The Global Covenant: Human Conduct in a World of States

By Robert Jackson | Go to book overview
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9 Justifying Conventional War

A summary diagnosis of the 1990-1 war in the Persian Gulf indicates that an international discourse of justification and condemnation was intrinsic to the conduct of the belligerents involved in that conflict—not at the periphery but at the centre. This chapter explores that discourse with the aim of understanding the normative character and modus operandi of conventional war in contemporary international society. The classical rationalist distinction between jus ad bellum (justification of resorting to war) and jus in bello (justification in waging war) is employed to structure the argument. Among the selected normative issues addressed are: the justifications of the UN and Iraq for resorting to war, the responsibilities of citizens during wartime, the responsibilities of soldiers in waging war, the normative reality of unlevel battlefields, distributive and corrective justice in war, and the constitutional aspects of conventional war between member states of contemporary international society. The Gulf War was as near to a legitimate and lawful war as any war of the twentieth century. But that may have been owing to the special international circumstances of the 1990s which are briefly discussed at the end of the chapter.

Eight Thoughts on War as a Human Activity

Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait can of course be analysed wholly from an instrumental perspective, such as the contribution it made, temporarily, to Saddam Hussein's power and prestige in the Arab world, or the threat it presented to Western investments. Many foreign-policy analysts looked at the event in exactly these terms. The actors certainly made reference to costs and benefits, risks and opportunities, advantages and disadvantages, and other instrumental considerations. But that was by no means all they did. On every major issue they justified their demands and actions and condemned those of their adversary. At every turn plans and acts involving military force and other instruments of war were interrogated by normative expectations and considerations. Even something as ostensibly instrumental as oil figured prominently in the normative discourse of the Gulf War. That should not be surprising: to


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