For the past 13 years, Australia has been engaged in a military
campaign against Iraq. In August 1990, two Australian warships were
deployed to the Persian Gulf after Iraq's brutal invasion of Kuwait.
In January 1991, Australia participated in "Operation Desert
Storm" - a multinational operation that ended the Iraqi army's
destructive occupation. Since then, Australian warships have enforced
trade sanctions as a consequence of Iraq's refusal to disarm in
compliance with UN resolutions. But does Saddam Hussein's continuing
possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and his demonstrable
readiness to use violence justify a military strike against Iraq
in 2003? Indeed, how might such a judgement be made? Those with
or without religious sympathies can turn to the 'just war' tradition
The Christian Church embraced the concept of a just war - first
developed by St Augustine and further refined by St Thomas Aquinas - after
it rejected both pacifism and crusading as being inconsistent with its
core commitments and responsibilities. The concept of a just war produced
seven criteria that continue to be a means by which the justness of any
resort to force might be determined.
First, war must be declared by a 'legitimate authority'. This prohibits
private individuals or political factions from waging war. Democratically
elected governments in sovereign nations constitute a legitimate
authority. While we might regard multinational bodies like the UN as
legitimate authorities, their authority derives from the legitimacy of the
member states. Organisations such as al Qa'ida or Jemaah Islamiah are not
legitimate authorities. Their actions can never be deemed just and ought
always to be resisted.
Second, the cause must itself be just. Self-defence is considered a just
cause. For its part, the US government has a duty to protect American
citizens and property. It is entitled to take reasonable steps in
discharging this primary responsibility including resorts to force.
The US believes that its interests have been the subject of attack
by the Iraqi government and by organisations aided and abetted by
Iraq. It is entitled to defend itself against what it perceives
to be Iraqi aggression in the light of international opinion. Independent
states should not abrogate their sovereign responsibilities by installing
the UN as sole arbiter of what is just or even necessary in a given
Third, the intention must be just rather than expedient. The concern
here is with motive. The assertion that America wants to seize control of
Iraqi oil is neither strong nor compelling. All Western nations want
long-term access to oil at reasonable prices. But not one of the US,
Britain nor Australia are proposing that war should be waged to plunder
Iraqi oil. Iraq's neighbours are displaying solidarity but not friendship
and none have expressed concern over oil. The motive for a campaign
against Iraq in 2003 is to end its possession of WMD. Given that Iraq has
shown a propensity to use force and a willingness to use weapons the
international community condemns as barbaric, it is right that action
should be taken to prevent their future use.
Fourth, force can only be used after all other reasonable methods of
resolution have failed. This is difficult to judge because diplomatic and
strategic considerations are involved. There are regimes, such as Iraq,
that lack good faith and extend negotiation endlessly for ulterior
motives. When the Gulf War ended, the international community resolved
that Iraq should be disarmed. In the view of the Chief UN Weapons
Inspector, Dr Hans Blix, Iraq remains unwilling to cooperate in
disarmament. Having given Iraq every opportunity to comply with its
resolutions, the UN has warned Iraq of the "serious
consequences" flowing from continued intransigence. Given that every
other reasonable alternative has been tried and failed, it would appear
that force is the only remaining option. This appears to be the conclusion
of a growing number of governments.
Fifth, there must be a reasonable hope of achieving a just outcome.
This concerns the outcome. The disarming of Iraq will terminate Saddam's
regime. His WMD arsenal will be destroyed and UN sanctions will cease.
Terrorist organisations will have one less safe haven. The Iraqi people
will be freed from a cruel dictator and relations between Iraq and its
Arab neighbours will invariably improve. These are just outcomes. But they
should not include American occupation of Baghdad, the political
dismemberment of Iraq or increased Western hegemony in the Middle East.
Sixth, the amount of force employed must be proportional to the
threat being faced. Sledgehammers should not be used to crack nuts.
Notwithstanding Iraq's veiled threats to use weapons it apparently
does not possess, there is no justification for any nation to deploy
nuclear, biological or chemical weapons against Iraq. A multinational
force involving Australia would never, of course, resort to such
weapons. And despite Saddam's deliberate placement of military facilities
adjacent to population centres, every effort must be made to avoid
inflicting suffering on non-combatants and damage to civil infrastructure.
Given the resounding defeat of the Iraqi army in just over three
days during 1991 and the sophistication of the opposing forces in
2003, it is unlikely that a campaign against Iraq would last much
longer than three weeks.
Seventh, the outcome should bear a very close relationship to the cost.
The final criterion asks whether the whole exercise is worthwhile given
the pain and suffering associated with using force. In considering the
consequences of a campaign against Iraq, we can only speculate on the
number of people that will be killed or the value of property destroyed.
It is in no one's interests, other than Saddam's, for death and
destruction to be large. But we must also assess the cost of allowing Iraq
to retain WMDs, recognise the price paid by the Iraqi people for the
continuation of this evil regime, and the damage to the standing of the UN
if its authority is challenged and its resolutions are again ignored.
While all of these criteria must be satisfied before a war can be
deemed just, it is clear that not every just cause is a reason for
declaring war. This is why we need a continuing national debate before
hostilities commence. Should the Government commit Australian personnel to
war, some will want to express their opposition by protesting against any
further deployments of Australian personnel. If any lesson was learned
from Australian participation in the Vietnam War it is how easily
opposition to a military campaign can translate into hostility towards
service personnel. From my own experience as a naval officer, being in a
ship surrounded by angry protestors is incredibly distressing. Australian
Defence Force personnel and their families are entitled to charity as they
carry out the will of the elected Government, however we might feel about
its wisdom. The right to protest must be accompanied with sensitivity.
Although I am now inclined to believe a campaign against Iraq during
the next few months involving Australian Defence Force personnel
would be just, I continue to hope and pray that hostilities might
be averted and that a resolution to this conflict can be achieved
without force. That the responsibility to act justly obliges the
use of force is a reminder that this world is fallen - that it remains
in continuing need of redemption. This is another matter to which
the Christian Church has much to contribute as we seek after peace