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Cover story

'Just war' applied anew to 'genocide,' civil war

NCR Staff

Three times in the early 1990s, Fr. J. Bryan Hehir aimed the "just war" theory at the Bosnia crisis -- and missed.

Hehir, Harvard Divinity School professor of Practice in Religion and Society, admits he was wrong when he thrice opposed outside intervention in Bosnia while "ethnic cleansing" was underway. He also knows where he was wrong -- on the issue of proportionality, one of the criteria of the just war theory used to measure whether a particular action might be justified. Hehir at the time was afraid outside involvement, for instance from NATO, would use force out of all proportion to the conditions inside the region. In fact, the quickly changing post-Cold War world was providing new scenarios the old just-war scripts didn't cover.

Precisely what those scripts might be was explored by Hehir during a February appearance at Georgetown University with LeRoy Walters, philosophy professor and director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, and William V. O'Brien, a just-war expert and Georgetown government professor emeritus. Hehir was on the staff of the U.S. Catholic Conference and helped draft the bishops' 1983 pastoral on war and peace.

The session was one in a three-segment symposium, "The Church in American Society and the Consistent Ethic of Life," which built on a Sept. 19, 1996, address at Georgetown by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

Discussion of the just war doctrine came down to favoring -- in a world no longer caught between two superpowers or under an immediate threat of nuclear war -- continued intervention to prevent genocide and "ethnic cleansing," and possible "humanitarian intervention." Yet to expand just cause for going to war beyond genocide, Hehir speculated, probably requires expanding the "reasons" for intervention while restricting the "authority" of who can intervene -- probably to intervention "authorization" only by multilateral approval.

From a U.S. military standpoint, that immediately raises the thorny issue of military command. U.S. soldiers are quick to point out that they joined the U.S. military to serve under U.S. commanders, not multilateral commanders. Hehir would deal with that by allowing for a "double volunteer" system. A U.S. soldier serving in the U.S. military could further volunteer to serve in multilateral forces.

However, suggested O'Brien, there are practical problems with "collective humanitarian intervention. It's not easy to get enough consensus" to first get authority and then to exercise it.

The United Nations still has a Security Council veto, said O'Brien, "and a Desert Shield or Desert Storm can't rely on Russia always to agree or China to always abstain." And convincing the American people they ought to be involved is a further challenge.

Intervening for humanitarian purposes in a conflict between two parties, suggested O'Brien, also poses the "comparative justice" question: What kind of country is this?

It is a judgment call, he said, "to knock out something that's very bad in favor of something that's hard to take. But that's the world we live in."

We also live in a world in which 10 percent of the global budget is spent on arms, said Walters, alluding to the consistent ethic-of-life theme running through the symposium series.

Questioning whether just-war discussions should also embrace the question of "just levels" of military expenditure, Walters used materials from the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and other materials to show that the United States sells 56 percent of the world's arms -- "more than all other nations combined" -- while scaling back rapidly on aid and other assistance that might help prevent wars.

Industrial world indicators show America lagging behind in social and public health expenditures, Walters said.

The United States ranks a poor 12th in maternal mortality rates, 18th in the percentage of school age children in school and 39th in the physician-to-patients ratio.

Meanwhile, he said, the United States places an emphasis on military research and development to the detriment of other research and development efforts.

Walters said current interest rates consume 15 percent of the federal budget owing to the enormous Reagan-era military buildup, "an ongoing legacy. Before that time, interest on the national debt was 7 percent." But Reagan would not cut defense and Congress would not cut social spending, he said. Hehir said that although there is no longer the level of overall danger that existed in the Cold War, the two major issues now are genocide, violence and civil war in collapsed states. Applying the just war theory to these new problems, Hehir said, would require "a tight and tough means test of proportionality about assessing what kinds of possibilities of effectiveness intervention should have and what the consequences would be."

So, he suggested, expand the cause; restrict the authority; and be tight and tough on proportionality.

While genocide ought to demand intervention, he said, he was not sure that lesser human rights violations should require similar measures. What, he wondered, would a range of just causes for intervention look like?

Peacemaker programs teach techniques

Information on speakers, programs, teaching materials and student opportunities is available from countless peace groups across the country. The following is a sample of some notable groups and individuals that have long been active in peacemaking.

Center for Teaching Peace: Details of Colman McCarthy's lecture schedule; ways of creating high-school and college peace studies programs; and home study courses, from 4501 Van Ness St. NS, Washington DC 20016. Phone: (202) 537-1372

Fellowship of Reconcilation: Peacemaker training programs, books, Fellowship magazine, PO Box 271, Nyack NY 10960. Phone: (914) 358-4601

Pax Christi USA: Details of programs confronting the National Ignition Facilities at Livermore Laboratories; connections between military spending and economic spending; and educational material 532 W 8th St, Erie PA 16502. Phone: (814) 453-4955

Catholic Worker: There are Catholic Worker-related houses of hospitality or farms in dozens of U.S. states. For subscriptions to The Catholic Worker newspaper (still a penny a copy), information on volunteer opportunities or details of house and farm locations contact, Catholic Worker, St Joseph House, 36 E First St, New York 10003. Phone: (212) 254-1640

Jonah House: Details of inner-city activities, student opportunities and Faith and Resistance programs and Plowshares movement contacts, 1301 Moreland Ave, Baltimore MD 21216. Phone: (410) 233-6238

Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers Justice and Peace Office, % Marie Dennis, PO Box 29132, Washington DC 20017. Phone: (202) 832-1780

National Catholic Reporter, May 16, 1997