What Constitutes acceptable use of Force?

Introduction to IJWP, March 2008

“What Constitutes the Legitimate Use of Force?” is a thorny and much debated question in modern political theory and just war doctrine. Under what conditions is the use of force moral? When is it immoral? How much force is enough? What is excessive use of force? Do some types of governments, by virtue of their structure, have a greater right to use force than others? How much force against individuals should be allowed to secure some greater good?  The articles in this issue each address this issue of the legitimate use of force, directly or indirectly, from a variety of perspectives.

Use of force by peacekeepers
Since World War II, and especially after the Cold War, intra-state conflicts have escalated as tribal, national, cultural, and ideological groups have sought to commandeer the power of the state for their own purposes. This has led to increased pressure to send in United Nations peacekeeping forces into areas of conflict within states to prevent violence and genocide. The United Nations is a relatively recent creation and its international peacekeeping, where soldiers from third-party states are sent to keep peace between warring groups, is a non-traditional role for soldiers.
Our first article, by Paolo Tripodi looks at the moral responsibility of soldiers in peacekeeping operations. He examines two serious abandonments of that responsibility—Srebrenica and Rwanda. In Srebrenica, peacekeepers allowed killing of those they were supposed to protect. In Rwanda, peacekeepers evacuated, knowing thousands of civilians they were protecting would be killed. He argues that the peacekeepers had a moral obligation to defend those depending on them, even though commanders ordered them out. When small detachments of peacekeepers are put in areas where there are stronger forces, as was the case in Srebrenica, there must be a clear signal that the peacekeepers are backed up by a greater international military force.

Teaching about the use of force in religious and social institutions
Religions, schools, and other institutions are in the position to teach about the use of force to members and students. Too often such institutions adopt positions that are not in the interest of peace and justice, for example by teaching doctrines of absolute pacifism as one extreme or by advocating holy war on the other. In the case of pacifism one ends up with morally justifying standing by while human beings are slaughtered. In the case of holy war, people are killed in the name of God by those who claim a favored status with God, yet are violent in the eyes of the world. Yet if the taking of human life is wrong, as most people believe and most religions teach, then both of these positions are unjustifiable.
The Christian Churches, throughout the last two millennia, have oscillated between these extremes. Early Christianity in the Roman Empire promoted pacifism. Christians were often forbidden to join in military service and often willingly went to their deaths as martyrs, singing praises to God. After the Catholic Church became the official church of the Roman Empire and commanded great power, it did not continue to behave the same way. It often attempted to use that power to force others to conform to the “truth” and practices it promoted. The Crusades and pogroms of the Middle Ages are historically remembered as a dark period in the history of the Catholic Church. In our second article, “Saint Peter Sheathes His Sword,” Peter Huff describes a reaction against this mode of operation as his analysis of the teaching of the Catholic Church shows a swing back toward pacifism.

Force necessary to keep peace treaties
Signing a peace treaty makes a lot of people happy, but making it work requires enforcement. Old hatreds die hard and the killing will not stop simply because a treaty is signed. New states cannot be created unless there is enough force to defend them from aggression by their neighbors, and keep warring groups at bay. In his article, “Why Plans for a Two-State Solution in the Middle East Have Failed,” Morton A. Kaplan argues this is  one reason for the failure of peace in the Middle East. The creation of a Palestinian state, while desired by many, has not been possible because no Palestinian government has been strong enough to either prevent violent attacks by Palestinians on Israel, or to prevent intervention of militant groups from neighboring countries.

The force to maintain legitimate sovereignty
Legitimate sovereignty refers to sovereignty that is recognized, not imposed. Most imposed regimes claim sovereignty based on their control by force. However, such regimes are inherently unstable. A stable regime is rather one in which those under its rule view it as legitimate. Inasmuch as most people have an innate desire to live their own lives and pursue their own dreams, they see legitimate sovereignty in the social institutions that enable people to live out those dreams. This leads to the conclusion of Yossef Ben-Meir’s article, “National Sovereignty through Decentralization: A Community-Level Approach.”
Ben-Meir argues that a strong state is a decentralized state, a state built upon the smaller building blocks of family, community, and lower level institutions that can personally assist individuals and communities in their employment and welfare. Attempts to create states from the top-down, through plans developed from outside, like most international or regional plans for development, are doomed to fail. Despite the fact that many people desire states to care for them, centralized states are inherently weaker and less able to do so.
Decentralization advances local and national self-reliance, which is, in turn, associated with increases in independence from external control. “Issues of national sovereignty are the very reason for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the continuing warfare in Iraq, and the conflict in the Western Sahara involving Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania.” Ben-Meir argues that strategies for development and peace in these areas must emphasize bottom-up, rather than top-down solutions, or marginalized groups will view the imposed sovereignty as illegitimate.

The force of structural violence
Structural violence is a term developed by Johan Galtung to explain indirect violence to people that results from social structures that prevent people from living harmoniously. This type of violence is often related to the imposition of unjust social structures by those in power, or by laws that favor some groups of people over others. In the 1980s it was common for socialists to point at the structural injustice inherent in the international order in which the West constituted a “center” and the rest was on the “periphery.”  Regime leaders in many Third World countries were considered as representatives of the center placed in the periphery, rather than genuine representatives of the people living in the nations they ruled.
While many peace activists recognized the power of Galtung’s analysis, they advocated various forms of revolution designed to impose other centralized structures of governance that they would lead. They devised plans in which they claimed to know what was better for those on the periphery. Such forms of regime change inevitably contained hubris, blindness, and structural violence themselves. They were also guilty of imposing foreign ideals and illegitimate sovereignty on local peoples. As Ben-Meir’s article argues, the freedom of individuals and local community groups that comes with decentralization is a more legitimate basis for state sovereignty.
Lisa Reber’s article, “Building Cultures of Peace in The World: One Peace Center at a Time,” argues that we must transcend the attacks on structural violence and develop structural peace. She argues that some of the older peace rhetoric, like “fight for peace,” contains conceptual violence. Any fight means winners and losers and does not lead to a way for opponents to live together with one another.  Citing the “Seville Declaration” of 1986 (International Journal on World Peace, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 90-92), she argues that “peace begins in the minds of men” and that it is important to develop peaceableness as a quality of thought and culture. She advocates the creation of local peace centers as places where peaceableness can be developed from the bottom up by creating centers for education and dialogue.


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