Archive for the ‘Just War Doctrine’ Category
23 March 2015
Dear Representative Capps:
I am disappointed that you voted ‘yea’ last Friday on the House resolution calling on President Obama to provide military assistance to the Ukraine:
- It is widely reported, plausible, and probably true that the US, via the CIA, helped instigate the crisis in the first place, actively seeking to separate the Ukraine from the Russian orbit.
- It is further common knowledge that Germany, for its economic gain, is also responsible for instigating the crisis.
- The text of the resolution is fallacious. It implies that whereas a “prosperous Ukraine” is “in the national interest of the United States” that we have some right — if not indeed a moral obligation — to supply military assistance to the Ukraine. Such reasoning is worthy of Machiavelli: it assumes without question that we have a right to make war merely for the sake of promoting our national interest — rather than, as our Founders wished, only to protect our national *security* interests. It is also fallacious to assert that our unquestioned goal should be to help other countries be prosperous — as though material wealth were the purpose of human existence, and that higher values (like peace and friendship) are not our true goals.
- It overlooks the potentially reasonable position that the Ukraine itself is ethnically divided, with the eastern Ukraine being more culturally Russian, and therefore having a valid wish to remain within the Russian sphere.
- We have had enough war, and enough of shipping arms around the world!
- When will the Congress recognize that it is not only possible, but better to cultivate peace rather than to pursue war?
San Luis Obispo
Last month Lawfare co-founder and Harvard Fellow Benjamin Wittes participated in a formal debate hosted by the Oxford Union on the resolution, “This house believes drone warfare is ethical and effective.”
In his followup column, Benjamin correctly observes that embedded within the drone debate are several separate issues. How many and what these specific issues are is a matter of opinion, but his list will do for starters:
- The platform question: Is the use of drones ethical and effective relative to other weapons given a decision to use force?
- The policy question: Should the United States be engaged in lethal targeting of terrorist suspects in countries like Yemen and Pakistan and under what circumstances?
- Platform/policy interaction: Does the availability of drones enable lethal missions we would otherwise eschew, and if so, do we consider that incremental enabling to be a good or an evil?
This sort of gradual refinement of issues and questions is exactly what needs to happen. So kudos to him for this part.
The substance of his actual argument, however, is another matter. Benjamin made the rather unenviable prospect of defending the “pro” position (drones are ethical and effective) somewhat more feasible by restricting his attention to the first issue above. Nevertheless, even in that narrow sense, defending drone use is not the ethical slam dunk he made it out to be. There are several important arguments against *any* use of attack drones, i.e., ethical and practical concerns that pertain to unique features of the drone platform:
1. Proliferation. Other countries (China, Iran, N. Korea) can easily build drone weapons. Does not our eager use of drones invite their use by other countries, perhaps even against the US and her allies? Would it not be wise now to foresee this imminent danger, and to proceed more slowly and carefully — if at all?
2. Operator remoteness. The operator of a manned aircraft arguably has access to more contextual cues that enable him to discriminate combatants from non-combatants. A remote drone operator is more likely to mistake civilians for militants, or to fail to notice cues that might alert to the presence of children.
3. Public sentiment and outrage. As the recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee of Farea al-Muslimi confirms, drone strikes produce greater public outrage than conventional military actions. For one thing, the drones circle for hours, creating a climate of general terror. Living in constant fear of ‘death from the skies’ is a pretty terrible thing.
4. Hygienic killing. Where do we draw the line on a killing technology which is so efficient and ‘hygienic’ that it is simply inhumane? The pilot of a manned attack aircraft has, arguably, some direct sense of the horror of his actions. Human conscience and feelings, a gut-level aversion to killing, still operate. But is this true for a remote drone operator in an air-conditioned office? And what are the psychological effects on the drone operators themselves?
5. Manner of death. Another unique feature of drone strikes is that the faster-than-sound missiles strike their victims with no advance warning. One second you’re walking around, the next you’re toast. The killed person has no time for final prayers, or even a moment to effect some degree of self-composure. Christians, and I suppose Muslims as well, believe: (1) the human soul is immortal; (2) there is an afterlife; and (3) that preparing oneself for death may have some bearing on what happens afterwards. I write this knowing that nobody dares to say such a thing today; I say it nonetheless — it should be said, and stated plainly: every human being has an inalienable right to last prayers. When this issue is not even considered, we no longer have human beings killing human beings, but machines and a soul-less system killing human beings. The former is tragic, the latter hellish.
So we see that there is significant doubt that lethal drones can clear even the lowest ethical hurdle, namely whether the platform itself is ethical and effective. All the points above pertain uniquely to drone weaponry and raise major ethical concerns. Points 1 and 3 also address issues of efficacy: drone proliferation may ultimately harm US security, and outrage concerning their use may alienate potential allies. In an expanded sense of the word “efficacy”, all points further testify to the special counter-productiveness of drones, inasmuch as the ethical problems they raise erode the moral fabric of US society; of what purpose is military defense if the result is debasement of the very principles we say we must fight to protect?
Clearly even more problems are evident when we consider the other issues Wittes mentioned, i.e., drone use Yemen and Pakistan, and whether having the ability to wage ‘cheap war’ increases the likelihood of military conflicts and “lethal missions.”
To mark the 10th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, we should consider what the lessons are:
1. The US government will lie to any degree necessary to start a war.
2. A war will last at least 10 times as long and cost at least 10 times as much as initially announced.
3. Once the war drums beat, most Americans will step in line unconditionally.
4. There is a single ‘war party’ comprised of the Republican and Democratic parties.
5. Once commenced, no politician will question a war; no reivews will be made of the prudence of continuing it.
6. Foreign-imposed regime changes lead to prolonged, bloody, internal fighting.
7. Those who protested the US invasion of Iraq were neither unpatriotic nor wrong.
8. News and entertainment media promote and glorify war.
9. The Christian churches of America, who stood by doing nothing then and still refuse to denounce US militarism, are abrogating their moral authority, discrediting Christianity, and — though God alone knows for certain but we must dare suggest — grieving the Holy Spirit.
10. The US government will betray its veterans whenever that saves money.
These are the lessons that should be learned. Whether they will be learned is another matter entirely.
My latest letter to Sen. Boxer (D-CA), requesting an official rationale for our continued military involvement in Afghanistan. I will post her reply, whenever it arrives.
September 12, 2012
The Honorable Barbara Boxer
United States Senate
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-0505
Dear Senator Boxer,
Subject: Please explain US goals in Afghanistan
I request a communication from your office that explains why the US is still fighting in Afghanistan.
In previous letters, you have (1) acknowledged that Al Qaeda has little if any presence in Afghanistan, and (2) suggested that our goal there is not so much to prevent domestic terrorism as it is “geopolitical” in nature.
You also alluded to “volatility” in the region.
At this time I request clarification of your references to geopolitics and volatility, as these vague terms have a wide range of possible meanings. What, specifically, is the concern of the US in Afghanistan? Are we trying to counter potential influence of China in the region? Or perhaps of Russia? Or Iran? Or Pakistan? Is this necessary for our national security? Why?
Or is our goal to prevent Pakistani nuclear arms from falling into the hands of terrorists?
Or is the thinking that we need to set up a Western-style democracy in Afghanistan in order to support the general Westernization of the Caspian Sea region? And if that is the case, are our motives humanitarian, or selfishly economic?
Rather than continue to speculate as to motives, I would prefer that you, my Senator, kindly inform me as to what they are.
I would also strongly encourage you to investigate the possibility of including moderate factions of the Taliban in negotiations aimed at ending hostilities.
John S. Uebersax