Just War, Drones, and Counterinsurgency

I am not a big proponent of  just war theory. I would much prefer Christian Gospel nonviolence and nonviolent resistance or struggle. However,  just war, to me, is over and above realpolitik or political realism. President Obama has said that he is a proponent of just war theory,

There is an article in the August 7 issue of The Christian Century magazine, “Discriminating Force: Just War and Counterinsurgency” by Daniel M. Bell that is worth noting. Bell, says The Century, teaches at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC and at the US Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, KS.

Here is an excerpt of that article:

In the context of counterinsurgency, drones may actually increase noncombatant risk insofar as they extend the range and opportunities for military strikes to places where otherwise there would be no such threat. In the absence of drone technology, the civilian populations of Waziristan or Yemen, for example would not be facing any attack. They would not not be targeted by an infantry division or by B-52’s. In this context, therefore, drones are decidedly not more discriminating than the alternative — which is no attack at all. When the alternative is not an invasion or carpet bombing, drones increase the risk of harm to noncombatants.

Furthermore, the fact that a weapon may be more discriminating does not mean that it is sufficiently discriminating. The noted military ethicist martin Cook has suggested that drones may be “tactically smart but strategically dumb.” The clear tactical advantage of being able to reach more bad guys while optimizing force protection is overridden by the damage such weapons do to the political aims of counterinsurgency, which is protecting the population and winning hearts and minds, In just war terms, drones may violate the criterion of “reasonable chance of success” because they undermine the political goals of the war.

The way beyond the deficiencies of war as annihilation exposed by the rise of the drones is not a new ethic but a more rigorous, responsible practice of just war. In marked contrast with the permissive vision of just war as it emerges in war as annihilation, counterinsurgency strategy calls for maximum discrimination and the minimum force necessary. This is because the focal point of counterinsurgency is protection of the population. The insurgent or terrorist is trying to provoke the counterinsurgent into using overwhelming force that inadvertently causes significant harm to noncombatants — with the result that the population turns against the counterinsurgents, thereby making victory more elusive.

A more rigorous vision and practice of just war is particularly well suited to the demands of a counterinsurgency because it recognizes that victory is determined by more than sheer destruction of the enemy, Likewise, it embraces a stricter standard of discrimination and proportionality, thereby increasing the security of the population in accord with the demands of counterinsurgency.

After more than ten years of war against an asymmetric opponent, the permissive vision of just war linked to wars of focused annihilation is in crisis. The context of counterinsurgency calls for more attention to the political dimension of war and thus for a more responsible and discriminating use of force. Far from calling for a new ethic, the context calls for a more robust vision and practice of just war.

I Declare World Peace.

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One thought on “Just War, Drones, and Counterinsurgency

  1. Pingback: Drones versus Christ’s Love | declaring world peace

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