Is Terrorism Justifiable from Just War Theory?
Debate Rounds (5)
JWT has been a guiding principle in evaluating wars from moral perspective since its very foundation by St. Augustine (354-430).However, it has been criticized for being unable to address the nature of the modern warfare including terrorism because JWT seeks to address conventional wars between states, where there exists legitimate authority to declare war. It may not be applicable to the contemporary warfare where conflicts are complex between transnational, national and sub-national groups, and there are "invisible" enemies without having distinctive identity and territory. However, looking terrorism from the JWT framework many scholars argue that not all but at least some types of terrorism are permissible within a Just War framework.
I argue that terrorism fits into JWT framework.
Regarding the first principle of jus ad bellum, JWT requires a legitimate declaration of war. Conventional concept of right authority to deal with war affairs was state centric, only army general or rulers were supposed to declare or terminate war. In modern state-based international system, generally the government is supposed to be the right authority to declare war. It is because government derives its authority from the individual's right to exercise his/her executive power that each individual possesses in the state of nature. Individuals delegate their power to the state in order to achieve common goods and harmonious order. But when state fails to deliver what it promises, individuals can exercise their rights outside the framework of the state forming non-state organizations. Thus, if the government misuses its power, ignores its responsibilities, fails to deliver public goods, brings the public into the subjection of a foreign power, and loses its authority at the general level, then individuals in the state can reclaim their rights by defying the rights entrenched in the government. At this situation, declaration of war against the government or any other institutions by the non-state actors is justifiable from JWT. When the non-state actors legitimately represent the rights of the people and the state simply oppresses the people, in that case war against the state by non-state actors is legitimate. Many anti-colonial and liberation wars are some examples.
2. Just Cause is another initial normative reason to go to war sanctioned by JWT. According to this principle, war is just when it is waged to maintain and restore justice in the community. But the idea of "just" is a culturally relativist phenomenon, depending upon the traditions, histories and narratives of the parties concerned. MacIntyre writes, ". . . since there are diversity of traditions of enquiry, with histories, there are, so it will turn out, rationalities rather than rationality, just as it will also turn out that there are justices rather than justice." From this perspective, there is nothing as the just cause; rather there exists many just causes capable to inspire belligerents "fighting in the name of justice, and under the restraints of morality," in Henry Sidgwick's words.
Additionally, terrorists offer their own just causes according to their own tradition which could be incompatible with the notion of "just" in any other traditions. To promote the just causes, terrorist rationalize any forms of violence, which does not evoke any sense of morality in the light of the strength of their causes. Walzer writes, terrorists "don't want to be identified and judged by the signal they send but rather by the goals they announce – not the destruction, removal, or radical subordination of a people but rather victory in a just war, or national liberation, or the triumph of their religion."
Together with this, often the government's propaganda machine trivializes the causes of terrorism and makes difficult to know about the truth inherent in their just causes, which does not necessarily mean that terrorists do not have just cause. The situation becomes more complicated when the sovereign is unable to defend the community that it is supposed to, because of its internal weakness, aggression or of oppressive nature. Thus, in such situations, an act of terrorism satisfies the Just Cause principle.
3. JWT requires right intention as a necessary condition to go to war. It means a war must be waged for the advancement of good or the avoidance of evil, to secure peace or punish evil-doers. In the case of terrorism, terrorists often have a right intention, at least from their own perspective, to fight against the state. Sometimes terrorism is a type of struggle against an oppressive brutal regime in order to protect the marginalized minorities. Other times it could be for collective self-defense, national or territorial freedom or autonomy, or for religious reasons. Either way an act of terrorism can have a right intention depending upon the objective of the terrorist organization in question.
Right intention is also a subjective term which could have multiple meanings depending upon the position of the speaker. Intention of a group that resorts to terrorism could be right or wrong to others depending upon the relationship between them. Thus, it is a relative phenomenon. JWT justifies terrorism as long as the terrorists justify their act as a necessary measure to impact change from a right intention.
4. Instrumental rationality of the act is another guiding principle of JWT. According to which, a war is just if it brings more goods than harms and there is a reasonable prospect of success. From the terrorist's point of view, terrorism could be employed for various purposes, like to garner publicity, to speed up recruitment, to provoke violence, or to achieve some heavenly goals as in the Islamic suicide terrorism. So, different terrorist organizations have different goals at each level, which seems reasonable to them.
The reasonable prospect of success of the terrorist action is also subject to their long term goal and their own understanding of the "struggle". The idea of success is, to a great extent, depends upon the belief system and cultural tradition of the group, which may not be compatible with the instrumentally rational approach that state organizations often employ to measure the degree of success. Therefore, in many cases, JWT justifies terrorism if it has goal specific success chance.
In order to resolve a conflict, when all reasonable peaceful alternatives have been exhausted, then war as the last resort is justifiable from JWT. When the state is itself the aggressor, and the existence of a certain community is in question, then use of violence, including killing in self defense can be justified as the only available means to repel physical assault. Many social activists, including a nonviolent activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are of opinion, "that freedom is never voluntarily given by oppressor: it must be demanded by the oppressed." But if the oppressed do not have a space to raise their voice in the political arena as in the case of the totalitarianism, then use of violence to promote their cause can be an acceptable alternative.
The community can respond to such threats through political means in democracies, but it is not always possible in other forms of governments. Practically, last resort has only notional finality, which does not suggest any concrete step in political action that can involve terrorism; therefore many political movements utilize terrorism not as a last resort, but as a first resort in order to inspire the movement or the revolution. In this situation, act of violence that involves terrorism can be acceptable from JWT.
Another rather essential flaw is that you relegate terrorism to the domain of politically motivated minority groups with a common motive. This too does not take into consideration the numerous examples of crimes committed by singular individuals (such as the Unabomber) that could be considered terrorism or the existence of terrorist organizations whose membership encompasses a myriad of motivations such as al-quada. You as well disregard the possibility that sovereign nation states perpetrate acts of terrorism.
The last assumption I wish to address before I counter your individual arguments is that you believe all that is necessary for a action to be just, is that said action be subjectively just to at least one party (generally the perpetrators of the attack). This does not address the large school of thought that considers justice to be an objective stance rather than a subjective one.
With those assumptions having been proven to in error I will move on to individual rebuttals.
1.Legitimate declaration of war
War simply put is "a state of armed violent struggle between states, nations, or groups", we can therefore restrict the entity's capable of declaring war to those entity's who can by definition engage in it. Therefore an individual is incapable of declaring war on another individual or even a large group of people. However an individual is capable of carrying out terrorist activities, such as the Unabomber's campaign of mail bombing. Since the individual is capable of being a terrorist, but is not capable of declaring war, you could not say that all terroristic activities fall under the protection of a legitimate declaration of war. Thus terrorism as a whole cannot be protected under this assumption either.
Aristotle's rules of logic posit three main laws. They are; the law of Identity, the law of the excluded middle, and the law of non-contradiction. For this argument I will mainly be referring to the law of excluded middle. You say that justice is a relativistic phenomenon, that it is subjective. From here you conclude that since theoretically anyone could find anything just, that terrorist activity must be just in some rationality. This sword however cuts both ways, Just as anyone could determine their actions to be just, anyone could also determine those actions to be unjust. This provides an interesting logical flaw, if the law of excluded middle states that "for any proposition, either that proposition is true, or its negation is" how could an action be just and unjust at the same time. The simple answer is it can't be, an action is either just or unjust according to objective measures of what is just. Since we don't know what these measures are, we cannot determine the justice of a particular activity, and since we cannot determine its justice, we cannot protect terrorism as a justifiable action.
3. Right Intention
Once again, what is right and what is not right cannot be determined subjectively. An action is either right or wrong objectify, my argument above should suffice for proof of this belief.
4. Instrumental Rationality
This argument seems to have an air of rationality to it, but on further inspection proves to be another instance of subjective understanding. It states that the action is just if it does more good than harm, a somewhat reasonable, objective, and measureable quality of justice. However what one considers harm is a subject of much debate. A terrorist organization that kills people for not believing in their god could say that he is helping his victims, while another might just call it senseless slaughter. For this idea to pan out I would need a clarification from pro as to the qualities that make up good vs harm, so we could flesh it out more a later round. I will therefore refrain from declaring irrational at this moment
5. No peaceful alternatives
If you believe that terrorism is war, and war must be a last resort, how can you also believe that terrorism is an acceptable first resort? You state "therefore many political movements utilize terrorism not as a last resort, but as a first resort in order to inspire the movement or the revolution. In this situation, act of violence that involves terrorism can be acceptable from JWT." These are very contradictory views. Tell me is terrorism war, and therefore must be a last resort, or is it not a war, and therefore none of these arguments apply to it.
1st round closing statement:
You seem to believe that terrorism is justifiable so long as someone believes it's just. By this same line of argumentation nearly all types of human rights abuses, and war crimes are justifiable as long as someone thought it was a good idea.
Thank you for this debate, I look forward to four more lively rounds
First, I just wanted to see whether terrorism fits into the JWT paradigm or not. In this respect, making of terrorism--whether by choice or by circumstances—does not illuminate the real issue that I am arguing. However, to address your position I would like to say that terrorism is a means, not an ends per se, and the ends could be anything from ethnic liberation to religious redemption. Additionally, even those perpetrating terrorism in the name of religious motives have political objectives, at least at the organizational level.
Yes, terrorists are often in small number. They may have a loose organization structure and sometimes with single issue of a single man, and without any distinctive leadership (as in Animal Rights or anti abortion group). The act or the tactics of terrorism is an important issue to think upon than the number of the members. Sovereign nation can also employ terrorism, but due to the lack of its specific definition, that is what amount to terrorism, in the international laws and practices, it is often utilized as a pretext to achieve certain strategic goals. Hence again, my focus is on the act.
Regarding the idea of justice, I argue that objectification of justice without regarding the culture, tradition and belief system of the group concerned offers a space for domination by the justice of the superiors. So far I understand the western notion of justice has been influenced by the Enlightenment thought according to which justice must be free from the cultural fabrics ( be objective in the western sense) so that it could be imposed or utilized uniformly across the divides like chemistry or mathematics. This idea worked pretty well in the Europe when the contestants were from the same culture, almost of same race and belief system, but with "globalization" or modernity, when the west expanded towards periphery, the same notion of justice encountered with other different notions of justices, giving a space for the clash of "civilization". Additionally, the genesis of this conception in the Homeric period—DIKE—is not exactly the concept "JUSTICE" in the western thought ( I do not want to in detail about it now). Hence, my argument is that what is just in a place or culture does not necessarily be just in other place and culture. My seemingly "subjective" stance is not individualistic, rather it represent a group that share a particular tradition, in short, it is a culturally relativistic notion of justice.
Now, let me defend my points:
Who can engage in war and who cannot is often defined by the conventional power relationship between the parties concerned. This conventional power relationship is nothing, but an agreement, explicitly or implicitly. When the agreement no longer holds the spirit entrenched in it, then those once committed by it can defy, in search of a new agreement to address the new realities. Terrorists do not pass resolution nor do they declare formally as by a state, rather their style of declaration is different. Let's not take an individual terrorist as an example, how about Irgun, Mau Mau, ANC, the Algerians against France, and many anti-colonial movements, once branded as terrorists? Were not their declarations legitimate?
2.Here again the problem is the "objective" measure of Just. In the formation of a society governed by principle, Rawl is of opinion that "its members are autonomous and obligation they recognize self-imposed." Therefore theory of justice is applicable as long as they recognize it. It is applicable in terrorism as elsewhere, particularly when a small group of individuals take proactive action against the oppressive state rather than waiting to be attacked, in order to effect change in the political system or to promote the grievances responsible for terrorism in both the national or international political spaces.
4.Thank you Con. Here my point is, if the action of a terrorist harvests more good than harm for the terrorists, instrumentally it is rational to them. State often defines the common good, irrespective of the good of the "others", and terrorists have their own agendas, and if the action promotes agenda, then it is instrumentally OK.
Because in asymmetric warfare, it is the only tactical option for the terrorists, as "a weapon of the poor", therefore it is the last resort.
In response to Con's concluding remarks: JWT approves terrorism not all but some that fulfill above mentioned criteria. The notion of just is important because it offers rationalities for actions including terrorism. And, there exists no single notion of justice; rather there are justices according to the belief system and tradition of the community concerned. Thus, terrorism needs to be contextualized from their own perspective. There is no universal concept of terrorism nor there exist a universal remedy. So, it needs to be examined in an alternative paradigm by understanding its anomalies.
To illuminate the debate further, I would like to add two more points from JWT.
JWT governs the war from another criterion called Jus in Bello. According to this criterion, the means used in a war should be just in the sense that parties in the war must employ "reasonable" amount of violence against each other while at the same time they must ensure noncombatant immunity. In the case of terrorism, this principle has been explained in different way, however.
Principle of proportionality in JWT restricts the use of "excess" force in the war. But what is this "excess" is a subjective explanation. However conventional understanding of proportionality from JWT framework explains proportionality within the conceptions of military necessity and the one that should not harm the human beings permanently. Many thinkers of JWT offer ambivalent notions to the term "military necessity". It has been criticized as a pretext to justify military operation, which "amounts to a claim that certain blatantly immoral acts are justified on no other basis than that they might contribute in some way to military objectives." Many international conventions rectify the use of force as a military necessity without limiting it by certain standard.
JWT forbids the warring parties to use weapons known to cause unnecessary suffering and permanent damage to the mankind. This principles attempts to restrict lethal weapons like nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and similar weapons of mass destruction and of lasting effect. However, it does not deny the military requirement of the force in the war. Therefore, which weapons should be employed in the war depends upon their probable military success. From this perspective, how much force is appropriate in the war depends upon the military requirement to win the war. In the case of terrorism, the force employed by the terrorists to achieve their military goal is justifiable from JWT as long as it helps them reach their goal, or as long as it falls under their military necessity.
Who is a combatant and who is a noncombatant in wars that involve terrorism is a contentious question. At the beginning individuals are immune to intentional attack, Walzer argues, "our right not to be attacked is a feature of normal human relationship." But how this sense of immunity is lost in the course of terrorism is an important issue to be explored. From a conventional point of view, those who bear arms that poses danger to others are categorized as combatants, thus become legitimate targets, whereas those without arms are considered to be innocent. But the point is that warfare that involves terrorism consists of organization or class or groups. When two or more groups fight with each other, in this situation having a membership of a certain group is a sufficient cause to become an enemy for another group.
Thank you for sharing your valuable points, and hope to learn further.
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