Prof. Biggar’s ethical method appears to have a gaping hole, and that is his rather glib dismissal of jus post bellum considerations as such, since he maintains that post bellum considerations are already implicit under the ad bellum requirement of “right intention.”
Translated into less technical speech, Prof. Biggar discounts considerations about what happens after a war, such as the moral obligation to rebuild the war-torn society, based upon the convenient assumption that those who have the right intention to go to war already include in their decision-making such intentions as rebuilding the society after the war.
For someone who begins his book by inveighing against wishful thinking, Biggar displays, in such arbitrary bracketing and assumptions a caricature of ivory tower lack of realism. In this particular instance of the dismissal of post bellum as a separate category, Biggar’s decision-maker dwells within the old Rational Man paradigm, which trumps history on the weight of his a priori assumptions and good intentions. Prof. Biggar’s weakness as a thinker is his very strength — he’s brilliant at bracketing.
Prof. Biggar’s assumptions weaken his argument because governments often do not fulfill their promises or carry through on their stated intentions. Their priorities change. Post bellum commitments are rarely kept, thus greatly affecting the sixth criteria of just war, “prospect of success.” A military victory can still lead to an historic cataclysm of epic proportions if an incompetent victor “loses the peace” after the war. It is all too convenient to stop the moral time-clock and make the just war determination at the point hostilities end, but before recovery.
Many governments are indeed incompetent, and cannot deliver on their commitments. This question should shout out: Can an incompetent government that cannot realize its intentions and commitments to “win the peace” even make a just war, despite the prospect of military victory?
The historic reality of incompetent government–which cannot be wished away–justifies the inclusion of jus post bellum considerations as a separate category in just war theory. Despite post bellum being implicit in “right intention” (I agree with Prof. Biggar on this technical point), for the “prospect of success” to be met, a government must be competent both in war (in bello) and in peace (post bellum). Inclusion of the post bellum category forces consideration of the question of competence. But Prof. Biggar blithely waves away post bellum considerations in his first pages. The rest of his arguments, despite his brilliance and scholarship, therefore fall short. Tellingly, there is no reference to the Marshall Plan in Prof. Biggar’s index. His arguments would have more suasion if he reported visiting as many historic wartime recovery sites as he reported visiting historic battlefields.
Modern wars are won and lost after hostilities end at the post bellum stage. Rebuilding society and “winning the peace” have everything to do with the “prospect of success.” Post bellum considerations cannot be bracketed, assumed, or waved away.
© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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