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Is the War on Terror a Just War? Explain, with Reference to Both Jus Ad Bellum and Jus in Bello.

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By aidanpolo
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In this essay I will argue that the ‘war on terror’ declared by the Bush administration and so assessed for the US; is not a just war. It fails in the central interrelated criteria of just cause and last resort for jus ad bellum, which I detail first through assessment of the Bush administration’s self-proclaimed just reasoning behind resorting to war against a concept, and the alternatives available to it, I will then detail its failure in the jus in bello criteria of discrimination and proportionality, reasoning through the case of drone warfare.
Jus ad bellum
I shall firstly focus on the crucial jus ad bellum principle of just cause, holding the only just cause for war to be self-defence . The USA and its allies suffered unjust, unprovoked terror attacks, notably to embassies and battleships, as well as ultimately the 9/11 disaster, and further possessed reputable evidence of other failed attacks. Thus this essay acknowledges that they were under-attack from a powerful and effective enemy, which could be reliably pinpointed as Al Qaeda. These attacks were focused on non-combatants in landmark locations; deliberate targeting for maximum terror spreading effect, which further represented an attack on western freedoms. Hence the assailant satisfied neither jus ad bellum, nor jus in bello, and without immediate and effective action there existed great potential for further unjust attacks. This was the Bush administration’s argument for sufficient reason to declare war in self-defence .
However, declaring a war on terror cannot be declaring war in self-defence. The Bush administration was unjustified in declaring war as they held self-defence on par with preemptive action. The USA was attacked, not by a nation state, but by an extremist group within nations, an extremist group small in numbers and hence not representative of the nations as wholes. Although the potential for damage by small groups was undeniably great, the intervention of entire nations, which was the reality of a war declared against the concept of terror, is unwarrantable. The action of invading other countries with no real provable links between their regimes and anti-western terrorism was not merely an act of self-defence; it was an act of preemptive attack. Whereby the west purposely went beyond seeking to destroy those responsible for terror attacks -Al Qaeda- to seek to destroy the possibility of any other attack by anyone related to any form of terror . Thus I grant that Bush had a claim of self-defence against Al Qaeda, but only the less legitimate claim of preemptive action against the Taliban, Iraq, and other terrorist organisations; which was the reality of a war on terror.
The common counterargument to this focuses on the unique nature and severity of terrorist attacks to declare preemptive action just . It could be argued that preemptive action is self-defence in advance, and although preemptive attack isn’t a legitimate cause, in the case of terrorism it had to be undertaken as terrorists hold the upper hand. Terrorism consists of an unknown element as to how and when attacks will occur, near anyone in targeted nations could be at risk from further attack from growing organisations. So in light of past evidence and the scale of potential destruction, Bush’s administration had to act quickly and effectively against all terror to ensure no further harm to its non-combatant citizens. The terrorists committed the initial injustice and had to be dealt with severely and comprehensively through a war to prevent further threat. A hardline preemptive wide scale response would act as a deterrent to any further terrorist organisations and acts.
I am not in favour of softening the conventional criteria for just cause to include preemptive action as well as self-defence. Yet the nature of terrorism admittedly presents a strong argument for alteration of the ‘rules’ . Consequently, I shall now focus on last resort; whether the US had adequately attempted other solutions before resorting to war, on terror, to provide the jus ad bellum hammer blow. I dispute that the Bush administration acted to ensure last resort by trying and failing at other methods of resolving conflict. Firstly the USA has a policy in which it does not communicate with terrorists. Thus it cannot be said that the USA’s last resort was war against terror, if there is no attempt at engaging in negotiation to a peace agreement. More crucially the Taliban publicly declared they would not side with those responsible for 9/11, and agreed to release bin Laden to a neutral third country should evidence be provided of his involvement. Yet the USA rejected these offers multiple times, refusing surrender of the enemy for the small ask of viable evidence, and commenced war in Afghanistan . Here, under last resort theory, negotiation should have been pursued, and the USA should have followed through with its promise of providing proof behind bin Laden’s responsibility. The USA had an obligation to the goal of peace to pursue the approach of discussion and negotiation with the Taliban and even Al Qaeda.

However, it is debatable whether this would really have been the last resort. Terrorists are extremists; they struck in peacetime indicating they could do so again after or even during negotiations. Furthermore their objectives are fundamentally based, and the extreme arguments they present imply non-negotiability. Cooperation with the Taliban, an un-reputable organization with a history of anti-west feeling and links to Al Qaeda , was unlikely and arguably even immoral to those recently diseased. Thus the Bush administration had strong rationale in distrusting Taliban offers of handing over bin Laden. Furthermore, even if the Taliban managed to hand over bin Laden, and bring him to justice, this would have been far from a guarantee of no more terror attacks by Al Qaeda, let alone other fundamentalist terror organisations. For although bin Laden is now widely held as the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, terrorism is to a large extent not an individual but an ideologically reasoned practice, so just removing a leader does not remove knowledge or want to cause an act of terror. Thus handing over of bin Laden would arguably not only have been unlikely, but ineffective.
However this still does not mean war was the last option. Should negotiation have failed, other counterterror routes of action include further diplomacy, negotiation and education with host populations as well as law enforcement, asset seisure, intelligence gathering and other such methods of infiltration to prevent terror acts. These methods of terrorism prevention are effective , especially if what was spent on war was instead directed towards such methods, and were not undertaken. Finally an entwined note on proportionality; as terrorism is schemed in the shadows, it should arguably be countered similarly. It is a crime un-addressable by all-out war and arguably therefore a disproportionate response to such a threat. So, as shown, war was not acted upon as a last resort, and instead; by going to War on Terror only days after 9/11, declaring its best form of defence as offence; Bush’s administration actually seemed to use war as a first resort.
Jus in bello
Firstly, drones present an effective route to examine the jus in bello criteria of discrimination, whether or not drones discriminate between legitimate and illegitimate targets in the war on terror. Drone warfare arguments for its effectiveness in discrimination may centre on the technology’s increased accuracy in distinguishing between targets and civilians, for example: missiles can be diverted after fire should there be last-minute doubt as to said target’s legitimacy . However in such justification I declare discrimination mistaken for precision. Indeed I do not doubt the effectiveness of the technology’s targeting, I doubt the effectiveness of whether those targeted through drones are justly so. There is fundamentally a blurred line between combatants and non-combatants, legitimate and illegitimate targets in the war on terror.
As per the Geneva Convention: it is all and only those bearing arms that are legitimate targets in war. Yet this traditional notion of a combatant target is clearly hard to meet for the war on terror, much if not most of terrorism is plotting and scheming, and members do not even need to bear arms to carry out a terror act. Furthermore the USA, by not presenting a normal target due to reduced soldier presence because of drone effectiveness; cause fewer terrorists to actually bear arms. Thus to attempt to encompass drones we must extend this notion of a target to the more lenient: individuals that pose a threat to the attacker . This is indeed warranted for soldier warfare, as suspected terrorists can be assumed to retaliate against soldiers. However drones, as machines; aren’t directly threatened by terrorists (excluding very uncommon use of anti-aircraft means). Therefore, it’s extremely hard to distinguish legitimate targets for drones.
A response to this may be that drones represent a new form of warfare in which the role of the combatant is removed from the battlefield. Instead of the drone being threatened, it could be argued that terrorists threaten the controller as evidenced by previous attacks on the combatant’s home country, and so drone use against those threats is justified.
However this could be refuted in two ways. Firstly by declaring the controller as no longer a combatant as they are not in the battlefield but at a US military base . They therefore don’t fulfill our soldier-specific requisite of targeting those that are threatening in the absence of identifiable arms. Secondly through focusing on proportionality. If we hold that the controller is indeed a combatant through their link to the drone, then they now become justifiably vulnerable for retaliation against them. As the controller will be attacking from the US, they arguably extend the battlefield to their location, and this includes public space. As a justified target for attack they paradoxically justify acts of terror as terrorists could argue that the resulting death of non-combatants from targeting a controller is collateral damage not dissimilar to that exhibited by drones. Through this hypothetical, drones are indisputably shown to fail in allowing for more good than evil.
I shall now further expand this jus in bello criteria of proportionality. An assumed argument could be that drones are proportional in good over evil as they oppose force; 9/11, with similar force; unpredictable, quick, explosive airbourne attack. Furthermore they accurately target terrorists to cause minimal damage and bring about a quick close to the war.
Yet these arguments fall short. If drones oppose force with similar force, then they also represent a resort to unjustifiable terrorism. Indeed, drones are intended to cause fear and act as a vivid deterrent against terrorism; but those most fearful are the innocent, non-combatant, vast majority of the population. Drones invade people’s privacy, indeed without agreement from local government in the case of Pakistan . They present an intangible, unfamiliar, ‘big-brother’ like airbourne quality carrying out unexplained extrajudicial assassinations, and this spurs anti-western fear and hatred in the wider population. Drones consequently fail the proportionality criterion of minimizing long-term damage because such hatred is a fundamental cause of terrorism.
Potential objections to my argument could again compare drone warfare to traditional soldier based warfare. It could be argued that soldiers actually inspire more fear and hatred, as they are an ever-present, armed force. However in response to this I argue that drones, compared with soldiers, cannot injure over kill, they are so effective that they will kill, and inevitably cause additional unnecessary suffering from collateral damage. Furthermore, even if drone technology does minimise destruction and casualties over soldier warfare, it does not over surveillance, rendition and capture operations , where although the risk of death to American personnel is increased in entering the battlefield, to others overall it is reduced.
To conclude, I have argued around central criteria from just war theory to reason that the war on terror is unjust. For jus ad bellum I have detailed self-defence as wrongly being held on par with preemptive action, and shown how last resort practice was not adhered to by the bush administration. For jus in bello I took drone warfare as my case to declare that discrimination and proportionality criteria are not met, despite their advances in other aspects. Due to the natures of terrorism and modern warfare I will here concur it extremely difficult to fight a just war following traditional just war criteria, but even where I have expanded such criteria, the war on terror ultimately still fails to such an extent to ever be considered just.

Bibliography
Bellamy, A. J. (2005). Is the war on terror just? International Relations, 19(3), 275-296.

Bellamy, Alex J. (2006). Just Wars: From Cicero to Iraq. Polity Press.

Brahimi, A. (2010). Jihad and just war in the war on terror.

Brunstetter, D., & Braun, M. (2011). The implications of drones on the just war tradition. Ethics & International Affairs, 25(03), 337-358.

Crawford, N. C. (2003). Just war theory and the US counterterror war.Perspective on Politics, 1(01), 5-25.

Leahy, M. K. (2010). Keeping Up With the Drones: Is Just War Theory Obsolete. ARMY WAR COLL CARLISLE BARRACKS PA.

Smith, Jeffrey (2007-04-06). "Hussein's Prewar Ties To Al-Qaeda Discounted". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-04-06.

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