The ethics of war has been thrust into the limelight with the recent conflict in Iraq. Throughout this essay I will use this war to illustrate the ethical problems associated with war and how the notion of a rightful authority affect these problems. I will start by defining a rightful or higher authority and illustrating why they are necessary for civilisation. I will then examine what powers and responisiblities these authorities have by way of a social contract. Finally, I will examine how these authorities affect the ethics of war.What is a higher authority and why do people agree to be governed? Thomas Hobbes described a social contract required to escape “the state of nature”1.
The state of nature exists in the absence of higher authority, where there is no social structure. As a result of this, there is absolute freedom but no laws to protect people. People are naturally violent towards each other and this is especially true in this state of nature where there is a scarcity of resources (land, food) and yet a rough equality of need and power.In this state of nature, people naturally do what is best and right in their own eyes without consideration of the opinions of others. This leads to a war of all against all.
Hobbes said that in this condition “The life of man, would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”2. In order to escape this state of nature people must reach agreement to establish government to enforce rules making stable, secure life possible. This leads to a “state” as described by Kant as “the union of a number of men under juridical law”3.What then are the powers and responisbilities of this higher authority? Kant describes three distinct powers of the state: legislative power, executive power and judiciary powers. Legislative power refers to the power of the state to make laws.
Executive power refers to the power of the state to administer the laws. Judiciary power refers to the power of the state to judge crimes and assign everyone what is his own4. This power, Kant argues, comes from the responsibility of the higher authority to protect its citizens.Do they have the right to declare war? Kant argued that the right to go to war comes from the duty of the higher authority to protect its people. Kant is saying that the state has a right to go to war in retaliation for any “overt act of injury”5. Kant states that the people must be regarded as having given their sanction as they have the right to vote.This right to vote is an important point when it comes to the notion of rightful authority.
A government must represent the wishes of its public. There are issues when it comes to how well a governement conforms to a rightful authority such as how often are they elected. In the case of a dictatorship this is never and therefore the governement might not be considered a rightful authority.Kant’s theories of rights fit in with just war theory. Just war theroy is perhaps the most important theory behind the ethics of war and has had moral and legal applications (The Hague, Geneva Conventions). The first major philosopher to undertake the task of determining the circumstances under which war is justified was St. Augustine of Hippo. For Augustine, war is an allowable part of the life of a nation, and the power of prosecuting a war was part of the natural powers of a leader, whose task it is to uphold peace.
According to Augustine, for a war to be just, it must be fought for the right reasons, and it must be waged under rightful authority. He further held that the only reason which justified war was the desire for peace.The second major thinker to deal with the issue of war was St. Thomas Aquinas who picked up from Augustine.
In forming his theory regarding the justness of a war, Aquinas focused on defining the right to make war. He also looked at the importance of the intent which stands behind the decision to go to war. In his attempt to formulate a simple rule which would give guidance on these issues, Aquinas argued that a war is justified when three basic conditions are met6.Firstly, that the war was prosecuted by a lawful authority with the power to wage war. The power to wage war comes from the responsibility of the higher authority to protect its citizens. The important point here is that it cannot be an individual or a group who wage war. The power to wage war must be given to the supreme authority.
Secondly, the war was undertaken with just cause. Self-defence and defence of others are prime just causes for resorting to war. Every state has certain rights because of the rights of its citizens. If these rights are impeached upon the state will have a just cause to wage war. For example if there is an armed invasion across the border a state is justified in resorting to war. This argument can be extended to other nations who join the war in aid of the victim as the aggressor has foreited his rights when he attacked the victim’s rights.Thirdly, that the war was undertaken with the right intention, that is, “to achieve some good or to avoid some evil”7.
Even if there is a just cause for a war the intention behind the decision to wage the war must be right. For example if a country is invaded by another it has just cause to war. However, if it was not really bothered by the small incursion made on its territory but still decided to wage war for other reasons such as power, land, revenge or ethnic hatred than this does not satisfy the criteria of rightful intention. The only rightful intention is to wage the war based on the just cause.Together with St. Augustine, Aquinas’ views on the justification of war form the basic core of just war theory.How does the notion of lawful authority affet the ethics of the recent war in Iraq? The war was waged by coalition governements including those of the US, UK, Australia and Spain.
All these governments were democratically elected by the citizens of their country and all hold the power to wage war. It would seem from this that the first condition of just war theory is satisfied for this example. However, there is the issue of the United Nations.In modern times the introduction of the UN signified a release of some of the power to wage war by member countries to the security council of the UN. The UN establishes international laws which protects the rights of all citizens of the world. On this basis the UN could be seen as the lawful authority by which the war should have been waged in order to meet the condition of just war theory. However, the UN is mainly an advisorary council and rarely commands war itself, but rather grants member states the authority to do so under this international law (only as a self-defence measure). So, although the UN did not wage the war in Iraq, the question is did they allow it under international law.
This is a controversial matter. The argument is over the language of the first resolution placed on Iraq and whether it legally entails military action on Iraq. Unfortunately, there is no answer to this but the rejection of the second resolution by the UN leads me to conclude that the war was not waged by a lawful authority as although it was conducted by governments with the power to do so, it went against international law.The second condition for a just war is a just cause. America proclaimed that the war on Iraq was to protect itself from the weapons of mass destruction being produced by them.
This would seem a just cause as it is self-defence, even though it is pre-emptive. However, it is argued that America was never in danger from these alleged weapons.The final condition is rightful intention. America’s intention to rid evil of an oppressive dictator and advance democracy satisfy this condition. Again, many would argue these were not the sole attentions, but other agendas such as oil, a strategic base in the middle east and political pressures may have been involved.In conclusion the Iraq war was not a just war for the reasons illustrated.
The notion of rightful authority in relation to this war is very important. For example, in the UK public opinion suggested that the war would only have been justified if it had UN backing.I now turn my attention towards relgious authority as a rightful or higher authority. Religious authority also plays an important role in the ethics of war. This is a powerful authority and the majority of wars are fought on the basis of religion. For example the ‘Jihad’ waged by extremist muslims on western civilisation is perhaps the greatest danger to peace in the world today.
The Al-Qaeda terrorist group justify their actions based on the teachings of the Qur’an. Does this make their actions morally justified? It all comes down to the interpretation of the scriptures. Some say that Muhammed advocates the use of force in defense of his growing religious community.
But extremists believe that the sayings of the Prophet go beyond defensive and retributive uses of force to permit offensive jihad to expand the territory of Islam8. “Jihad” can refer to the struggle of the individual Muslim to conform his or her will to Allah’s, or to a peaceful effort to persuade others to accept Islam. But jihad can also mean holy war. In fact, there’s a sense in which the only completely just war in Islamic terms is a holy war, since it has to be approved by proper religious authorities and waged to defend or promote Islam or the Muslim community.
So for extremist Muslims the ethics of war are fundamenatally based on religious authority.Hinduism provides an important example of how religious authority affects the ethics of war. The highest level of written authority is ascribed to Shruti, “that which was heard,” including the four Samhitas (collections), the Vedas (knowledge). These are followed by Smriti, “that which has been remembered,” which includes the Dharmasutras, the Upanishads, and the epics of the Mahabarata and Ramayana to which many turn for guidance. It is from the Mahabarata that the Bhagavad-Gita9, one of the most widely-read ethical texts from ancient India, comes. The Bhagavad-Gita, which means The Song of the Lord, was written between the second century BC and the second century CE.
This work from the Mahabarata is a story of a conversation between Arjuna, a prince, and Krishna, an incarnation of the supreme God. The story takes place on a battlefield and is essentially Krishna’s response to Arjuna’s refusal to fight.Arjuna asked Krishna to position his chariot between the two armies, and there he saw many of his relatives on the other side, causing him to feel faint and consider not fighting. He wonders how he could kill his own blood relatives with whom he had grown up as a child. Evil would come to him, he says, if he should kill his relatives. How could this bring happiness? Why should he kill for greed of royal pleasures? It would be greater happiness for him to be killed unresisting and unarmed.
Thus decides not to fight as he is overcome with sorrow.Krishna responds by saying to Arjuna that this would cause disgrace, urging him to stand up. Arjuna answers that it would be better to live by begging than be smeared with the blood of his noble teachers.
He does not see what would remove this sorrow even if he were to win unrivaled prosperity and royal power. Once again Arjuna declares that he will not fight.The Lord now tells Arjuna that he is grieving unnecessarily even though his words are wise. This is because of the immortality of soul means that he, and those he slays, will exist forever. No one can cause the destruction of the imperishable soul.
The bodies have an end but the infinite soul is indestructible and eternal. Therefore he should not mourn, because death is a certainty for everyone. According to Krishna, Arjuna should look to his duty as a warrior prince and thus do battle.
If he was to avoid this duty, that would be evil.The teaching of The Bhagavad Gita is summed up in the maxim “your business is with the deed and not with the result”10. In relation to the ethics of war this says war is justified as a duty to work for justice and protect lives.
I disagree with this justification of war. While I agree that it is our duty to act courageously it contradicts with another important Hindu ethic known as ahimsa. I take the justifcation given in the Bhagavad-Gita for war as representative of the ethical climate at the time.Ahimsa means not-harm, non-violence (Pacifism). It was adopted by Mahatma Gandhi who believed non-violent, non-cooperation to be the correct ethical decision in all situations.
Gandhi believed his method of non-violent non-cooperation to be the correct ethical decision in all situations. Gandhi’s example has shown us that the Hindu traditions can be interpreted in such a way that violence becomes unthinkable; when put into action his beliefs became a movement which defeated the British Empire with the moral weapon of non-violent, non-cooperation. Gandhi’s ethical life and teachings contain no trace of retaliation, justified war, or violence of any kind as acceptable courses of action.In conclusion, the notion of rightful or higher authority plays an important role in the ethics of war. A rightful is authority is usually an elected government whose power to wage war comes from the rights of its citizens for protection. That war must be waged by a rightful authority is one of the three conditions of just war theory. When analysed in relation to the recent war in Iraq there are various issues to consider when deciding whether the authority is lawful. One of the controversial problems arising from the Iraq war was the subsequent question of the authority of nations in relation to the UN.
A rightful authority may also be a religious authority. This has lead to many bloody wars in the past and is the current major threat to world peace (Jihad).This usually comes down to the interpretation of the teachings. In Hinduism, the Bhagavad-Gita can be interpreted as to condone war or through the duty to protect. However, in Hindu teachings can be interpreted in such a way that violence becomes unthinkable. This is also the case with Islamic teachings. So it has been shown that war is often morally justified by means of rightful authority and self-defence. However, there is another school of thought when it comes to ethics of war, that of pacificsm.
It is my opinion that we should be careful when examining the ethics of war in relation to just war theory or from religious authority because we can always misinterpret them to condone unneccessary violence.