Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Dialogue I

Brian Auten, Robert Joustra, Marc LiVecche


Aril 8, 2011

Capital Commentary asked contributors, "What does just war doctrine have to say about America participating in a military intervention in Libya?"

In their recent book on jus post bellum, After the Smoke Clears, Mark Allman and Tobias Winright insist, as George Weigel did before them, on the importance of prioritizing telos (which Weigel defines as tranquillitas ordinis, or the “peace of public order in political community”) across the entire trajectory of a conflict or intervention.  Not only is a clear picture of telos important in ad bellum and in bello decision-making, Allman and Winright argue that it is meant to serve as an organizing principle in the imagining and planning of the postwar environment – a point they believe has been oft-neglected in the historical just war tradition.  It is therefore notable that, in the current Libyan intervention, there is already concerted discussion of the post bellum environment.  Indeed, in his comments on the president’s recent speech at National Defense University, political analyst Fareed Zakaria remarked that President Obama’s key point was that the United States had made the decision to meet with Libyan opposition figures to, as the president put it, “support a transition to the future that the Libyan people deserve.”  Moreover, the newly-formed Libya Contact Group, a multilateral consulting forum, is comprised of more than 30 countries and is to provide “political direction” for a post-Gaddafi Libya.

—Brian Auten serves an intelligence analyst in the US government and an adjunct professor of government at Patrick Henry College, Purcellville, VA.  All non-attributed views, opinions and conclusions are those of the author and not the US government.


The international community spills a lot of ink on doctrines and treaties that gather dust in the archives of national governments. Until recently the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) was one of those: high moral language couched in a mutual understanding of practical negligence and indifference.

It might not look like it, but in Libya we’re making international law. It’s an awkward, painful – hell’ish – kind of global accident of good intentions and awful circumstances. But those accidents make precedence. Precedence, in the world of politics, makes law. For better or worse, in Libya we broke the seal on the R2P.

Will we follow through? R2P obligates the interveners to more than regime change.  Not long ago British Prime Minister David Cameron offered ironically, “you can’t drop democracy from 40,000 feet.” Well, a just peace can’t be dropped that way either. If we stick with R2P, then the international obligation became long and serious the moment French bombs dropped. With colossal debt, crippling entitlements and war fatigue at home, how deep will the practice of R2P go?

—Robert Joustra is the Editor of Cardus, Policy in Public, and a doctoral student in international politics at the University of Bath.


Anchored in strategic realism, a just war thinker does not aim at all the humanitarian compassion that can be aimed at in the world; Ramsey reminded us that not every ought to be signals what we ought to do. But neither does one jettison talk of compassion, justice, and rescue from war thinking and statecraft altogether. Simply considering just cause, there can be no doubt that Gaddafi’s threat of a door-to-door bloodbath had to be taken seriously in light of his already barbaric actions to crush the rebellion. The over 200 Arab civil society groups which called for a no-fly zone had it right: "Condemnation is not enough – world leaders must live up to their responsibilities to protect civilians from systematic slaughter." The sentiment echoes Ambrose, “He who does not keep harm off a friend, if he can, is as much in fault as he who causes it.” Protecting the innocent from certain injury has always been a fundamental norm of just war thinking. My fear is that half-measures may prove just as destructive as doing nothing at all. Kosovo should have taught us that refusing at-all-costs to put boots in the mud might well hamstring the mission and make mockery of our moral claims by actually prolonging violence. May it not prove necessary, but may the necessary be done if so.

—Marc LiVecche is a PhD student in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. 



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