In recent months it has become ever clearer that the powers-that-be, i.e., the international plutocrats who rule this planet, are now targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities as their next episode in the on-going ‘war on terror.’ For reasons that we will explore, Catholics, and indeed all people of good will, cannot remain indifferent in the face of such posturing. In conscience we are obliged to ask ourselves: would a military strike against the Islamic Republic of Iran be morally justified?
The traditional standards for discerning the moral rightness or wrongness of going to war are contained in the first part of the Just War Theory.
There are seven criteria which must be met if military action against another society can be morally justified. A just war must have 1) a just cause, i.e., the protection of innocent human life and/or well-being, and must be motivated by 2) a right intention, i.e., the just cause must be the real and only reason behind the decision to engage in a war. Beyond these two foundational conditions, a just war must also respect the conditions of 3) proportionality, i.e., the benefits of the war as a whole must be greater than the harm it would inflict, 4) comparative justice, i.e., the nation contemplating war must not also be guilty of furnishing a just cause for the proposed enemy to attack it, 5) competent authority, i.e., the war must be waged by the nation’s appropriate political authority, 6) last resort, i.e., all other peaceful alternatives for resolving a conflict must have been fully exhausted, and 7) probability of success, i.e., it must be possible to satisfactorily resolve the conflict by military means.
The upshot of these criteria is that there is always a heavy presumption against war such that the only type of war which could ever qualify as a just war is one which could be effectively, efficiently, and fairly waged in defence against an unjust aggressor.
Now it is sometimes claimed by Catholics of a certain political and often national persuasion that, in contradistinction to the practice of abortion, war is not intrinsically immoral because it involves many prudential issues which can honestly divide people of good will. I am afraid that this method of contextualizing the issue is nothing less than a sophistic trick which, consciously or not, is intended to impede the exercise of right reason.
While it is true that there can be such a thing as a ‘just war,’ whereas direct abortion can never be morally justified, it is also true that: a) all wars, past, present, and future, either meet all of the just war criteria independently of anyone’s specific judgement or they do not (the role of prudential judgement in applying the criteria does not make the truth concerning war somehow subjective rather than objective), and that b) unjust wars, i.e., those that do not meet the criteria, are just as intrinsically evil as any direct attack on the life of the unborn child.
An unjust war is simply one instance, amongst others, of mass murder (alongside the wanton destruction of the property, economic and social stability, and general well-being of another nation). From this it follows that the politicians, civil servants, and soldiers who conduct it are mass murderers and that the common citizens who support it are at least material if not formal co-operators in evil.
Since it is a heinous violation of the fifth commandment, Catholics and all people of good will can never ignore the question of a proposed war’s moral justifiability. They have a duty to thoroughly examine the reasons given in favour of a war and to measure it against the proper criteria. Should the proposed war fail to meet the test, and let it be noted that it is by no means an easy thing for any modern war to satisfy all of them, they have a serious obligation to apply political pressure through whatever means are available so that the war can be averted. It is senseless to claim to be pro-life if one turns out to be pro-murder by act or omission when it comes to the matter of unjust wars.
How does the proposed attack on Iran appear in the light of the Just War criteria? Let us first examine the alleged facts as they are related by officialdom.
We are told day in and day out by the mainstream media and the bulk of the political classes of various western countries that Iran is secretly developing nuclear armaments and that this constitutes a sufficient reason to attack the country in an attempt to destroy their nuclear facilities. While the development of such weapons would constitute a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (a treaty which Iran has signed while Israel has not), their mere possession, or rather the possibility of their possession, would not constitute sufficient justification for an attack.
We must make a distinction between pre-emptive and preventive war. A pre-emptive war might be justifiable under Just War Theory if one country were on the imminent verge of undertaking acts of unjust aggression against another. A preventive war, on the other hand, or waging war in order to prevent the possibility of another country from ever being in a threatening position, is never justifiable. If it were, the mere possession of armaments of any kind would be reason enough for any country to attack any other and this would lead to a series of absurd and universally devastating consequences if taken to its logical conclusion.
It is at this point that our rulers tell us that Iran is not merely developing nuclear weapons in secret; it has also threatened to engage in unjustified acts of aggression against other nations. The implication is that if we allow Iran to develop ‘the bomb’ they will undoubtedly use it without any provocation – just because they are irrationally aggressive (hence the country was listed as part of George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil”). This sums up the opposition’s case for the claim that the just cause condition would be met.
Happily, the reality of the situation is far different from what we are being led to believe. Regarding the first issue, it is the considered judgement of 16 US intelligence agencies that Iran does not currently have an active nuclear weapons programme, i.e., as a matter of fact, the Iranians are not building a nuclear bomb or warhead, but are merely conducting the sort of research to which they have a right under the NNPT. In this connection it might be noted that while Iran permits international inspections (even if partially limited) of its nuclear facilities, Israel does not permit any at all.
But what about conventional weapons? Might Iran, with one of the largest and best trained and well supplied military forces in the world, pose a danger to other nations? Didn’t the current President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, once threaten to “wipe Israel off of the face of the map”? There is a significant problem with this story which has been incessantly repeated: it isn’t true. When Ahmadinejad made the declaration in question he was actually quoting from Iran’s first Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, and what the latter had actually said was something along the lines of “the regime presently occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the pages of time”. One will notice that there is no mention of “Israel,” “wipe off,” or “map” in the actual statement.
Furthermore, far from threatening to invade or otherwise attack any other nation, Iran has a relatively long history of peaceful co-existence with its neighbours. It hasn’t attacked any other country in hundreds of years – the same observation cannot be made of either the USA or Israel. The current Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, in addition to declaring his country’s opposition to the development of nuclear weaponry in general has also made it clear that Iran will only engage foreign armies in order to defend itself, i.e., in response to an attack.
It would appear, then, that there is no just cause for attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities and, since the very first criterion of the Just War Theory is not met, any such act would be an unjust act of aggression. Since the powers-that-be must know that the alleged just cause is built on lies of various sorts, we can also conclude that they do not have a right intention either, i.e., the real reason(s) for going to war has nothing to do with protecting innocent human individuals and their well-being. The proposed attack on Iran thus fails to meet the second criterion as well.
What of the other five criteria? It also seems that there would be serious difficulties in meeting these requirements even if there were a just cause and a right intention.
Iran has declared that if attacked it will retaliate. Given the strength of the Iranian military, its allies, and Iran’s sensitive geographical location, it seems unlikely that either the condition of proportionality or the probability of success would be fulfilled. There is a real danger, for example, that a military conflict with Iran could quickly degenerate (should China and Russia become involved on the side of the Iranians) into a world war in which nuclear weapons could be deployed.
Comparative justice does not seem to be met because Iran has been subjected to all sorts of unfair political and economic sanctions merely for doing what it has a right to do under the NNPT.
As far as the competent authority condition and its application to the United States is concerned, only the American Congress has the right, according to the US Constitution, to declare war after issuing an ultimatum to the country or countries in question. This has not yet occurred.
Finally, since talks between the Iranian authorities and the western powers are once more in progress, no one can claim at this point that going to war would be a last resort.
Taking all of these particulars into consideration, I submit that any military strike or war against Iran within the context of present circumstances would fall woefully short of just war criteria and must therefore be rejected as morally unjustified. May Catholics and all people of good will do their outmost to vociferously oppose and to refuse to co-operate in any way in the mass murder of foreign nationals and may God bless and protect the Iranian people.