I am a Christian theologian who abhors war and believes that all other reasonable means should be exhausted before the use of lethal force is undertaken. At the same time, I am convinced that there are times – albeit rare – when the evil is so great that no measure other than force will prevent grave atrocities on a massive scale.
Paul J. Griffiths contends that the hands of every American taxpayer now drip with blood because the U.S. is supporting Ukraine’s war of self defense. American hands might be covered in the blood of innocents from Afghanistan to Somalia to Yemen, but there has been no transgression in Ukraine. In fact, from the perspective of Christian just war reasoning, it can be argued that the U.S. and Europe have not done enough.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has become a protracted war between Ukraine and Russia, with elements of a new Cold War where Ukraine’s western Allies are fighting Russia by proxy through the supply of weapons and other aid through the NATO alliance. The just war standard of “reasonable chance of success” is not part of the original theory devised by Saint Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas, but a later innovation made by Francisco Suárez to prevent wars from deteriorating into a long cycle of revenge by parties at war.
It should be uncontroversial that the Ukrainians have a right to defend their people and their land. However, some have argued that Pope Francis is spearheading a rejection of the just war tradition, replacing it with a thoroughgoing pacifism that would in principle deny this right to the Ukrainian defenders. As an analysis of the Pope’s position, I think this is mistaken.
No doubt there are complex reasons of history and diplomacy behind such qualifications and hesitations. But it is accurate to say that they reflect the increasing Catholic skepticism about the moral justification of war at all. But the Ukrainian decision to fight presents an important challenge to that skepticism.
While NATO had pursued discussions with Ukraine, there was no plan to add Ukraine to NATO any time soon. Indeed, most of NATO had resisted incorporating Ukraine exactly because it didn’t want to raise the prospect of conflict with Russia. So, what drives Putin’s aggression now?
Since World War II, the primary ambition of international humanitarian law — the law of armed conflict — has been to insulate military violence from the civilian population. Military forces are required to identify themselves as such, by wearing clearly marked uniforms, and to discriminate in their selection of targets: They cannot deliberately attack noncombatants or infrastructure that has no military use.
The international crisis in Ukraine, combined with the precipitous and aggressive behavior of Russia toward the West, the docility of Europe and the fecklessness of American foreign policy in shaping events, has prompted after-midnight calls among many international experts for a radical and rapid rethinking of what the word “globalization” really means, or what it might look like even in the next five years.
Viewing the film August: Osage County with academy award nominees Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep during the same week that Russia’s Vladimir Putin occupied Crimea and thumbed his nose at President Obama, it became impossible not to regard the movie itself as some sort of deep parable of the political age in which we live.