Pacifists and Just War Theorists Need to Talk
In a series of posts for TTC, I argued that we Christians should all be christological pacifists.
But say you are not convinced. Say you want to imitate Jesus’ love for his enemies as best you can, but you cannot see how we can live in the real world without sometimes going to war. Therefore you come to accept just war theory, according to which a kind of justice and respect for humanity should be preserved in war.
The conversation between you and me does not therefore end.
You and I are still brothers and sisters in Christ, and we can still work together for peace. Indeed, I want to argue in this post that your theory about war, like mine, commits you to peacemaking.
War as a Last Resort
As someone who accepts just war theory, you will think about two aspects of justice in war 1) the justice of conduct during a war once it has started, and 2) the justice of going to war in the first place.
As a part of this second part of the justice of wars, you will probably accept the idea that a nation should only go to war as the last possible resort.
This criterion of “last resort” is based on the idea that a war is justified only if there is no less harmful way to avert the evil which motivates it. Given the terrible harm caused by war, this idea means that every way short of war that has a reasonable prospect of of success must be tried.
Why All Just Wars Are Last Resorts
Just War theorists differ as to which criteria they think are necessary for a war to be justified. However, philosopher Seth Lazar has argued that last resort along with proportionality, which is the idea that the good achieved by victory in war must outweigh the evil caused by the war, are the two criteria which are absolutely essential for a war to be just.
In the logic of just war theory, these are the absolutely necessary conditions for a just war because only together do they ensure that a nation is not needlessly bringing about the terrible suffering that accompanies war. If a war is proportionate, then victory will actually bring about more good than harm, in spite of the fact that it was achieved through war. If a war is a last resort, then it is the least harmful way we can reasonably expect to achieve this worthy victory.
Why Wars that are Last Resorts Assume Prior Peacemaking
It follows that, if you accept just war theory, you must be engaged in peacemaking along with your pacifist sisters and brothers. Nonviolent solutions with reasonable prospects of success take organization and dedication across time. So it is not enough to run through a list of options once two nations are already on the brink of war and then give the war a rubber stamp. This is to treat war as the first option, whereas if it is a just war, it must be the last option.
A group of Christian ethicists – both pacifists and just war theorists – and international relations experts have recently drawn attention to nonviolent practices that have been shown to be effective in preventing wars (Stassen 172). These are the types of practices to which just war theory commits those who accept it.
Some Effective Ways to Make Peace
Reducing the production of offensive weapons, weapons trade, and withdrawing weapons from conflict areas. This reduces the threat between nations and gives room for talks and cooperation to develop, and has been effective in reducing the threat of war between the major powers during the Cold War, and among many developing countries in the last decades of the twentieth century (187).
Developing just and sustainable economic relations. On the one hand, wars of rebellion and terrorism have been shown to be caused by relative economic deprivation. On the other, significant trade between countries means that they have a stake in each other’s well-being. That is why countries rarely engage in violent conflict when their trade with each other makes up a large part of their national incomes (188).
Taking nonviolent direct action against injustice. Sociologist Gene Sharp has compiled an extensive toolbox of practices which fall under this heading and has argued persuasively that they are, more often than not, more effective than violent alternatives (189).
Working on independent, small-scale projects that build trust between nations in conflict. This was instrumental in ending the Cold War and has been much more effective at reducing nuclear arsenals around the world than even negotiations (189).
Acknowledging responsibility for past injustices. This allows for cooperation that would otherwise be made impossible by festering resentment (189).
Lazar, Seth. “War.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) <https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/war/>.
Stassen, Glen H.. “The Unity, Realism, and Obligatoriness of Just Peacemaking Theory.” Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics (23/1) (2003): 171-194.