Monday, May 14, 2007

Is War Ever Justified?

To those of us who are horrified by war, it is easy to say at once that war is never justified and disagree totally with the question. However, a little thought will lead us to conclude that there are at least a few instances that a country is justified in going to war. In other words, war can be just under certain circumstances.

First of all, we see that countries are often forced to go to war to defend them. A defensive war certainly seems justified. Quite often in history we see examples of countries which are threatened or even attacked by more aggressive neighbours. In these instances it is certainly justified to go to war. In 1991, Kuwait was attacked by Iraq. This was clearly an act of aggression and it is impossible to believe that the Iraqis had any justifiable reason. The Kuwaitis were forced to defend themselves because of the total unprepared-ness of their armed forces they had to depend on the help of other countries. However, a more recent example is one where the US attacked Iraq, on the sole bases that the US ‘presumed’ that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. After completely ruining the country and its regime, moreover throwing the Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussain behind bars was an unjustifiable war. Till this day, the weapons of mass destruction, the reason for war, have yet to be found.

Though it is easy to agree that self defence is a justification for war, it is difficult to define at which stage a country should begin to defend itself. An example is again the Iraq-Kuwait war. Kuwait did little to defend itself even when war seemed imminent. Would it have been justified in attacking first if it was sure that it was going to be attacked? In such a case since Iraq had not attacked first, if Kuwait attacked would it not have been the aggressor? Even though Kuwait would have fought for survival, would its attack have been justified? Here it is difficult to decide. We are forced to the conclusion that a country is justified in defending itself when an attack is imminent even if the attack has not taken place.

History records other justifications for countries to go to war. In the Indo-Pak subcontinent history, India went to war to save the Bangladeshi’s from genocide when Pakistan attacked and about systematically annihilating the population. In this instance, the world supported India’s actions. Clearly this is just a war. From this we can conclude that a country is justified in attacking another in order to the people from a third country from being massacred. But when talking about defending your country against an imminent attack by another, then a fairly recent example, where the US bombed Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, was that a justifiable war? Bombarding a barren land in search of one terrorist (Osama Bin Laden) and eradicating their regime no matter who tyrannical it was to its people? Was that justified?

Yet another reason to consider would be in the event of a famine or other natural disasters. Assume a situation when a country faces severe famine or drought whereas a neighbouring country has abundance. In such an instance the country faced with the disaster would be justified in attacking and seizing for itself some of the abundance of its neighbour. It would make no sense for a population to die out when it can save itself. In such an instance what would not be justified is if the country attacks a country which has barely enough for its own population.

Hence we see that even though most of us abhor war, there are situations when war is justified as well as unjustified, purely depending on the circumstances.

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