THOMAS NICHOLS: I think there are two answers to the issue of why the Iraq War was so difficult—one of them, I think, critical of the Americans. These are answers that both have some bearing on Joel's question.
One is a question that is critical to American policy. The Americans simply, for too long, have been going in unilaterally, haven't really reached out to other countries, and then when the time came to say, "Okay, everybody get onboard," the rest of the world kind of said, "Oh, sure, now you need friends."
I think one of the biggest diplomatic mistakes that the United States made after 9/11 was not making a bigger deal out of the fact that NATO activated Article 5 of the NATO charter. This is a big deal. Article 5 was supposed to be activated when Soviet tanks were rolling across the German plain. For those of you that don't know—I'm sure you all know the NATO charter chapter and verse, but I'll just remind you—Article 5 is the one that says an attack against one is an attack against all. That's why NATO is in Afghanistan, because by virtue of attacking the United States, NATO declared that "you have attacked us all."
The Bush administration didn't make enough of that, didn't run with that the way it could have.
But with that said, I also think that there is a certain amount of, I want to say again, hypocrisy and kind of mean-spiritedness on the part of other nations of the world.
Let me just say for the third time, I do not represent the government of the United States in any way.
I think that the foreign policy of the French, in particular, was low, cynical, and manipulative. There was all kinds of dirty money flowing out of Iraq that a lot of people had an interest in. I think that the French in particular thought that they were going to lead a united Europe as a kind of counterweight to the United States, and this was a wonderful opportunity to do it.
I think the Russians felt the same way. The Russians—and again, here I will criticize our foreign policy. We have been bloodying the Russians' noses unnecessarily, with things like rapid NATO expansion and other things that the Russians really don't like. I think the Russians said, "All right, it's time for a little bit of payback here."
The problem—and this is why I say this is hypocritical—is that no one really doubted that the United States and Great Britain could overthrow Saddam Hussein, and knew that it could happen. Again, with the possible exception of the French and, to some degree, the Russians, nobody was really going to be heartbroken—I personally am an opponent of the death penalty, and I don't normally agree with Congressman Barney Frank about anything, but he had a great line, "I'm against the death penalty, but I've never cried for anybody who got it."
This is kind of the way the world looked at Saddam Hussein. We're against this kind of preventive action against Saddam, but if he were to be toppled, no one is going to shed any tears at his trial.
But again, I found that to be a very hypocritical stance. What happened in the Security Council was almost kind of puppet theater, where nobody was really expressing true preferences and for true reasons. I also think that the debate in the Security Council was inherently dysfunctional, because it included participation by countries like Syria, which is also a Baathist dictatorship. Personally, I'm not interested in Syria's opinion about anything regarding war and peace in the Middle East, given the nature of the regime.
Yes, to some extent, it was hard to do because the United States didn't kind of tend the garden of its allies as well as it might have. But I also think that a lot of the countries of the world that are thinking about preventive action, like the French, like the Russians—what they really mean is, "Preventive war, preventive use of military force, is a terrible thing if the Americans do it, but we reserve the right to ourselves to do it. We just don't like the largest, most powerful country in the world doing it." I think some of that has to be attributed to just a certain amount of fundamental kind of realpolitik hypocrisy.
JEAN ELSHTAIN: I'm tempted to continue on about Iraq. Maybe I'll sneak it in later. But let me respond first to the question about "shock and awe."
Tom may disagree with me on this, but first of all, it's very clear that the United States didn't deploy all the force in its arsenal. No way. The "shock and awe" was a form of psychological warfare more than it was anything else. You will recall, at the beginning of the war, those extraordinary scenes from Baghdad, where people were driving their cars on the highways, going to work, the markets were open, there was not a refugee crisis, which had been predicted, with millions of people fleeing the city, fleeing Baghdad, fleeing Iraq. It never happened. That didn't happen because, in fact, people realized very, very quickly that the nature of the targeting and the rules of engagement were such that civilians were not being targeted; civilians were not going to be slaughtered en masse by American bombs.
Our targeting strategy is so punctilious about a whole range of things, including precious cultural artifacts. Even though the insurgents in Iraq, as you know, store weapons in mosques and are very, very happy to blow mosques up to kill people and to fire at people from mosques, the United States does not target places of worship and certainly never targets humanitarian places and does not target great symbols of a country's culture.
Now, things are always going to happen. Even precise bombs can go awry.
But I think the "shock and awe" was really a type of psychological warfare more than anything else. I'm not convinced that it was the wisest thing to do, to start talking in that way. It invited, I think, in the beginning of the Iraq intervention, far more outrage from those who were nowhere near Iraq than it did internally in the country, because they knew what was happening there and that they weren't being targeted.
Let me say a couple of other things, real quickly, about the Iraq situation. [Interruption in recording] determining that it was really a dysfunctional structure and he wouldn't get the outcome that he wanted, so he bypassed the United Nations completely and operated under the rubric of NATO, as you may know. I didn't hear very much criticism of that at the time, which seems rather interesting.
The Bush administration attempted to work with the United Nations and said, "Look, if you want the United Nations to be taken seriously as the kind of entity that those who formed it hoped it would be—that is, that it would enforce certain norms and rules, including especially its own requirements—if you want it to be thus, then it needs to step up to the plate at this moment. You cannot permit Saddam to systematically violate sixteen resolutions and expect that the United Nations will be considered a credible entity to deal with international crises."
It's also important for us to remember that it was also the United Nations that had amassed all the data on the stockpiles of WMD. Those were widely available.
So I think what we see there is that the United Nations, at this point in time, given its structure—we are not talking about the United Nations per se—has a very difficult time enforcing its own resolutions, has a very difficult time dealing with ongoing violence. It tries to pick up the pieces, often, in the aftermath. But how many times are you going to have the UN secretary-general step before the cameras and say, "I feel ashamed. I feel terrible. This shouldn't have happened," and then it happens again.
I think that's the real challenge that the international community faces. People have given up on the United Nations as an effective force in that regard.
Questions and Answers
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Thank you, Jean.
These questions from the audience—we have an avalanche—remind me of that television ad where you see the two young entrepreneurs who have a business and they put up their website. They have a little numbers counter there. The first one comes in, the second one comes in, and then all of a sudden the avalanche starts. We will try to work through as many as we can.
I also have a news flash here. One of these questions was directed to Admiral Nichols. So you've received a promotion.
I am seeing that there are a couple of themes here. One theme is this question of how robust this norm of prevention is. Along those lines, let me try this one. Then I will also try a second one on this theme of just war as a way of measuring or accounting.
The first one, on robustness: Why is the international community unable to come together under the banner of just war to stop genocide in the Sudan? How might Sudan differ from Rwanda, Iraq, or Kosovo?
The other is one along the lines of—perhaps this will get into the concept of double effect or unintended consequences—the cost of war: How just is a preventive war when the cost in lives and pain is—We all know the numbers of casualties. We know that there are 2,500 U.S. military deaths, probably getting up close to 18,000 wounded. This doesn't count the psychological cost, the monetary cost, the cost in Iraqi civilian deaths, and so forth and so on. If you really think expansively about costs, does the just-war principle help us at all in that regard?
I know I have sort of two themes going here, but I would rather throw those out and let you choose which one you want to take up
THOMAS NICHOLS: I want to make one military comment about the second one. But I'm not a military person. I have never been an officer of the United States military. But thank you for the promotion, whoever said that.
First, the norm is not very robust right now, because no one wants to risk deputizing anybody else to go do this kind of thing. A Russian diplomat challenged me when I was in Moscow and said, "What if we went into Georgia and took out a nest of Chechnyan terrorists? The Americans would criticize us." My answer to that was, "No, they probably wouldn't, actually. My guess is that most Americans wouldn't, if you really did bring out dead terrorists."
But it's not robust, because no one wants to be the one to kind of go first and say it's okay to start doing this kind of thing. So what will happen, as is always the case in international relations, is that law will follow custom. Practice will come first. Incidence will then become precedent.
As for the Sudan, there's a very simple answer. The dictatorships and the rogue regimes are banding together in the United Nations to protect—when John Danforth was UN ambassador, it drove him crazy, because you couldn't even get a resolution in the General Assembly condemning what's going on in Darfur, because it was being subverted by those well-known champions of liberty and democracy, like Belarus, Zimbabwe, and other ne'er-do-wells in the international community.
I want to say one thing on the second question before I hand it to Jean. People talk about the immense cost of the Iraq operation. Every soldier lost is a tragedy, and a family grieves. But I'm going to say something in a comparative context, and I don't want to be misunderstood. For the size of the undertaking that was done in Iraq, toppling a regime in a country the size of California, the casualty figures were actually quite low. That doesn't mean that they are not a tragedy. That doesn't mean that there aren't families grieving over every single one of them. But when you talk about the cost of human lives, think about Vietnam; think about Korea, where we still have troops fifty-three years later. There are still troops stationed in Korea. There is not peace there yet.
So in terms of the relative cost of other military actions, this has not been a huge military disaster. It has been, certainly, more lives than it should be. And maybe that's the real issue: Did it have to be this many? But before we talk about massive costs, I think you have to always approach that from a historical perspective.
JEAN ELSHTAIN: Very quickly, just to add to what Tom said on Darfur, the unfolding of this is beyond belief. If there ever was a classic case of protecting the innocent from harm, Darfur would be one.
But I think what you would require in order to deal with it would be a determined state or coalition of states rising up to do this, because the United Nations has not acted and will not act - [inaudible] lots of condemnations.
The United States, of course, is not in a position to act, given the Iraq War that we are involved in. It's a terrible tragedy that others haven't stepped forward to deal with, when it has been officially acknowledged that what's going on there is genocide, and it was genocide that was supposed to never happen again. And it has happened again and again.
The cost in lives and pain is a very good question. The just-war tradition, at the outset, when you are trying to think of whether a war is justified or not, brings that in by asking those who are about to embark on the use of force to think in very, very clear ways about the gravity of doing that and what the likely costs are going to be.
The problem is, as you know, you can never predict with any degree of accuracy what's going to happen, because you don't know what kind of reaction your actions will engender. We do know that the actual loss of civilian life in the initial military phase of the operation was stunningly low, as were the American casualties. So for the Iraqis and the United States, that was really good.
It has been in this next phase, the phase that we, alas, are still in, where you have a pretty ruthless group, clearly, who don't cavil at beheading people, blowing up mosques, killing innocents whenever they think they can do it, in order to create complete wreckage and disorder. That's where we have seen the loss of life mount.
If you can fault the Bush administration here—and I don't know what data they had available; I have no idea; I'm not on the inside of any of this—perhaps they didn't spend as much time thinking about the issue of what the whole situation might turn into in a worst-case scenario, as well as a best-case scenario. I think that's what one is obliged to do.
Let me just add, very, very quickly—I promised I would keep this short—that I hear lots of wild figures sometimes about the number of Iraqi civilian casualties. There was a figure that was based on an extrapolation that was published in, I think, the British journal Lancet, something like 100,000, which was later proved to be in error, for a whole variety of methodological reasons.
But the figure that I was told when I was in Casablanca, Morocco a few months ago, meeting with a group of [inaudible] scholars and intellectuals from throughout the Middle East—their figures at that time were in the neighborhood of 25,000. There is absolutely no reason for them to be inaccurate, on the low side, in offering those figures.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Thank you.
When we walked in, I noticed that above the door was this very large banner that said, "Experience God," which raised the stakes for our panel discussion here. But since we are under the auspices of the Center for Religious Inquiry, I did want to actually inject the religion question here. Jean, you mentioned as part of your presentation the religious roots of the just-war tradition. This came back around with the rhetoric and the approach of President Bush.
In fact, just to read from the question, which is actually directed to you, Tom, but I would like you both to comment: "You have forgotten that Bush spoke with God, and this war in Iraq was the will of God."
We all know what the gist of this question is. The question is, how does religious belief, the belief, perhaps, of our leadership or the religious belief of our society, map onto this concept of just war, especially when you're dealing with an inter-civilizational kind of conflict?
JEAN ELSHTAIN: I know that this is a story that makes the rounds. Any time I have attempted to locate a credible source for it, I haven't been able to. I haven't been able to get those who [inaudible] Bush talked about it being the will of God. They don't have a credible source for it. It's a little bit like the game Gossip, where somebody whispers something and it gets wilder and wilder and wilder.
I want to talk about the really important question, but let me just say, I think if one is going to make arguments against the war in Iraq and so forth, then one should consider [inaudible] certain obligations, you try to check your facts, try to check your sources, and not to indulge in hyperbole and things of that sort, because it doesn't help the debate.
I was in a situation—the only time I have been in one with a president of the United States—about a week after 9/11, when the White House called together a group of people representing America's religious communities. I guess they wanted someone who teaches ethics from a divinity school, and I wound up being the person. There were people from Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, the evangelical community, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus—the whole panoply of America's religions were represented.
The president was in there with us. There were no cameras. There was no big PR stuff. Someone, point-blank, put a question like this: "Mr. President, don't you think God had foreknowledge that this was going to happen, and you got made president?" And his response to that—this is something that I was witness to—was, no, he didn't believe that at all.
I see you shaking your head, but I was there and you weren't, ma'am.
I think we have to be careful about this. That the president prays, there's no doubt about it. So did President Clinton. Big surprise. So did President Carter. President Clinton walked around with his bible in his hand and stood in front of a bunch of people and called himself a sinner.
In fact, I was present at a panel on the references to God in presidential speeches, a comparison of President Clinton and President Bush, and President Clinton did more referencing of God and quoting scripture than Bush.
So I think if you object to presidents who pray, presidents who quote scripture, and so on, then you are going to have pretty much equal-opportunity condemnation, because it's not a Democrat-Republican thing at all.
There are very good arguments to make against the war in Iraq. I happily admit that. But this crazy rumor that God spoke to Bush—that's just what it is; it's a crazy rumor. And it doesn't promote civic discourse.
There is one other issue, and that is that the just-war tradition, although it may have emerged within a framework of theological discourse, spread out, if you will, and got absorbed within secular arguments and international law. The appeal there is that these are the rules we can arrive at through the use of reason—not revelation, through the use of reason. So the appeal is to reason, not to God, not to revelation. I think that's always the best way to make arguments in a political and civil context.
We are dealing in the case of Islamist terrorism with people who clearly have a religious mission. They make no bones about it at all. All you have to do is log on and download Osama bin Laden's fatwas and so on. It's very clear that this is a massive, in his eyes, religious undertaking, to purify and cleanse the world of all the infidels and the Jews and the Americans.
THOMAS NICHOLS: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Don't you wish that crazy Jefferson would knock off all the God talk?
I find this to be one of the cheapest of cheap shots during this war, frankly. I don't even know if it's a crazy rumor, Jean. I'll accept it. I'll accept that before committing hundreds of thousands of people to combat, the president of the United States probably knelt down and prayed and said, "I'm kind of in a pickle here."
Frankly, if the president didn't pray before a decision like this, I'd be worried to death. If you want to see an example of a president who talks about God a lot, go to the Lincoln Memorial and read the second inaugural. It's practically a fire-and-brimstone sermon, promising God's vengeance on the institution of slavery and asking God's mercy for the people that are going to have to engage the great evil in ridding us of it.
I do not understand when it somehow became impolite for the president of the United States to believe in a god.
They used to say this about Reagan too. I feel like I'm living through the 1980s. Reagan heard the voices telling him that we're living in the End Times and that evil communism must be crushed and so on.
I simply don't think it's a bad thing for the president or any other leader in public life to have religious beliefs. If I were in those shoes, if I were an admiral and I were about to lead men into battle, I suppose I would pray. I would say, "I need some help here."
That's a very different matter than saying, as Osama bin Laden did in his declaration of war against the United States—one of his first conditions for peace is that "you Americans must all convert to Islam," period, full stop, not, "You must tolerate Islam. You must leave our lands. You must accept what we do. You must respect it." No. "You must give up your religion and adopt ours."
I don't recall the president or the prime minister of Great Britain or anyone else involved in the Gulf War making that demand.
I agree with Jean. I think it's an uncivil discourse to talk about whether the president is some sort of loon who hears voices. I hope all presidents pray, and I'm sure Bush did here. But I just don't understand that comment.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: I want to thank the panelists, Tom and Jean, for joining us. This is really inspiring.
You said two very important things. You talked about civil discourse, and you talked about appeal to reason. I know that that was the hope, that we could have this kind of civilized conversation about such an important, urgent, controversial issue as this concept of just war.
Thank you all for joining us.