Year XXXIII, 1991, Number 1 - Page 3
A Just War?
The debate on the issue of “just war” has been renewed by the tragic conflict in the Gulf, and it would be wrong to set this problem aside as a purely philosophical question. On the contrary, it has very definite political relevance, which is destined to increase continuously in a world where the rapid growth of states’ interdependence is increasing areas of friction, thus multiplying the reasons for conflict. Those who seek peace, but are aware that perpetual peace is not an objective for the immediate future, sense a strong need for a criterion with which to judge and a standard for orientating political action that allows them to fight for peace without lapsing into the irresponsibility of pacifism as a pure affirmation of principle. Moreover, this issue’s political significance is testified to by the fact that it was over this specific issue that world opinion was divided during the war.
Here, we will only consider the issue of whether it was just to fight the war, and leave aside the question of whether the manner in which it was fought was just or not. We will also assume that the embargo would not have achieved its objective, and hence the recourse to arms was unavoidable to achieve this aim. Discounting all these issues, was it just to embark on the Gulf War? The argument normally adopted to justify a positive answer is the need to restore the international rule of law which was violated by the annexation of Kuwait, and in particular to enforce the UN’s resolutions. A necessary premise when examining this issue, therefore, is an attempt to define the UN’s role as both guardian and source of international law, its role in this tragedy and in the current world order in general.
To talk of justice in relationships between people and between nations only makes sense, in an initial approximation, when there is a judge presiding over the conflicting parties who has the power to decide controversies on the basis of legal rules, and police who enforce his decisions. In today’s world, this judge’s existence can be guaranteed only by the state. The concept of justice will hence only make sense in international relations when all states have agreed to submit to a superior sovereign power by entering a federal compact. Nowadays it is a fact that the UN is not a world federal government. This means that nations still find themselves in their mutual relationships in the state of nature, in which there are no just wars since, to repeat Kant’s phrase, “the state of nature is in itself an unjust condition”. On the contrary, the UN, by evoking the image and hope of a world state and of a universal judicial order without providing them, has rather a mystifying role and thus promotes violence instead of peace. During the Gulf War, in particular, its function was to back up the exercise of US military supremacy over the rest of the world. Its resolutions towards Iraq were taken on the initiative of the United States, and were carried out by war – the execution of which was delegated to the US and its allies.
A purely rationalistic approach leads to this conclusion. But it is not possible to stop there because, to repeat another of Kant’s phrases, “peoples’ state of nature, like that of individual people, is a condition which shall be left behind in order to enter into a lawful condition.” And to talk of duty in history makes sense only in so far as one believes that the efforts made to achieve the ideals to which the duty refers are destined to become gradually more rooted in the hopes and expectations of other peoples, and therefore to succeed in the course of time. In this perspective, the fact that the UN evokes the image of a world government is not a mystification, but a prefiguration, to which increasingly interdependent relationships between people at a global level attributes growing solidity. It is an embryonic world state, and its resolutions are embryonic cosmopolitan law. It is indeed true that this embryonic form is a long way from the mature institution that it is destined to become. But it is equally true that the awareness of being involved in the process of creating a world state – even if only at the outset – supplies criteria for judging events, and suggests the way ahead both to governments and all people of goodwill. Political action is just or unjust according to whether it accelerates or retards, makes closer or more distant, the political unification of mankind and thus the entrance of the international community into Kant’s legal condition.
All this leads to the conclusion that the issue of whether the Gulf War was just or not depends on the outcome of a process that has yet to be concluded. In any case, the answer will come only from the manner in which the peace is organized. If the end of the war brings with it greater divisiveness and the unfolding of greater armies and more armaments in Middle Eastern countries, and thus a greater danger that the scourge of war will erupt again, the war in the Gulf will have been unjust. If it brings detente, greater stability and the expectation of increasing unity, it will have been just, even if of such a terrible and primitive justice that is the only one the court of history remains capable of administering.
For this latter course to be taken, those who have the power to decide the future order in the region, and more generally all those who can, to a greater or lesser extent, influence Arab and European public opinion, need to be aware of some fundamental facts:
1) The primary cause of the Gulf War was the political division of the region inherited from the Treaty of Versailles. It has had the effect of apportioning its immense oil wealth in a totally arbitrary way, concentrating it almost exclusively in a few states of small or tiny proportions (or at least underpopulated), and leaving without it large and densely populated states that have an acute need to promote their economic and civil development. But it has also impeded the growth of a modern market economy in the region – that requires an area of continental dimensions – and has instead favoured the maintenance of backward, dictatorial and corrupt regimes, and the spread of the scourge of fundamentalism, fed by social misery and injustice. In order to “win the peace”, then, structures that promote Arab unity need to be created, taking as a model the institutions of the EEC, through the creation of a large market and an authority that would have the power to redistribute oil royalties in line with the development needs of the region’s nations. This endeavour would point towards the aim of a large federation, both democratic and pluralistic, that would strictly separate politics from religion, in which alongside the Palestinians and all the Arab peoples, Israel and the non-Arab populations of the Middle East and the Maghreb would be able to find a place. It is true that the ultimate objective of an Arab federation can only be attained by states which have already established democratic systems within themselves. But it is equally true that the spur towards unity is itself a condition for the process of democratisation to begin. It is only through unity that the Arab people will be able to restore life to their ancient cultural traditions which are based on reason and tolerance, and overcome definitively the ruinous medley of politics and religion that is currently suffocating its economic and civil development.
2) The war has shown that the security of Israel and all the region’s other states is no longer a military question. It will not be possible to talk of security in the Middle East, and between the Arab world and Europe, until a new climate has been created. The model of the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) is highly significant as regards this issue. It represents an example of the fact that nowadays security depends in part on disarmament, on the creation of trust-building measures and transparency, and in part on economic co-operation and the guarantee of human rights. Hence, the point is to create a similar security structure in the Mediterranean and Middle East, and to link it with the CSCE. A vast network of guarantees and verification which would also involve the United States and the Soviet Union, would thereby be created. It is only in such a broad framework that the conditions for guaranteeing security to Israel, giving a homeland to the Palestinians and regulating the arms trade stringently can be created. And it is only in this context that, in co-operation with the region’s oil states, a large development programme along the lines of the Marshall Plan can be launched for the Arab world, and the process of Arab unity be decisively embarked on. It is clear that the idea of applying either the model of the EEC or the CSCE in the Middle East can currently seem Utopian given the permanent and exasperated tension that exists between Israel, the PLO and other Arab states. However, it should not be forgotten that in Europe fifty years ago, through co-operation and integration, an even harder objective was achieved: that of overcoming the traditional enmity between France and Germany, such that a war between the member states of the Community is nowadays unthinkable.
3) The possibility of this happening depends in part on the Arabs, but also on the Community, which in the current situation could act towards the Arab world in the same way that the United States, with the Marshall Plan in Europe after the second World War, contributed decisively to encouraging economic development and the start of the unification process. In this respect the Community is favoured by geographical proximity, by the strong interdependence of economic interests, as well as by the fact that, not being a military power, it did not participate militarily in the war, and thus it is not seen as an imperialistic threat by the vast section of public opinion in the region that, instead, regards the United States as the principal enemy of the Arab cause. In reality the widespread belief that the United States has come out of the Gulf War greatly strengthened derives from an error of perspective. The United States, restricted by an astronomical budget deficit and ever more severe social conflict at home and, moreover, ending the war with a further massive loss of credibility vis-à-vis Arab public opinion, are today even more than ever a power in decline that will only play a short term role in the Middle East. In the medium term, only the Community can be the privileged partner of the Arab people. But for the Community to be able to take on this responsibility, it must show the ability to carry forward a consistent policy of pacification and co-operation, and establish a political model that is worthy of imitation. This demands that the decisive step in the Community’s institutional reform process be accomplished, transforming it into a democratic federation, and giving it the instrument of a single currency, that could among other things be used as a means of payment for oil supplies, thus significantly contributing to price stabilization. European unity and Arab unity would thereby become two closely interlinked projects. It seems evident that these developments are essential to accelerate the transformation of the UN into a real world government. This cannot be achieved while the world continues to be divided into 150 states, often divided by arbitrary borders and condemned to underdevelopment by dimensions that are incompatible with modem industrial development, and hence democracy. Mankind’s political unification will be ripe when peoples are united in great continental federal structures, capable of being the supporting pillars of a global federation. Europe and a unified, secular and democratic “Arab nation” are destined to be two of these pillars. The Gulf War will have been “just” only if the horrific massacres and the horrendous destruction it has provoked, makes people aware of the necessity of hastening the completion of the European federation and the start of the process of Arab unity.