Friday, January 14, 2011

War and the Environment - Just War Theory

I want to state clearly that I am resolutely against violence of all kinds - towards all living and non-living beings. Provoked by a discussion with Professor Richard Tucker, I will be writing for the next few days on the environmental impacts of war. (When I say "war," I mean the use of violent force.) I will be writing about environmental considerations during war, the environmental impacts of the military during non-war times, the environment as a non-combatant, the use of nuclear materials in war, the waste of life and environment because of enriched nuclear materials, as well as the current use of nuclear waste in Iraq as munitions. I believe this has several connections to waste and trash, which I hope to address implicitly and explicitly over the next few days. I start off in this series by writing a bit about what is called "Just War Theory," (JWT) which is a body of thought that has been built over many centuries, and how the environment can be considered in this. This post is based off of the writing of Mark Woods, "The Nature of War and Peace: Just War Thinking, Environmental Ethics and Environmental Justice."

JWT talks about circumstances in which the use of war is "justified," and how so. There are two important sets of considerations that have been elaborated on now for a long time. The first is jus ad bellum, which lists a set of considerations that must be taken into account before engaging in war - just cause, proper authority, right intention, reasonable hope for success, proportionality, last resort. The second set of considerations is jus in bello, which lists a set of considerations that must be taken into account while engaging in war. This involves asking questions like "What will do the least harm to X if I need to accomplish Y, given that I am already in the war?" It is important to note that many of these traditions and considerations come from customary international law, as well as international treaties (although these treaties have "very little legal bite," as Woods notes). Woods notes that these traditions and treaties attempt to regulate the conduct of war through outside enforcement, which of course, is close to impossible. Further, these theories and treaties have never been invoked to protect the environment before, during, or after war, even though the Geneva Conventions as well as ENMOD expressly prohibit means of warfare intended or expected to "cause widespread, long-term and sever damage to the natural environment." In fact, such actions are viewed as war crimes. Woods extends JWT to incorporate the environment. Woods argues that since "the jus in bello criteria of discrimination and proportionality can be used to regulate military force against civilian targets, it seems possible to regulate the use of military force against environmental targets." In fact, it would be extremely useful and powerful to think of the environment as a non-combatant. He makes a very interesting observation by noting that many military conflicts have been started because of mistreatment of unarmed, non-violent communities and groups of people. If JWT holds, is it justifiable to have armed environmental interventions to protect the Amazon rainforest from deforestation?

My thoughts on this are the following: I do not think it is possible to "expend all other possibilities and options," which is a reason why states may go to war. But if they do, it is close to impossible to regulate conduct during war. (This can be clearly seen by the use of white phosphorous by the Israeli forces during its recent war with Gaza.) The environment is always degraded during war, and whether we like it or not, people's lives and their outcomes are based on the fact that we live on the land, we drink water, and we breathe air. Modern chemical warfare necessarily degrades these things - no nation has ever gone to war to beautify the nature of the enemy territory. Destruction of structure, man-made and natural, is an incontrovertible outcome of war. It is absolutely not possible to understand the lasting consequences of chemical warfare on the environment. Furthermore, the preparation for war itself necessarily degrades the environment. More thoughts on this next time.

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