March 9, 2003
Just War — or a Just War?
NEW YORK TIMES By JIMMY CARTER
— Profound changes have been taking place in American foreign policy,
reversing consistent bipartisan commitments that for more than two
centuries have earned our nation greatness. These commitments have been
predicated on basic religious principles, respect for international
law, and alliances that resulted in wise decisions and mutual
restraint. Our apparent determination to launch a war against Iraq,
without international support, is a violation of these premises.
As a Christian and as a president who was severely provoked by
international crises, I became thoroughly familiar with the principles
of a just war, and it is clear that a substantially unilateral attack
on Iraq does not meet these standards. This is an almost universal
conviction of religious leaders, with the most notable exception of a
few spokesmen of the Southern Baptist Convention who are greatly
influenced by their commitment to Israel based on eschatological, or
final days, theology.
For a war to be just, it must meet several clearly defined criteria.
The war can be waged only as a last resort, with all nonviolent
options exhausted. In the case of Iraq, it is obvious that clear
alternatives to war exist. These options — previously proposed by our
own leaders and approved by the United Nations — were outlined again by
the Security Council on Friday. But now, with our own national security
not directly threatened and despite the overwhelming opposition of most
people and governments in the world, the United States seems determined
to carry out military and diplomatic action that is almost
unprecedented in the history of civilized nations. The first stage of
our widely publicized war plan is to launch 3,000 bombs and missiles on
a relatively defenseless Iraqi population within the first few hours of
an invasion, with the purpose of so damaging and demoralizing the
people that they will change their obnoxious leader, who will most
likely be hidden and safe during the bombardment.
The war's weapons must discriminate between combatants and
noncombatants. Extensive aerial bombardment, even with precise
accuracy, inevitably results in "collateral damage." Gen. Tommy R.
Franks, commander of American forces in the Persian Gulf, has expressed
concern about many of the military targets being near hospitals,
schools, mosques and private homes.
Its violence must be proportional to the injury we have suffered.
Despite Saddam Hussein's other serious crimes, American efforts to tie
Iraq to the 9/11 terrorist attacks have been unconvincing.
The attackers must have legitimate authority sanctioned by the
society they profess to represent. The unanimous vote of approval in
the Security Council to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
can still be honored, but our announced goals are now to achieve regime
change and to establish a Pax Americana in the region, perhaps
occupying the ethnically divided country for as long as a decade. For
these objectives, we do not have international authority. Other members
of the Security Council have so far resisted the enormous economic and
political influence that is being exerted from Washington, and we are
faced with the possibility of either a failure to get the necessary
votes or else a veto from Russia, France and China. Although Turkey may
still be enticed into helping us by enormous financial rewards and
partial future control of the Kurds and oil in northern Iraq, its
democratic Parliament has at least added its voice to the worldwide
expressions of concern.
The peace it establishes must be a clear improvement over what
exists. Although there are visions of peace and democracy in Iraq, it
is quite possible that the aftermath of a military invasion will
destabilize the region and prompt terrorists to further jeopardize our
security at home. Also, by defying overwhelming world opposition, the
United States will undermine the United Nations as a viable institution
for world peace.
What about America's world standing if we don't go to war after
such a great deployment of military forces in the region? The heartfelt
sympathy and friendship offered to America after the 9/11 attacks, even
from formerly antagonistic regimes, has been largely dissipated;
increasingly unilateral and domineering policies have brought
international trust in our country to its lowest level in memory.
American stature will surely decline further if we launch a war in
clear defiance of the United Nations. But to use the presence and
threat of our military power to force Iraq's compliance with all United
Nations resolutions — with war as a final option — will enhance our
status as a champion of peace and justice.
Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, is
chairman of the Carter Center in Atlanta and winner of the 2002 Nobel