"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." - George Orwell

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Just War Series - Competent Authority 

This is Part 2 of my series on Just War Theory. The other parts covered thus far are:

1. Just Cause

The next test that must be met in order for a war to be Just is that of Competent Authority. Only states with the legal authority to declare war may do so. Generally private armies and individuals may not engage in warfare.

There are several questions that we must ask in order to determine if this test has been met:
  1. Do individual countries have the right to declare war?
  2. Is the government of the country making the decision legitimate?
  3. Does the individual making the decision have the authority to do so?
  4. If nuclear war or a "decapitating strike" by terrorists is a possibility, can competent authority survive to make the required decision?
  5. If the country involved possesses nuclear weapons, has it taken steps to prevent their unauthorized use?
Let's go through these one at a time.

It is my contention that yes; individual countries have the right to unilaterally declare war. While some today say that all war must be authorized by the United Nations, I believe this to be invalid for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is that Section VII, Article 51, of the UN charter allows for nations to defend themselves through use of war. That said, the rest of Section VII attempts to restrict individual nations in a manner that I find unacceptable. In order to prevent future attempts to tie our hands, we should demand a revision of the charter. If that fails, we should withdraw.

Sometimes non-state actors may declare war, although those times will be rare. The only time this may be justified is if a people are under the heal of a tyranny, and all peaceful means of attempting redress have been exhausted. For example, the American Colonies for many years appealed to King George III for redress before a decision was taken to declare independence and go to war. But note that we did not do this as a resistance shadowy group. We formed a nation (ok nations, each state being largely independent, but let's not get into that here).

Governments that do not draw their authority from their people are illegitimate and do not have the right to declare war. At the current state of human development, the best system we have so far is the popular election process invented by western civilization. There are several such systems, and all are equally valid as long as certain criteria are met that we do not have time to explore here. This is not to say that democracies can go to war against tyrannies for no good reason. All the other criteria of the Just War must be met. Likewise, injustices can be done to the citizens of the worst regimes, the best example being the Nazi invasion of Soviet Russia. Thus only democracies can legitimately declare war.

As for the third question, by this we mean, "can the chief executive declare war without regard to other government entities?" The answer to this depends on the individual country involved. Even in a democracy the chief executive (president, prime minister) is usually restricted in some manner.

In the United States, the Congress not only is granted the sole right to declare war, but holds the purse strings to funding the military as well. The President, however, is granted Commander-in-Chief status by the Constitution. This has sparked a debate within our country over the past two centuries over who exactly can order our troops into battle. The current thinking is that if the conflict is probably going to be short, then the president can make the decision himself and need only inform the congress. However, if the conflict will probably be long and or involve many casualties, authorization by the congress is required. These are, of course, subjective criteria, and can be debated by reasonable people. But they are reasonable criteria. I would like to see an outright declaration of war rather than the current "authorization" type vote. But at least we have moved away from "Gulf of Tonkin" type justifications and towards a more formal authorization.

One of the threats in our modern age is that of the "decapitating strike" that kills, incapacitates, or renders incommunicado the legitimate authority (or authorities). This may occur through either a nuclear strike by another country, or a terrorist attack from an organization such as al Qaeda. Either way, governments have a responsibility to avoid a situation in which no competent authority remains. This is a complicated problem that has many aspects to it. Some of them are:
While Command and Control are always important, they assume special importance with regard to Nuclear Weapons. Quite simply, if a state is going to possess them, it has a responsibility to go to great lengths to safeguard them. It is my contention that the United States must continue to possess a limited number of these weapons. I do not accept the argument that in order to dissuade others from obtaining them we should not have them. Among other things, this is the fallacy of moral equivalence.

Application to Current Events

The test is whether the United States has met the requirement of Competent Authority with regard to the War on Terror. In my opinion we have met the requirements.

Of the five parts of Competent Authority first listed, only 1 through 3 applies to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Number 4 applies to the War on Terror in general, and the fifth is applicable at all times. Going through them in order:
  1. The United States has the authority to declare war without "getting permission" from any other entity such as the United Nations. I made clear my thoughts on this matter in a post here.
  2. Our government is legitimate. Period.
  3. President Bush did the right thing by going to congress, just as his father did in the run-up to the Gulf War. While I think that an outright declaration of war would have been best, an "authorization vote" is sufficient. In contrast to many conservatives, I think that the War Powers Resolution was a good idea.
  4. Whether we have acted to ensure a reasonable chance of survival of competent authorities is a technical question that I am not qualified to answer. My general impression is yes.
  5. This, too, is a technical question that I am not fully qualified to answer. However I do have more-than-average knowledge of the subject, so I would say yes to this as well. U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy ship and carrier aircraft weapons are secured by Permissive Action Links (PAL) that physically prevent end-users from activating them. Missiles aboard Navy submarines do not have PALs. They rely instead on the cooperation of a significant fraction of the ships crew to launch the missiles (Note: the movie Crimson Tide, entertaining though it was, did not get the technical details right).

Next: Comparative Justice
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