Iraq, Just War Theory and Teleological Ethics

The war in Iraq has tested notions of a just war to the limit. Traditionally, just war theories required a number of tests to be cleared before the use of military action could be considered moral. These are relevant here. Firstly they included ensuring all alternative peaceful means would have to be exhausted before military action, secondly that the suffering caused had to be less than would otherwise be the case and thirdly, there had to be a reasonable chance for success. In these three areas, the war in Iraq seems to make a weak case. Before invading Iraq, there were those in the international community who wanted more time to achieve cooperation, and more time to search Iraq for weapons of mass destruction. As for causing less evil than would otherwise be the case, there were tens of thousands of civilians killed during the war and since, including those killed by militant groups allowed into the country once Saddam Hussein was removed from power. Thirdly two years on, the country does not seem close to peace. Supporters of the war point to a very large turnout at elections and this is promising, and the crimes of Saddam Hussein are still being unearthed. Yet the just war theory too has received a blow as well. The conditions set seem outdated. After all, they were crafted at a time when the potential for devastation was much less. Weighing the risk of the use of weapons of mass destruction is a new moral consideration. How do you respond appropriately to such a risk? How do you measure the significance of such a risk? What possibilities may be safely left as a possible outcome if Governments do not act? Is a one in a million an acceptable risk when set against the threat of the deaths of millions?

The just war theory requires people to look into the future and make educated guesses, about what good or ill will come of it, and about whether alternatives to war might be better. The problem with making a moral decision based on a future prediction, and this can be said of all teleological theories, is that it is very difficult to set limits on the repercussions of an action. For Iraq, the potential good that may come out may take a decade to emerge. Is that beyond the scope for reasonable justification for action? And what about the risk of terrorist attacks spurred on by the war – are they to be included in the judgement of the morality of action? Certainly they must, and yet that raises another interesting problem for teleological ethical thinkers. Suppose there had been WMD in Iraq and the capability to deliver them to Western targets. If an atrocity is committed by a terrorist, motivated by the, perhaps just, war in Iraq, the moral rightness of the war changes at that point, because when thinking teleologically, the consequences are relevant in determining the rightness or wrongness of the action. As with all options, once one is taken we cannot know the outcome of any possible alternatives. Possibly better futures, never happen, and so are never known. This makes judging the morality of the action difficult because you may never realise the full extents of the repercussions. That viewpoint of total moral knowledge is beyond human vision. All this leaves both the just war theory and teleological ethics weakened by the problem of Iraq, not to mention the moral case of the war itself.

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