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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Pre-Emption and Catholic Just War Teaching

Here's a topic that is sure to rile some people up. Foxnews.com is reporting that in a 49-page national security report, President Bush is reaffirming the doctrine of pre-emption.

"If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur -- even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack," Bush wrote.

Titled "National Security Strategy," the report summarizes Bush's plan for protecting America and directing U.S. relations with other nations. It is an updated version of a report Bush issued in 2002.

In the earlier report a year after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush underscored his administration's adoption of a pre-emptive policy, marking the end of a deterrent military strategy that dominated the Cold War.

The latest report makes it clear Bush hasn't changed his mind, even though no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.

"When the consequences of an attack with weapons of mass destruction are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize. ... The place of pre-emption in our national security strategy remains the same," Bush wrote.

Many Catholics have criticized Bush's doctrine of pre-emption as being outside of the Catholic Just War Tradition. Pope John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger were among President Bush's critics as he invaded Iraq (see here and here for a good summary of their statements). Then-Cardinal Ratzinger went so far as to note that the "concept of a 'preventive war' does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church." With his typical clarity, Ratzinger went on to say that:

"One cannot simply say that the catechism does not legitimize the war," he continued. "But it is true that the catechism has developed a doctrine that, on one hand, does not exclude the fact that there are values and peoples that must be defended in some circumstances; on the other hand, it offers a very precise doctrine on the limits of these possibilities."

Ratzinger also explained that, though Pope John Paul's opposition to the war was rationally persuasive, it was not doctrinal.

Q: Eminence, a topical question that in a certain sense is inherent to the Catechism: Does the Anglo-American war against Iraq fit the canons of a "just war"?

Cardinal Ratzinger: The Pope expressed his thought with great clarity, not only as his individual thought but as the thought of a man who is knowledgeable in the highest functions of the Catholic Church. Of course, he did not impose this position as doctrine of the Church but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by faith.

The Holy Father's judgment is also convincing from the rational point of view: There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war."

On the other hand, Catholic thinkers Michael Novak, George Weigel, and Robert P. George have supported Bush's doctrine of pre-emption as being consistent with Just War Theory.

In one of Weigel's articles, he explained it this way:

Is preemption ever morally justifiable?

Classic just-war thinking identified three kinds of "just cause": defense against an aggression under way, recovery of something wrongfully taken, or punishment for evil.

Modern just-war thinking, reflected in the U.N. Charter, has tended to limit "just cause" to "defense against an aggression under way."

When a vicious regime that has used chemical weapons against its own people and against a neighboring country -- a regime that has no concept of the rule of law and that flagrantly violates its international obligations -- works feverishly to obtain and deploy further weapons of mass destruction, a compelling moral case can be made that this is a matter of an "aggression under way."

The nature of the regime, which is the crucial factor in the moral analysis, makes that plain. It makes no moral sense to say that the U.S. or the international community can only respond with armed force when an Iraqi missile carrying a weapon of mass destruction has been launched, or is being readied for launch.

There are serious questions of prudence here, of course. At the level of moral principle, however, there may be instances when it is not only right to "go first," but "going first" may be morally obligatory. Iraq may well pose one of those instances.

For the record, I fall into the Weigel, Novak, and George camp, and believe that pre-emption, though not mentioned in the Catechism, is not precluded under Just War teaching and may be permissible under the proper circumstances. I believe this position is certainly compatible with Church teaching based on Cardinal Ratzinger's comment that Pope John Paul's opposition to the war in Iraq was not doctrinal. If pre-emptive war were impermissible as a matter of doctrine, Pope John Paul's opposition to the war would have been doctrinal, and Cardinal Ratzinger certainly would have indicated as much.