[VIEWPOINT]A 'just war' against terrorism

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[VIEWPOINT]A 'just war' against terrorism

The war on terrorism, which aims at destroying the Taliban regime and capturing Osama bin Laden, has made rapid progress.

With the collapse of the Taliban regime impending and pursuers closing in on Mr. bin Laden, U.S. military and civilian authorities have begun to dispute how to treat suspected Sept. 11 terrorists, including Mr. bin Laden, if they are arrested.

U.S. President George W. Bush told federal prosecutors on Nov. 29 that Washington would authorize secret military tribunals, instead of open courts, to try captured terror suspects if it judges that such a step would contribute to the security of the United States.

Mr. Bush said that terrorists must never again be allowed to use the United States' freedoms against the country.

The New York Times, a respected American daily newspaper, said, in an editorial entitled "Justice Deformed; War and the Constitution," that if the Bush administration uses secret military tribunals to try suspected leaders of the terrorist attacks, including Mr. bin Laden, it would infringe on the rights of the Congress and the judiciary. In addition, the newspaper said, it would degrade the status of the United States as an advocate of international human rights and global justice.

Legal procedures for suspected Sept. 11 terrorists are not only an issue involving the judiciary, but a political issue. To comprehend the character of the issue, we need a rudimentary knowledge of Western thought, pragmatism, pacifism and belief in the concept of just wars. When is the use of force justified?

In the view of Western pragmatists, the use of force is neither good nor evil in principle. Facing actual conditions in international politics, it is inevitable for countries to use force for the sake of national interests, pragmatists say.

A pacifist would counter that the use of force cannot be justified under any conditions. The other party's violence should be overcome not by violence but by love, in their view. Love works unilaterally, while force works mutually. By denying one's own existence and maximizing the existence of the other party, one can move into the other party's mind and induce it to follow your opinion, according to pacifists.

In the view of "just war" advocates, the righteous use of violence is recognized based on the justice - or lack of justice - inherent in a war's motivation. Unjust warmaking is ruled out. As a condition of a just war, the other party should have engaged in illegal activities and have refused to end those activities. Force should be used with discrimination and in proportion to the other party's activities, to prevent indiscriminate and excessive violence.

The Bush administration should conduct a war against terrorism in the 21st century based on the belief in a just war, instead of realism and pacifism, to escape from the vicious circle of violence and retaliation.

If the Bush administration selects realism, through authorizing secret military tribunals to try suspected terrorists, the war against terrorism will face problems due to split domestic opinion and weakened support of the international community. On the other hand, if Washington selects pacifism, some political groups in the world that are dissatisfied with the current order of international politics will use terrorism as a part of their foreign policy.

In order to conduct the war against terrorism successfully, based on the belief in just war, the United States should make certain the war's aims and methods are just.

Just aims would include conducting a defensive war to reduce terrorist attacks and making efforts to adjust its foreign policies to avoid provoking terrorist attacks.

As a part of just methods of waging war, the United States should follow the principle of discrimination between soldiers and citizens in the enemy state and the principle that the damage inflicted by retaliation should not be larger than the injury from the initial violation.

The international order against terrorism, which the Bush administration is trying to build up, will not be possible to sustain only by military action based on national interests, but by moral superiority based on the belief in just war.


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The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University.

by Ha Young-sun

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