Just War - or a Just War?
By JIMMY CARTER
March 9, 2003
Atlanta- Profound changes have been taking place in American foreign
policy, reversing consistent bipartisan commitments that for more than two
centuries have earned our nation greatness. These commitments have been
predicated on basic religious principles, respect for international law, and
alliances that resulted in wise decisions and mutual restraint. Our apparent
determination to launch a war against Iraq, without international support,
is a violation of these premises.
As a Christian and as a president who was severely provoked by
international crises, I became thoroughly familiar with the principles of a
just war, and it is clear that a substantially unilateral attack on Iraq
does not meet these standards. This is an almost universal conviction of
religious leaders, with the most notable exception of a few spokesmen of the
Southern Baptist Convention who are greatly influenced by their commitment
to Israel based on eschatological, or final days, theology.
For a war to be just, it must meet several clearly defined criteria.
The war can be waged only as a last resort, with all nonviolent options
exhausted. In the case of Iraq, it is obvious that clear alternatives to war
exist. These options - previously proposed by our own leaders and approved
by the United Nations - were outlined again by the Security Council on
Friday. But now, with our own national security not directly threatened and
despite the overwhelming opposition of most people and governments in the
world, the United States seems determined to carry out military and
diplomatic action that is almost unprecedented in the history of civilized
nations. The first stage of our widely publicized war plan is to launch
3,000 bombs and missiles on a relatively defenseless Iraqi population within
the first few hours of an invasion, with the purpose of so damaging and
demoralizing the people that they will change their obnoxious leader, who
will most likely be hidden and safe during the bombardment.
The war's weapons must discriminate between combatants and noncombatants.
Extensive aerial bombardment, even with precise accuracy, inevitably results
in "collateral damage." Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of American forces
in the Persian Gulf, has expressed concern about many of the military
targets being near hospitals, schools, mosques and private homes.
Its violence must be proportional to the injury we have suffered. Despite
Saddam Hussein's other serious crimes, American efforts to tie Iraq to the
9/11 terrorist attacks have been unconvincing.
The attackers must have legitimate authority sanctioned by the society
they profess to represent. The unanimous vote of approval in the Security
Council to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction can still be
honored, but our announced goals are now to achieve regime change and to
establish a Pax Americana in the region, perhaps occupying the ethnically
divided country for as long as a decade. For these objectives, we do not
have international authority. Other members of the Security Council have so
far resisted the enormous economic and political influence that is being
exerted from Washington, and we are faced with the possibility of either a
failure to get the necessary votes or else a veto from Russia, France and
China. Although Turkey may still be enticed into helping us by enormous
financial rewards and partial future control of the Kurds and oil in
northern Iraq, its democratic Parliament has at least added its voice to the
worldwide expressions of concern.
The peace it establishes must be a clear improvement over what exists.
Although there are visions of peace and democracy in Iraq, it is quite
possible that the aftermath of a military invasion will destabilize the
region and prompt terrorists to further jeopardize our security at home.
Also, by defying overwhelming world opposition, the United States will
undermine the United Nations as a viable institution for world peace.
What about America's world standing if we don't go to war after such a
great deployment of military forces in the region? The heartfelt sympathy
and friendship offered to America after the 9/11 attacks, even from formerly
antagonistic regimes, has been largely dissipated; increasingly unilateral
and domineering policies have brought international trust in our country to
its lowest level in memory. American stature will surely decline further if
we launch a war in clear defiance of the United Nations. But to use the
presence and threat of our military power to force Iraq's compliance with
all United Nations resolutions - with war as a final option - will enhance
our status as a champion of peace and justice.
Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, is chairman of the
Carter Center in Atlanta and winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.