Iraq Symposium

This week the Register looks again at the war in Iraq. There are good reasons to do so. In the age of terrorism, old ways of thinking about just-war theory will have to be updated to account for enemies who fight in loose networks rather than from nations. But new ways of thinking about war-making will also have to be scrutinized. We need to make sure the horror of war isn’ t entered rashly, and that prudence and principles guide us even in the age of terrorism.

The week of Jan. 1 is also the week of Pope John Paul II'd World Peace Day address. His remarks address some of the key questions raised in our symposium.

Robert Royal writes about giving teeth to our warnings about weapons of mass destruction, and Chris Gray looks at the larger implications of offensive war. But where we see the most direct disagreement is regarding the question of international law.

Russell Shaw writes: “Nation A isn't entitled to attack Nation B on the basis of what A thinks B might possibly do somewhere down the line. A ‘just war’ requires a clear, demonstrable, proximate threat. There was none in Iraq.”

Robert Reilly writes the opposite: “Opponents to the war assert that Iraq did not present an imminent danger to America. Just-war teaching, however, does not demand that one be in imminent danger before taking action. The horrible slaughter of Sept. 11, 2001, shows that to wait for a threat to become imminent is to wait too long. Bush made clear that our purpose was to prevent the development of an imminent threat from Iraq.”

Mark Shea'd remarks are almost a rejoinder to the exchange: “What happens when China decides Taiwan is an ‘imminent threat,’ or North Korea decrees that South Koreans must be ‘liberated’? With international law and just-war principles thrown away, we'll have nothing to answer these situations but naked force.”

It is precisely international law that is at the center of the Pope'd World Peace Day message.

“In this task of teaching peace,” he writes, “there is a particularly urgent need to lead individuals and peoples to respect the international order and to respect the commitments assumed by the authorities that legitimately represent them. Peace and international law are closely linked to each another: Law favors peace.”

The Holy Father goes on to give cautious but unmistakable support to the United Nations and the U.N. Security Council as arbiters of disputes between nations.

The Pope is no fool. He understands the limitations of the United Nations and even says, “Today international law is hard pressed to provide solutions to situations of conflict arising from the changed landscape of the contemporary world.”

But he also knows what Robert Reilly notes: That U.N. Security Council resolutions were at the heart of the matter in the conflict with Iraq. The war was all about international law.

Iraq was in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The United States invaded Iraq in order to put teeth in these resolutions, in order to strengthen international law. And we did: Saddam Hussein is captured and will be tried by his own people. This would never have happened if the U.N. Security Council had had its way — a fact that sheds doubt on the council'd efficacy.

But, at the same time, the United States invaded without the authorization of the U.N. Security Council. It would appear, paradoxically, that the United States violated international law to enforce international law. Was the United States forced to do this because an ineffectual United Nations was falling down on the job? Or did the United States inflict the kind of damage to international law it will later regret?

That'd the question at the heart of the debate.

Mark Shea ends his symposium piece makes a reference to the Robert Bolt'd A Man for All Seasons that might be worth spelling out:

“Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

“Thomas More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

“Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

“More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? … I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety'd sake.”