Just and Unjust War in the 21st Century

Just and Unjust War in the 21st Century

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Grand Strategy

from Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop

Michael Walzer, professor emeritus of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study, and Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, discuss moral philosophy and just and unjust war in the twenty-first century, as part of the 2017 CFR Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop.

Learn more about CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Initiative. 

HAASS: Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. I’m Richard Haass, and I have the good fortune to be the president of the Council, have the good fortune to be doing it for 14 years now. You would’ve—yeah. (Applause.) And where’s the sabbatical? I keep asking. (Laughter.)

But welcome. And I know a lot of you have traveled a long distance. And this is actually our 11th—stunningly, our 11th Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop, which is the centerpiece each year of this initiative.

And thanks to Irina Faskianos and her team, we’ve put together an agenda—actually, it says here a timely agenda. Given what’s going on in the world, almost any agenda would be timely. (Laughter.) See, I’d bet a couple years ago you’d kind of come up on the weekend, and you’d be wondering what you needed to give a talk about. I think now the hardest thing is to choose from among the various subjects.

But what we’re going to do tonight—and I’ll turn to Michael in a second—is we’re going to look at the question of just and unjust war, which is a set of concepts that’s been with us for centuries but still remains extraordinarily relevant. We’re going to be looking then tomorrow at such questions as the resurgence of religion in China. We’re going to look at the rise of nationalism and the future of liberal democracy. And we’re going to look at some of the P’s—pluralization, polarization, and so forth—and what it means for the common good, for the society here in the United States.

For those of us—those of you who don’t know us, the Council on Foreign Relations, we’ve been around for nearly a century. We’re an independent nonpartisan organization. We’ve got a membership. We’re a think tank. We’re an educator. And we’re publisher of Foreign Affairs magazine, which if you don’t read regularly, you ought to.

We have traditionally been a resource for our members and for policymakers. But when I did get here 14 years ago, I thought that there were several constituencies with whom we needed to develop more of a relationship because they were or should be much more of a participant in the foreign policy debate. And I made an outreach to some of the people in this room and people like you. And here we are. And now we’ve got over 140 people involved in this initiative representing 37 religious traditions. I didn’t know there were 37 religious traditions. (Laughter.) But there they are. And that’s what we have here this week.

And people have come from all over the world in recent years to participate here, including Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, the archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who I got to know when I lived in Washington, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, and Bishop Michael Curry, among many others.

If you have any ideas about how we can be a better resource for you, let us know. Don’t hold back about either who we ought to have speak or just how we can provide resources during the course of the year that might be of use.

I want to thank the Ford Foundation for their support and Darren Walker and others who have helped make this possible. And again, I want to single out Irina Faskianos and her extraordinary team. Hear, hear. (Applause.)

So this is a treat for me tonight. I’ve been in this field one way or another for about 40 years. And one of the first books I read was written by the gentleman sitting here. And tonight, very cool, I got him to sign the book. (Laughter.) It’s quite—you can see it from the coloring, it’s 40 years old, the original paperback edition?


HAASS: And “Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations.” It’s since subsequently been published in more editions than you can shake a stick at. But if you haven’t read it, you really should. It is—the word “classic” is overused. This is a—this is a classic that continues to resonate because these issues continue to resonate. And Michael Walzer has written this and subsequent things with stunning clarity. It’s clarity of language and clarity of thoughts. Usually, I’m happy for either, but when you get both, it’s the ultimate twofer.

He’s now professor emeritus of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study, which I always thought was the greatest place in academia, just like all souls, because you didn’t have students—(laughter)—and no papers—no papers to grade.

But Professor Walzer is an author, an editor, a lecturer, you name it. And he really is one of the leading lights in this country or anywhere on political theory and moral philosophy.

Everything, by the way, tonight and beyond is on the record, I think, except for some of the small study groups. If you want to—we’ll probably post some things on the website. Social media, feel free.

But again, I want to—I want to thank Michael for taking his time out and for—what we’re going to do is he and I are going to talk for a bit. And I brought my resources here. I need to be armed here tonight. And then we’re going to open it up to you all because your—we’ve got a lot of expertise in this room.

So let’s just begin with some of the basics, yeah, we—the basic religious traditions. And when people write about just war, as I understand it, you have the criteria for going to war, and then you have the criteria for how to conduct war.


HAASS: Fair enough?

And usually, when people talk about the just war tradition, they have the Christian just war tradition in mind.

WALZER: The Catholic just war tradition.

HAASS: Even more specifically, the Catholic just war tradition.

So let’s start with that one. What are—what are the basic tenets of that that informed that tradition?

WALZER: Well, first of all, it is the creation of Catholic moralists working in the Middle Ages and early modern period. My favorite ones are the Spanish Dominicans, who had to confront the conquest of Central America and some of whom thought and said that that was a crime. Francisco de Vitoria is one of the best of them. And they developed really the only fully systematic account of when to fight and how to fight. All the religious traditions have rules about war, but the Catholics developed a full doctrine.

But this wasn’t a specifically Catholic doctrine because they described it as a series of deductions from natural law available to all rational human beings. And so those of us who think we are rational human beings have gone to school with the Catholic moralists, and much of international law and much of all of just war theory is the product of that engagement.

HAASS: So, when I understand just war tradition—tell if I’ve got it right. I’m going to get graded here by the professor. This is—this is now intimidating.

There’s got to be a worthy cause.

WALZER: A just cause, yes.

HAASS: A just cause. Look, I want to circle back to all these.

There’s got to be some likelihood of success. It can’t be a Don Quixote tilting at a windmill.

WALZER: Right.

HAASS: A legitimate authority has to bless it.

WALZER: Yes, although that has been called into question in recent years.

HAASS: Yeah, I want to return to that too. (Laughter.)

It’s got to be a last resort.


HAASS: Or at least not a first or early resort.

And when it comes to using the use of force, there’s got to be a great degree—a great deal of care in terms of how much and against whom.

WALZER: Right.

HAASS: Is that pretty fair?

WALZER: Yes. And there is one additional argument which has come up recent having to do with asymmetric warfare, and that is the question of what risks we ask our soldiers to take in order to reduce the risks they impose on enemy civilians. And that’s a major issue in the American Army and in the Israeli Army, probably in other NATO armies but in those two it’s been a quite fiercely argued issue.

HAASS: I was going to get to that later, but since you raise that and my memory is fleeting, does in any way the calculus vary if it’s an all-volunteer force as opposed to a conscripted force?

WALZER: I don’t think so since the civilians are innocent in both cases. But that’s part of the argument. But that’s part of the argument—

HAASS: Do I get at least a B-plus? (Laughter.)

WALZER: Yes, it is actually a part of the argument.

HAASS: So let’s come back to the basics, though, of justness, of what makes for a worthy or just cause. What’s the criteria—how do we drill down on that? How do we understand that?

WALZER: Well, we begin with self-defense. And you imagine one of us attacked on the street, and we have a right to defend ourselves. And countries similarly attacked have a similar right.

And then we move to defending others who have been attacked. If I’m attacked on the street and you rush to my aid, you are also engaged justly in whatever combat you get engaged in. And similarly, when there is an attack on one country, an act of aggression against one country, other countries are justified in coming to the aid of—I like examples: When the Germans invaded Finland, the Swedes insisted on their neutrality, which under international law is their right. But had they come to the aid of the Finns, that would have been a just intervention on their—on their part.

HAASS: Just as aside, when I was at the White House working for President Bush the father, and the Iraqis invaded Kuwait and there were questions about whether Congress was going to support the use of force on behalf of Kuwait, we argued that we had all the justification we needed thanks to this idea of extended self-defense, that, you know pursuant to Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, that we didn’t need Congress to authorize anything; it was already inherent in the situation.

WALZER: Right.

And the third justification is if there is a massacre going on in one country, then some of us believe that an intervention to stop the killing is a just military intervention.

HAASS: I’m going to come back to that in a few minutes, if I may.

This question of likely to succeed, that it can’t be quixotic, it’s obviously a subjective analysis.


HAASS: (Chuckles.) Essentially, we do—but doesn’t—one could argue that at times the likelihood of success will go up if one perhaps uses more force, which might get you in trouble in one of your other principles, or rather than waiting for the last possible moment, there might be moments you can use force where the odds of success would go up, but it might get you in trouble with some of the other principles. How does one—how does one weigh or balance between and among the various considerations?

WALZER: Yeah, I want to pick up the word “subjective.” There are no certainties in politics or morality. All our calls are judgment calls. But they’re not subjective, or at least they’re not merely subjective because when we make judgment calls, we have to give reasons to other people. And it’s very important what kind of reasons we can give. And there are criteria that are widely accepted which we are required to appeal to. So even though we act without certainty and often in ignorance, we nonetheless have to—have to act with reasons, and we have to be able to defend our actions to other people, first of all to our fellow citizens, and then to everyone else.

Now, it’s the maxim of General Sherman: War is hell, therefore, get it over with as quickly as possible; any means that end the war are therefore justified. And much of just war theory is an argument against that that claim. It’s an argument that there are certain constraints on how we fight which are I want to say unbreakable, although I have argued that in what Winston Churchill calls supreme emergency, the moral rules may have to be broken. But that’s a—that is also a—that’s one of the hardest questions in just war theory and in all morality: Do you do justice even if the heavens fall, or do you do justice until the heavens are about to fall, and then you do whatever you have to do to stop the heavens from falling? And that argument is central, I think, to both religious and secular ethics.

HAASS: Since we’re into tough questions, let’s get—let’s turn to legitimate authority and the case I had something to—you know, I was closely involved with even though I wasn’t in government at the time, which was the Balkans. And the United States and many of its European partners wanted to use force in the wars of what you might call Serbian succession and aggression. Russia was using its veto to prevent it. So what the United States and its NATO partners did was do an end run around the U.N. Security Council, where they were thwarted, and they took it to NATO. Or more recently you had Russia again precluding certain types of responses to Syria, to what they were doing. And if we had been so inclined—or we did use force more recently in Syria after use of chemicals, but again, without any blessing or sanction or authorization from the U.N. Security Council. So how do we deal with what you might call just ends without dissatisfaction of the box-checking of legitimate authority?

WALZER: Right. The German philosopher Habermas called the Kosovo intervention illegal but morally necessary. Now, illegal because it was not authorized by the—by the U.N. Morally necessary because he believed, and I think he was probably right, that it avoided a massacre of very large numbers of people, and it stopped the creation of a new refugee crisis.

Now, who decides that it’s morally necessary? In this case, it was the NATO countries. And this was an unusually example of a left—a center-left intervention because the Democrats were in power here: Labour in Britain, the Socialists in France, the Social-Democrats and Greens in a coalition in Germany, and the party of the Democratic Left in Italy. And that group of people, that group of political leaders, decided on an intervention.

And I think when you confront a massacre, my view is—and I’ve argued this for a long time—whoever can should stop the killing. Whoever can, should. And I don’t—but I use it—the examples that I think are most interesting are the Vietnamese shutting down the killing fields in Cambodia, the Indians stopping the terror in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, and the Tanzanians invading Uganda and overthrowing the murderous regime of Idi Amin. Those are—those are three examples of interventions that the U.N. would never have approved of. And in each case, I think they were justified.

HAASS: So last resort. There is a well-known book published during the George W. Bush—full disclosure, I was also a part of that one—which dealt with a view of the vice president at the time, Mr. Cheney. And his argument was that even if there was just a 1 percent chance that weapons of mass destruction might get into the wrong hands and be used, that that was a possibility we couldn’t allow to happen. And he used that among other things for the support of what essentially was not even a pre-emptive—I would argue a preventive war against Iraq. It was anything but a war of last resort. The Europeans and others felt it a war they might have ultimately been prepared to support, but not until other remedies had been sufficiently exhausted. And one of Mr. Cheney’s arguments was we didn’t have the luxury of waiting until all those remedies were exhausted. So how is one to think about last resort? Because in the idea of waiting, there is a willingness to accept then a degree of risk.

WALZER: Right. I’m not a—I’m not a defender of last resort criteria because there is always something to do before what comes last—another diplomatic node, another U.N. vote. There is always more—there are always more things to do. Lastness is a metaphysical idea. You never really get there. So—

HAASS: Is that Zeno or one of those guys where you keep slicing in and you never quite get there? (Laughter.)

WALZER: So if you’re—if you’re actually attacked, responding to the attack is your—is the first resort, and it’s entirely legitimate. I remember in the U.N. debates before 2003, the French were very adamant about last resort. And yet we had been using force in Iraq almost since the first—the first war because the sanctions all required the use of force. We were—the no-fly zones required us to take out anti-aircraft batteries and radar installation, and we were doing that for 10 years, almost 10 years. The embargo required us to stop—to intervene with shipments into Iraq. And those are—those are under international law acts of war. But they were actually acts short of war. They were the use of force short of war.

And it was—so the use of force was not a last resort. It was—it was—it was a continuous use of force against a bad regime with international support—I mean the use of force was internationally supported—from the first Gulf War up until the second. And I argued in March of 2003 that we should have stepped up the sanctions regime rather than gone to war.

HAASS: If it makes you feel better, that’s what I proposed when I was in the government. And I said, for a rather limited cost, we could do a major job of sanctions enforcement, and that the argument that we had no choice but to resort to force because the sanctions were crumbling, I said, sure, but we could’ve, among other things, physically broken pipelines and things like that, which I thought would’ve been a far better course of action than—that’s probably why I’m here and not there. (Laughter.)

I want to turn to the Jewish tradition here because I wrote a book—self-promotion here—called “War of Necessity, War of Choice” about the two Iraq wars. It was a memoir. And I wrote it—and only after writing it did I come across this guy named Maimonides who had written rather extensively about what he called wars of obligation and what I would roughly translate as wars of choice. And he tried to distinguish between wars essentially of self-defense and then wars in which kings got greedy and ran around the world looking to conquer. Want to say something about that and about that whole distinction?

WALZER: Well, it’s a long story. And it is—I have to say, writing “Just and Unjust Wars,” I looked for the Jewish writings on warfare. The Jews were a stateless people for almost 2,000 years. That means not only stateless but armyless. The Jews were not sending young men into battle for 2,000 years and therefore were not—did not have to respond to the kinds of questions that wars imposes on the people fighting it. So the Jewish tradition of warfare is in some ways underdeveloped and in some ways peculiarly developed.

My favorite line in the Jewish accounts of warfare is a line from Maimonides about siege warfare. And it’s written from the perspective of the people under siege, not from the perspective of the army, which is where just war theory would focus. And Maimonides wrote this classic sentence: You can only surround a city on three sides, which means you can’t surround a city. You have to leave one side open for the inhabitants of the city to escape. That is just war theory from the perspective of the victims of war, which was the most common Jewish experience for some 2,000 years.

HAASS: But just to interrupt: That’s very consistent, though, with the idea that the objects of the use of force, however it’s used, it has to be discriminate rather than indiscriminate. And if you do siege to a city, obviously, a lot of innocent men, women and children who are not combatants are going to be affected.

WALZER: Right. Right. A million people died in the siege of Leningrad. But the German general who enforced the siege was acquitted at Nuremberg because the general rule for siege warfare for many, many years has been that you can surround a city on four sides, and you can legitimately prevent people from leaving. And Maimonides argued against that position.

Now, the Talmud distinguished wars of obligation from wars of choice, optional wars, from commanded wars and optional wars. The first commanded war is the conquest of Canaan. But the rabbis transformed that into a—the commanded war is a war of defense, and the optional war is a war of conquest. Joshua’s wars contrasted with King David’s and also with the wars of the Maccabees. And the rabbis generally disapproved of optional wars, even long after there were no Jewish armies that could fight them.

HAASS: Just as an aside, we’re—in about two weeks we’re going to mark the 50th anniversary of the June 1967 war, the Six-Day War, and there’s a whole literature about how that war should be interpreted. And the most surprising account I’ve read and one that truly I was unprepared for, it was of all people Menachem Begin, arguing that it was not a war of necessity, but it was a war of choice, which is not something I would’ve expected, given the general writing of the history of the June ’67 war.

WALZER: Right. There is—certainly at the time, those of us watching with great anxiety the weeks before the pre-emptive strike, we thought it was a war of necessity. There is a revisionist—as always, there is a revisionist account of the war, which I think relies much too much on hindsight.

HAASS: I agree.

What do you say about the Muslim tradition? I mean, most—you know, because when you read it, there is so many things you can find that it’s hard to—I found it hard to find a single tradition there when it came to thinking about war. And it’s obviously much in the news for all sorts of reasons. So what is it—how should we think about that?

WALZER: Well, there are very clear injunctions against the killing of innocent people in the Muslim tradition and I think in every religious tradition. It’s interesting how innocent people are defined. It starts with women and children. Generally, you are allowed to kill military-age men, so that excludes male children. So then you have all children and women. And then in the different traditions, you have ambassadors can’t be killed. Doctors can’t be killed. In some traditions, actually merchants can’t be killed. So there is a basic intuition that innocent people must be spared so far as possible from the rigors of warfare.

But then there are grey areas around the idea of innocent. Workers in a tank—in a factory making tanks for, say, the German war effort in World War II, we had no compunction about bombing the factory. But some of us thought it was wrong to bomb the working-class neighborhood where the factory workers lived. And that’s a distinction that actually played a role in American and British decision-making in World War II. The Brits flew by night at very high altitudes and aimed at the city. And the American doctrine, sometimes violated but often followed, was to fly by day at lower altitudes and to aim at factories and to accept the higher casualties that that entailed. And that’s a classic example of taking risks to reduce civilian casualties.

HAASS: So much of, you know, just war conversation is about the use of force. I want to talk for a second about the non-use of force. There is a moment in—the holiest day in Judaism is Yom Kippur, and there is a moment in the service where the congregation apologizes—asks forgiveness for all of the various sins they’ve committed. And you—when you’re like me, you got a lot of sins you’ve got to get through. And the last thing, though, you ask forgiveness for is for the sin of inaction. It’s translated in various ways—a confused mind, a confused heart—but essentially sitting by when you should’ve acted. So we’ve had Rwanda back when. Now more recently we’ve had Syria. Can you basically say that it is unjust or wrong not to act when, in this case, helpless people are being slaughtered?

WALZER: I think—first of all, there is a Biblical injunction—do not stand by the blood of your neighbor—which has been variously interpreted and variously translated, but for most of us, it means exactly what you just said, that when there is some atrocity going on which you can stop, you should stop it.

Now, the obligation to stop a massacre is what philosophers call an incomplete duty—it’s a—because it is somebody’s duty but we don’t always know the proper name of the somebody. And I—that’s why I use those examples of the Vietnamese, of the Indians and the—and the Tanzanians because it makes the important point that United States is not always the best intervener. We need to make the case for a division of labor in these kinds of activities. There should have been, in my view, an intervention in Rwanda, but it should have been either by the former imperial powers or by the African Union. It should not have been an American intervention, though it would have been helpful if the United States had not voted against intervening in the Security Council. There should been an intervention, in my view, in Darfur, but again, not necessarily by us. But there is, I think, an obligation, and we—one of the things we need to argue about is the name of the—of the obliged agent.

HAASS: I’ve got two last questions, then I want to open it up. One of the debates we’re just in the early days of, but my hunch is that we’ll gather a lot of momentum over the coming months and years, will be North Korea. And it’s quite possible there’ll be some kind of a diplomatic initiative with North Korea, but it’s also quite possible, if history is any guide, that diplomatic initiative either won’t succeed or won’t succeed sufficiently as we judge it. And then the question would be whether we essentially permit North Korea to continue to produce nuclear weapons, shrink them, put them on missiles that can reach the United States, and we would essentially then depend upon some combination or deterrence and defense to provide our security, or we would launch either a preventive or pre-emptive strike, depending on the circumstances—the difference being preventive strikes against a gathering threat or pre-emptive strikes against an imminent threat—against North Korea. Help us think our way through that because this is going to be a very real debate.

WALZER: Yeah, and not an easy—not an easy one.

HAASS: If it were easy, we would not have invited you here tonight. (Laughter.)

WALZER: Well, first of all, I think we have been right to insist on the division of labor argument and to tell the Chinese that this is first of all their responsibility. They have been a patron to this awful regime, and they have failed and continue to fail to use the influence and the leverage that they have to alter its policies. So we need to find a way to intensify the negotiation with the Chinese.

And we need to—we will need to negotiate directly with the North Koreans. I don't really understand the policy of refusing to negotiate with regimes like Iran or North Korea.

HAASS: We did it with Iran, and my guess is we will do it with North Korea.

WALZER: Yes. And we have to do it again with Iran—(chuckles)—vis-à-vis Yemen and Syria. So there have to be—there have to be negotiations.

And one of the political leaders most committed to that is the president of South Korea because his country has the most at stake. If there is a preventive attack by the U.S. on North Korea, the people who will suffer will not be in California, they will be in South Korea.

HAASS: We would suffer, though, in many ways, including, given our security commitments to South Korea, the fact we have 28,000 troops there now, a lot of Americans would lose their lives and—

WALZER: Yes. Yes. But the city of Seoul—

HAASS: Would be—to be decimated.

WALZER: —would be decimated, yes. So the need to pursue every possible diplomatic channel is critical.

And I would—I don’t think preventive wars are a good idea. Pre-emption is a different story. And I have defended the Israeli pre-emptive attack in ’67, and I guess if we really believed with strong evidence that there was a danger of a North Korean use of nuclear weapons, either against Japan or against us, a pre-emptive strike would certainly be justified.

But that—but there, I almost believe in last resort. And it’s got to be last.

HAASS: Yeah. I think almost by definition, pre-emptive tends to be last. And when you wrote about it, the phrase—I think it’s you; if I—if I’m attributing words to you that I shouldn’t, I apologize—the whole idea that’s a form of self-defense—anticipatory self-defense, to engage in a pre-emptive attack. So you see it as a subset of self-defense rather than anything else.

WALZER: Yes. Right. Right.


One last question, which is terrorism. And I want to just raise the question on both sides of it because it’s a different kind of war; it’s against a non-state actor. And given the goals of terrorists, how do the laws of war apply against individuals in groups that in no way are parties to or live by the laws of war? How is it—how is it—are we to think about a situation where—how do I put it—adherence to any sort of code of conduct is not reciprocal? How do we deal with that?

WALZER: Well, the British gave us an example of—the IRA created a civilian cadre called Sinn Fein.

HAASS: I am well aware of that, yes—(laughter)—having spent several years negotiating with them.

WALZER: Yes. OK. And the Brits decided that you couldn’t negotiate with the terrorists, but you could negotiate with the political cadre of the terrorists. And I think that was prudentially the right—the right decision.

Morally, I do believe that all individuals engaged in the planning, the preparation or carrying out terrorist attacks are legitimate targets. They are simultaneously enemies who can be attacked and criminals who can be—who should be brought to trial if we can capture them. But we’re not obliged to risk the lives of American soldiers to capture people who are engaged in terrorist acts and whom we can kill without putting American soldiers at risk.

So I have defended drone warfare, with a lot of caveats and a lot of criticism of the way Americans have conducted drone warfare, but I do believe that someone in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Somalia or Mali who is engaged in planning attacks on innocent people is a legitimate target if we can target them. For a while the Obama administration adopted a policy which said that any male between 15 and 45 who was in the vicinity of people engaged in terrorism was a legitimate target, and we didn’t have to apply the rule that says, you can’t kill a disproportionate number of innocent people in order to get this terrorist. In fact, the policy should be, you can’t kill innocent people in order to get this terrorist. The claim of the drone warfare people is that they can hit one specific target without endangering the people around, and if that’s true and when it’s true, then the attack on that target seems to me to be justified.

The way we’ve used drones, the way the CIA has used drones—I think the Army may have been more careful—the way the CIA has used drones in a number of different places has I think broken through all of the restraints that we should be insisting on for our own use of drones and that we should be insisting on for anybody else’s use of drones because this is a cheap form of warfare, and soon everybody will have drones, so it’s very important to establish the constraints on this form of warfare. And the best way for the Americans to establish the constraints is to adopt them ourselves and live by them.

HAASS: OK. We could go on, but I will exercise uncharacteristic self-restraint and open things up. As you can see, Professor Walzer is a rare resource.

Yes, ma’am, in the back of the room there. I’ll try to get as many people in as we can.

ZONNEVELD: Hi. It’s Ani Zonneveld, Muslims for Progressive Values.

So my question to the professor is in regards to the drone pre-emptive killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-Yemeni hate preacher. So at what point do we draw the line between here is an individual who has actively engaged in terrorism, who has actively advocated for killing of innocent citizens of the world regardless of who they are—and there is a lot of debate in the—in the political left in regards to, well, this is unconstitutional—so this is—where is the moral line?

WALZER: Yeah, I had—I’ve had trouble understanding the objection. If someone is engaged—and I mean—well, you said it, actively engaged—in planning or preparing or carrying out terrorist attacks on innocent people or on American soldiers, I just don’t see how his nationality is a defense. In all these cases, it would be better to capture this person and bring him to trial. But if doing that puts soldiers at risk and almost certainly civilians at risk, I don’t see why—I just don’t see that his citizenship matters in a case like this—if he’s actively engaged.

Now, if he is an advocate of terror but not engaged in it, I would have a different view. I don’t believe the advocacy of terrorism is a good thing, but I would hesitate about a drone strike against someone who was simply an advocate.

But someone actually engaged in the killing of innocent people, I don’t—I just don’t see that it matters where his—where his documents come from.

HAASS: Yes, sir.

DAULT: Richard, once again, like every year, a very stimulating and provoking program. Thank you.

HAASS: People should introduce themselves because that way—

DAULT: Oh, I apologize. David Dault, independent producer from Chicago, Illinois, working right now with Catholic Theological Union.

The radical pacifist tradition—the Quakers, the Mennonites—would bring an objection that goes like this: You can’t ever guarantee that a use of force will lead to a positive outcome. You may hope that it will, but you can’t guarantee that it will. Now, the pushback against that from the realists would be, well, that’s naïve. But when we look at extended conflicts—Vietnam is an example, Bush I, the bombing that Clinton did, to Bush II—we can see in the late 20th century, early 21st century, protracted use of force that doesn’t seem to lead to a positive outcome.

And so my question would be, given the radical pacifist critique that you can’t guarantee the positive outcome and given the facts that we’re seeing again and again that protracted conflicts don’t lead to positive outcomes but just lead to mired warfare for years and years and years, when do we finally say that this policy is not working?

WALZER: You are describing the rationale for a pacifist position. And since you’ve done it in a consequentialist way, it’s not—it’s a secular pacifism that you are defending.

I grew up in New York, a Jewish kid in New York during World War II. And that was an immunization against pacifism because the one thing I knew and know is that the war to stop the Nazis was a just and necessary war. And there is a logical proposition: Not all wars are unjust and unnecessary.

Now, I would argue with great skepticism about every—just every military effort. But some of them are just and necessary. Had there been—the U.N. had 5,000 troops in Rwanda in the ’90s, and the U.N. commander said, give me some reinforcements, and I can stop the killing. And the Security Council said, no, and the U.N. troops sat in their barracks. But that would have been not a protracted conflict. It would have a military intervention that could have ended a massacre.

And there are acts of war which I think can be justified. I think—the examples that I gave, the Vietnamese intervention in Cambodia was—it wasn’t a protracted conflict, and it stopped—it closed down the killing fields.

HAASS: Would you add the—at least the initial phases of the Korean War and the 1990-91 Gulf War to your list of what you would see as, in both cases, justified war?

WALZER: Yes. Yes.

HAASS: OK. Yes, sir.

HAMILTON: Greg Hamilton, Northwest Religious Liberty Association.

How does just war theory apply to civil war, specifically the American Civil War? James McPherson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War author, wrote “Tried by War; Lincoln as Commander in Chief.” And there seemed to be a suggestion in the book that Lincoln could no longer work with General McClellan because General McClellan thought that just a few skirmishes here or there could then result in the Southern United States and Northern United States settling on a treaty, a peace, and we’d be divided forever, or Lincoln’s proposal that he needed some generals that could actually apply a little bit of scorched earth in order to restore the Union—in other words, not necessarily the idea of annihilating the south, but necessarily totally humbling the South through General Sherman and General Grant and ending the war by conquering and therefore restoring the Union. Is there any thoughts on that?

WALZER: Well, first of all, the rules of about how to fight apply in civil wars just—exactly the same way as they apply in international wars. And General Sherman’s argument for doing what he—what he did is a classic argument that we’ve heard again and again by generals who want to break through all the rules and who claim, usually wrongly, that doing that will end the war more quickly. I don’t know what the counterfactual account of Sherman—if Sherman’s March had been more careful about civilian lives, would it—would the war have gone on longer? We really don't know.

The criteria to when to fight in civil wars are probably a lot more complicated than in international wars. And I think the argument for secession in 1860 was a bad argument because of slavery and not because secession itself is necessarily a bad idea. I think, although it has turned out very, very badly, that something like the secession of South Sudan was justified, although it should have taken place under more substantial international auspices and protection.

HAASS: Just as an aside on that, we’ve actually done some interesting work here at the Council on the re-establishment of greater international authority in South Sudan. It almost goes back to the old U.N. trusteeship idea that this is a sovereign unit that can’t meet its obligations to its own citizens or anywhere else. So we argue that, whether it’s the African Union or the U.N. or some combination of external authority, goes in and essentially runs the place for a period of time until it demonstrates it can exercise responsible sovereignty towards its own people.

WALZER: Yes. I think the idea of trusteeship has gotten a bad press.

HAASS: Yeah. We’re going to bring it back.


AHMAD: Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad with the Minaret of Freedom Institute.

I have two short comments. First, Professor Walzer, your rebuttal of Richard Haass’ observation that applying some of these criteria is subjective was not convincing to me. The mere fact that you have to persuade some other people doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be rational. It can mean that you’ll be rationalizing. I will resist using the pre-emptory strike in 1967 as my example, instead use the current war in Yemen; people who hold that the Iranians are much more responsible for the humanitarian crisis than the Saudis is something I think that can be debated.

The other comment is regarding the definition of terrorism as involving non-state actors. I think that the important thing about terrorists is that they’re engaged in a criminal activity. I think that criminality applies whether they’re state actors or non-state actors. And I think that when you’re talking about dealing with criminals, that’s where the question of American citizenship versus other people may come into play, since the Constitution gives protections of Americans who are accused of criminal activities.

WALZER: Right. Actually, I agree that the issue of who is most responsible for the civil war or for the proxy war in Yemen is an open question. But that doesn’t mean that you can—that it is just subjective. Some people say the Saudis are most responsible. Some people say the Iranians are most responsible. And it’s all subjective because you have to give arguments. And presumably, there is evidence of who—of the actual activities of both those countries and their protégés in this war. And you cannot—you cannot avoid the necessity for argument. And the arguments—it’s not—you know, it’s not one man’s terrorist is another man’s liberty—fighter for national liberation. You rightly defined terrorists as criminals. That’s not a subjective definition. It’s a definition that points to the killing of innocent people.

AHMAD: May I—may I just make a quick comment—

HAASS: We’ve got other people in here. I apologize. We have so many hands up, I feel—I apologize.

Sally Quinn.

QUINN: I just wanted to get back to Syria. Do you think that—do you think that President Obama made the right decision by not going into Syria and letting the situation escalate to the point where an entire city, Aleppo, was essentially destroyed and half-a-million people killed? I mean, do you think that was a moral decision or a political decision? How would you rate it historically?

WALZER: Well, first of all, I think that it was an enormous mistake to draw a red line and then not enforce it. I think there should have been a U.S. military strike after the massive use of poison gas by the Assad regime. And I also think that that should not have been a single act. It should have been a series of acts involving aid to the people we call the good guys, but even more involving the creation of safe zones in the north and massive aid to the people dealing with refugees in Jordan and Lebanon and Turkey.

But should there have been an intervention early on? My understanding—and Richard may know a lot more about this than I do—was that our people in Syria were telling President Obama that the rebels whom we thought were the good guys, the people committed to democracy and secular liberalism, those people were not thick on the ground, were not well-organized, and that if we provided them with significant weapons, they would not be able to hold on to those weapons, and the weapons would end up in the hands of people that we did not think were good guys. I think that’s what he was told. And so he was in an impossible position.

The only intervention that could have resolved the Syrian war, civil war, early on would have been boots on the ground from some coalition of American, Turkish, European—and nobody was prepared—nobody was prepared to do that, in part because of the experience of Iraq.

So I think Obama made what was probably a political decision to stay out, given the information he had, and that that probably was an unavoidable decision. But then came a moment when an intervention was I think necessary, and that was when the red line was crossed.

HAASS: It’s a longer conversation.

Yes, sir.

HEDRICK: Thank you for your comments. My name is Bryan Hedrick. I’m an Army chaplain.

WALZER: I can’t hear.

HAASS: We can’t—you think with a $600 billion defense budget, you’d have a microphone that worked.

HEDRICK: Right. There we go. I can use my indoor voice—my outdoor voice if I need to.

My name is Bryan Hedrick. I’m a U.S. Army chaplain.

I greatly appreciate a lot of what we’ve been talking about, especially in the realm of kinetic warfare, and that’s pretty much what our conversation has been dominated by.

One of the key issues facing our military and then our defense overall, though, is this idea of a multidomain battlefield or a cross-domain battlefield where we have this idea of such—cyberattacks, for example; how do we respond proportionately with kinetic force to something from a cyber domain or a space domain or something in that realm? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on how do we start to even begin to measure what proportionality would look like for, say, a state actor such as China—anyone of them, you name it—to conduct cyberattacks, what would our proportionality look like in a kinetic action.

WALZER: Yeah, my thoughts up till now about that have been, this is a question for my grandchildren. (Laughter.) I really don’t know enough about cyberwarfare, about the kinds of threats we face to—I mean, I’m very much in favor of defense against cyberwarfare. I can—I can understand that a massive attack like the attack that hit British hospitals recently is very, very scary. And we have to insist that our governments be prepared to resist attacks like that. But exactly how what a counterattack should l look like, I really don’t know.

HAASS: You’re not alone, and I know it’s actually a major current subject of consideration, which is exactly what does constitute, quote/unquote, “crossing the line” in the cyber domain and then the question of specificity, proportionality and so forth. And it gets really complicated in many cases with the difficulty in attributing who is actually carrying out the attack and under whose authority. It is a—it’s an area where the technology is far ahead of the thinking.

WALZER: Yeah, of my thinking.

HAASS: So if not your children or grandchildren, you’re probably not far off.

Yes, ma’am.

MUCHINA: Thank you very much. Pauline Muchina from the General Board of Church and Society.

And when you talk about terrorism and—being private actors and not state actors, I think of Kenya and the liberation movement through colonialism. And if I was to identify the terrorists in that act, it was the British Army rather than the Kenyans’ Mau Mau fighters, who were fighting for their freedom. And that also applies to a lot of situations today when people are fighting for their own rights, fighting for their farms in indigenous communities, and they are labeled terrorists because the person who defines who is a terrorist and what is a just war is the person in power and the person with the resources to come and destroy you with drones, destroy you with whichever power they have, and then they stand back and say, you’re a terrorist, and they stand back and they say, it is an unjust war. But their war, even when it is colonialization, even when it is destroying your farms through mining of oil in Nigeria and in other parts of the world, that is a just war.

So I have this confusion in my head as a Christian woman, as a theologian, African woman: Who determines what is a just war? Who determines who is a terrorist? Because the people who are saying it don’t have credibility in my eyes. Look at what has happens in Northern Africa and the interventions done by European and American and the devastation they have left there that has produced the terrorists we now have. Thank you.

WALZER: Yes. (Applause.) Well, I think it’s very important to recognize that states can also be terrorist actors. I think the bombing of Dresden was an act of terrorism. I think the bombing of Hiroshima was an act of state terrorism. So I have no—I have no argument about defining state actors as terrorists.

HAASS: More recently, would you put Syria in that category?

WALZER: Yes. Certainly, the Assad regime is a terrorist regime.

But when we think about national—and I do believe—I grew up with the French Algerian struggle. And I thought—at the time I was just old enough to have political views then—that the struggle for Algerian national liberation was a just struggle, but that the use of—the killing of children in a—sitting in a café or putting a bomb in a supermarket was terrorism. And I want to—I want to distinguish between the justness of the struggle and the injustices committed by some of the militants engaged in the struggle.

And we have—we have—it’s very important to understand that terrorism—I mean, that policy, the policy if deliberately killing innocent people—there is an old Marxist argument against terrorism. And it goes like this—I think I’m quoting Leon Trotsky—the terrorists want to liberate the people without the participation of the people. Terrorism is an elite activity. It’s the activity of a very, very few people. It’s different from mass mobilization. It’s different from a general strike. It’s different from civil disobedience. All those are acts of justified resistance to oppression.

We have accounts of the meetings of the IRA and of the FLN in Algeria. We have description of the meetings where a group of militants sat around a table, almost all of them men, and argued about what to do for the sake of national liberation. And there were people advocating terrorist attacks against, say, French civilians in Algeria, and there were people in the FLN arguing against doing that, against doing that. The terrorists won in the FLN, and the first people they killed were the people around the table who had argued against terrorism.

So I’m perfectly willing—I believe in the justice of national liberation struggles. But I think it’s very important to recognize that even oppressed people have moral obligations. And oppression is not a justification for putting a bomb in a café where a group of teenagers are sitting around drinking coffee.

HAASS: I can’t think of a better note to end on. When I introduced Michael Walzer, I said he was someone who wrote with great clarity. Well, you couldn’t tell that because you haven’t read him necessarily, but clearly both thinks and speaks with uncharacteristic clarity. So, sir, I want to thank you not just for tonight, but I really want to thank you for your contributions over the—over the decades to the—for informing this debate and elevating this debate. So thank you very much. (Applause.)

And I realize that there were many more questions to be asked. I apologize. I only do what Irina tells me to do. (Laughter.) And we’re going to turn to dinner. But before we do that, Reverend Dr. Velda Love, who’s the minister for racial justice at the United Church of Christ, will deliver a blessing.

LOVE: Good evening.

AUDIENCE: Good evening.

LOVE: It’s a pleasure to be here from the United Church of Christ national office in Cleveland, Ohio. And so I had to change my prayer several times during this conversation. (Laughter.) It is an invocation.

And so I want to invite out of respect for the many people that are here who speak different languages, who come from different countries, who have different particularities, and from—that come from different faith, values, and perspectives—I will make this as pluralistic as I can. I come out of a particular tradition, and I want to respect and honor that as well.

So you may bow. You may close your eyes. You may keep them open. You may interpret for someone else what this prayer is intended to do, which is to invite the spirit of community into this place and to bless our food.

The Earth and everything and everyone on it belongs to the Creator. And we’re gathered in this place as a sign that the human community still matters and the concerns and issues that will be discussed over the next day and a half are relevant, important and urgent.

We bring our particularities to each table, to each conversation. We bring our culture, our ethnicity, our gender, our ability, our age, our political perspective and our economic status. We bring our orientation and our years of wisdom to collectively engage each other in matters that are both domestic and international.

We call the Creator good in many languages. We call the Creator out of our own sense of what it means to be created.

In my own tradition, it is that we are created equal, men and women. We are created good. But we are also created with the choice to destroy humanity and this world. And so with that, we take our collective challenge to be a people of faith, to talk about hard issues and to come to some understanding that we can agree to disagree.

So may this time together over a meal, a small gathering, a glass of wine, or just water, may it be energized, may it be deep. May we listen to the voices that have been oppressed, that don't sit at this table, that don’t have a say in the way the world has been created over and above them, that have been displaced and labeled and characterized as other, that have been kept from entering and exiting this country and countries around the world.

And in spite of our differences and our perspectives and our life experiences, we invite the spirit of community, and we offer this time to eat together and to be mindful of the means of production and the hands that have dug into the earth and the trucks and trains and plains that have provided this food for us so that may nourish us on this journey to be respectful, to live in human dignity, and to create an opportunity to journey together.

I end this prayer so that it is inclusive and so that we can leave this place tomorrow thinking more deeply about shalom and love and healing and peace, that we can heal wounds, that we can feed people, and that we can create a just world for all. Amen.




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