Monday, February 13, 2006

Is War Always Wrong?

My good friend James cites a book by Philippe Sands, which criticizes the President Bush and Prime Minister Blair for undermining the post-World War II international system. Regardless of whether or not the War in Iraq actually did this, the more important question is whether the post-World War II international system is such a good thing.

The twin purposes of this system were to eliminate interstate war and increase prosperity. The post-WWII system brought us economic institutions like the IMF, the World Bank and political institutions like the UN and international law - which the various rules created by international treaties over the past fifty years are called.

Now I'm all for prosperity, so I won't address the economic aspects of the post-WWII international system, but I believe it's important to consider whether the elimination of interstate war is the ultimate end toward which our international system should be designed.

I, for one am not convinced that interstate war is always wrong (few would argue that the invasion of Afghanistan was bad thing). As Carl Von Clausewitz famously stated, "war is the extension of politics." War is simply a means by which states attempt to achieve their ends. If those ends are positive and the negatives of war do not outweigh those positives, then war is actually a good thing.

The question then is this: If war is not always wrong, does it make sense for the elimination of it to be the ultimate purpose of our international system? I believe it does not. And since the UN, the bulk of international law and the post-WWII international system are all designed with the ultimate goal of eliminating interstate war, I do not think that undermining them as Bush and Blair are accused of doing is a bad thing.

There are, however, many evils in the world that are always wrong: tyranny, genocide, famine, poverty, bad governance, terrorism, racism, social/cultural/religious oppression, to name a few. While war sometimes is a good thing, these evils never are. It makes sense, then, to redesign our international institutions to address those things in the world that are always wrong.

The good news is that increasingly international organizations and international law are being designed to deal with just these issues - NATO (post Cold War), the Council of Europe and the ICC as well as a large chunk of human rights law, such as The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, all do just that.

But the post-WWII international system was designed to eliminate war by imposing rules of sovereignty and non-intervention. In other words, it sought to reduce war by specifically not addressing the "always evils," such as oppression, genocide, etc. This is where the system went wrong and where it must be changed.


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