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December 10, 2009

Obama on jus in bello and jus ad bellum
Posted by The Editors

The following post is by Gregory H. Fox, international law scholar and and friend of Democracy Arsenal

Two interesting passages in today's Nobel acceptance speech.  First, Obama seems to endorse a right of humanitarian intervention:

This becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action extends beyond self defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor. More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

Second, he rejects the idea that adherence to humanitarian law is based on reciprocity:

Let me make one final point about the use of force. Even as we make difficult decisions about going to war, we must also think clearly about how we fight it. The Nobel Committee recognized this truth in awarding its first prize for peace to Henry Dunant - the founder of the Red Cross, and a driving force behind the Geneva Conventions.

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not just when it is easy, but when it is hard.

This is what happens when your President is a lawyer!


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Good reflection. I’m not sure how explicitly Obama invoked the Just War tradition. He only vaguely used just war terms and didn’t get into the criteria other than to say “humanitarian.”Read Paul Ramsey’s ‘The Just War’. He grounds the discussion of just war in the Christian conception of caritas, neighbor-love. Also, he was clear that just war was not merely a set of rules or criteria but something that had to take place within a larger framework of just statecraft.Just war also goes back before Augustine. He got it from Ambrose, who likely got it from Roman sources, particularly Cicero.It’s interesting that Obama is being so explicitly linked with just war. I’m not sure if Bush ever invoked it explicitly, but his advisers, particularly his religious advisers like R. J. Neuhaus, were steeped in the just war tradition....

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