Can wars ever be fair?

war and peace

Even if the doctrine of "just war" was developed to contain military conflicts - war can never be described as "just", says Regional Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm.

Until the end of the 1980s, the idea of ​​even seeing war as a Christian solution was generally outlawed. The doctrine of just war was considered to have been finally overcome. With the end of the East-West conflict, the situation changed. The Gulf War at the beginning of the 1990s had already raised new questions. Don't you have to face a brutal dictator out of ethical motives, especially if he threatens Israel with a new Holocaust? The peace movement was already divided back then. The question of the legitimate Christian use of military force in the conflict in the Balkans, first in Bosnia and then in Kosovo, became even more explosive. In the meantime, further wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are behind us, in which "Christian nations", above all the USA, played a central role.

In the peace ethic debates about current cases of military use of force, opponents and supporters of the military use in question are usually opposed to one another. That the substantive substance of the debate is only reproduced to a limited extent with such a rough comparison becomes apparent when we take a closer look at the types of argument that arise. The following four positions form the framework for the debate on peace ethics:

A map of the peace ethic discussion

He assumes that there are unconditional laws that cannot be overridden by anything. For this pacifism, the use of military force is ruled out from the outset because the unconditional obligation to nonviolence precludes it. The decisive factor for his proposed solution is therefore not the result of the analysis of the previous history and course of the conflict in question and the associated conflicting goals, but rather the requirement that all active steps in dealing with this conflict must be characterized by nonviolence . Insofar as unconditional pacifism owes itself to Christian motivation, it often refers to biblical texts from which non-violence is viewed as a binding way of life. Especially the commandments of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount are often quoted here.

As a result, it also leads to the position of non-violence in principle. In the justification, however, he proceeds quite differently. In addition to biblical norms, he consciously includes political analyzes in his ethical justifications. Violence - so the summary result of such analyzes - has never led to peace because it always sows new violence. That is why the biblical position of nonviolence is the only sensible one. In any case, the position of argumentative pacifism leaves open the possibility of permitting exceptions to the prohibition of the use of force on the basis of new historical experiences and convincing arguments.

This designation already shows that this position also claims to make peace. That is why she takes a clear priority of nonviolence. However, it assumes that the non-violence of one's own actions is not the only ethically binding principle. But since it has a special status, the use of force is an “impossible possibility”, something that should not actually exist, but which cannot be ruled out in certain situations of acute need. Even according to this position, the use of force is never just violence, but always associated with guilt, which is why it can only be ethically permitted in exceptional cases.

For this approach, the goal of nonviolence does not have a prominent position. Equally binding for him is the option for the weak, standing up for human dignity or protecting others from violence. If conflicts arise between these principles, the analysis of the situation must show whether the use of force is permissible or even necessary. This position differs from the pacifism of responsibility mainly in that it does not shy away from justifying the use of force under certain circumstances. According to her, in certain situations those who fail to help with military means can also and especially be guilty. This position must be seen as the limit of what can appear legitimate from the point of view of the Christian faith. Behind this stands a long Christian-ethical tradition that has developed effectiveness far beyond the area of ​​the church: the “doctrine of just war”.

The Just War Doctrine

Because the doctrine of just war has so often been misused for legitimization purposes in history, it is not surprising that many Christians usually protest when the term just war is even mentioned . And indeed: That a war should ever be “just”, if it always means the destruction of culture, of nature and above all of human life and in any case brings with it a lot of suffering, must arouse contradictions in all that arise know committed to life. It is therefore correct that, after long ecumenical discussions, the churches have explicitly abandoned the doctrine of just war and committed themselves to the development of a “doctrine of just peace”.

The wars in Bosnia and Kosovo at the latest have shown that a “doctrine of just peace” is not enough for peace ethics. The politically responsible can face emergency situations of acute use of violence, the end of which only clears the way for the development of a just peace. I therefore advocate abandoning the doctrine of just war, but using the ethical wealth of experience that lies behind the criteria developed in it. For one thing must be admitted to the doctrine of just war, contrary to some prejudice: It was not developed to justify wars, but to limit the cases in which warring rulers could invoke legitimate reasons.

Above all, five criteria can be identified in the different forms of the doctrine of just war in Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Francisco de Vitoria, Martin Luther and Francisco Suarez:

The war must be declared by a legitimate authority (formerly the prince or the sovereign of a state).

There must be a just and grave reason, for example the disturbance of the peace through external violations of law and foreign violence.

War can only be used as a last resort. No war can be just as long as there is any chance of resolving the conflict through negotiation or other non-military means.

The war must be waged with a just intention. Its honest purpose must be to restore peace and justice. So this is where the real motivation for the war comes into play.

The good to be achieved must clearly outweigh the bad that must be used to bring about the good. When the suffering and devastation caused by war can no longer be justified by the goal pursued, an otherwise just war becomes an unjust war.

It is in keeping with the meaning of these five criteria that they serve as critical test criteria for any envisaged use of military force. In other words: when its fulfillment is in doubt, the rule “in dubio pro pace” applies - in case of doubt, for nonviolence. The Church - so says Martin Luther - has incessantly to advise “from war to peace”.

If you apply these criteria to current conflict situations - for example the war in Afghanistan (see detailed lecture), then this shows that even in a war that was approved in the 2001 Bundestag vote, the effectiveness of military measures to ward off injustice was overestimated .

Second, given the suffering that military action always causes, there is no way that war can be called “just”. This also applies if, in the sense of responsibility pacifism, violence cannot be avoided as direct emergency aid.

Consequences for politics

The question of direct emergency aid must be distinguished from the question of what the conditions for the development of peace can look like. You can only create peace without weapons. The approaches to building civil peace services in the Federal Republic of Germany are to be expanded. The competence in non-violent conflict management available in churches, religious communities and peace groups can be used for this purpose.

Negotiating solutions must be sought intensively in the run-up to violent acts. This is where the art of forward-looking diplomacy and foreign policy is needed.

For military interventions, billions are made available within a very short time. If this money were raised in advance of military conflicts, many human lives could be saved and much suffering prevented. Peace cannot be separated from social justice.

In addition, the law as the basis of international coexistence must be strengthened and made assertive. The possibilities for action and the equipment of the UN must be improved in such a way that the UN can take on police tasks itself in accordance with its statute, instead of leaving such tasks to certain military alliances.

Consequences for the Churches

The churches are the place where horror at the suffering that people inflict on themselves, helplessness about possible solutions and hope for the victory of life can be expressed. Whoever confesses God as the Creator and Sustainer of the world will also understand prayer for peace as active peace work. Prayer can also be understood as a lived resistance to dulling in the face of the images of war and violence that accompany everyday life in the age of the mass media.

Every enthusiasm for war is in contradiction to the confession of Jesus Christ. The infliction of suffering, even if it is done to protect the rights of the weak, is guilt. It is precisely in this respect that the churches' contribution to the public debate is indispensable.

The Church must strengthen the communication within her between her members from different nations and ethnic groups. To take seriously that the Church of Jesus Christ is an ecumenical church by its very nature is one of the most important contributions that the churches can make to a culture of worldwide reconciliation and conflict prevention. The same goes for interreligious dialogue. The church can help to dispel prejudices against other religions and, together with representatives of other religions, look for ways for peace and stand up for them publicly.

The Church is a unique resource among the many actors working on peace policy worldwide. Church is a worldwide network with a universal horizon and local roots. She is the born public advocate for an international law that is able to promote peace, because she lives in her different national forms together from the power of Christ, of whom the letter to the Ephesians says: "He is our peace" (Eph 2:14) .