It’s good to know that military officers reflect on the justice of fighting the wars they wage. Walter Dorn, who teaches officers at the Canadian Forces College, often asks them when they would pull the trigger. Read his thoughtful article about “Just War Theory,” which seeks to quantify the rightness or wrongness of various past wars.
It is true that some conflicts seem to require us morally not to let injustice prevail without resistance. In such cases, people will go to war—not because they want to, but because they feel that they must. As Gene Sharp puts it, in such cases, what is needed is an effective alternative to war—whatever offers a realistic possibility of succeeding. Nonviolent civil resistance often does so.
Indeed, in the wars that Dorn has rated, some that scored very high on his “just war” scale may not have been the wisest response anyway. To rate as a “just war” all other alternative reasonable possibilities should have been exhausted. But few people regard civil resistance as a reasonable possibility, so the opponents of a cruel government may not even consider using it.
Erica Chenoweth, who is interviewed in this issue, discovered that civil resistance is far more effective than violent insurgencies. She and Maria Stephan carried out a comparative statistical study of aggregate data on 323 violent and nonviolent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006. They found that nonviolent campaigns achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.
The message to Walter Dorn and his military colleagues would seem to be this: Even if the war you are about to enter is highly “just,” it may not be the most effective way to attain real justice. Consider civil resistance instead.
There’s another consideration. War-fighting capability is expensive. Whatever money a government devotes to weapons and the maintenance of military units is money unavailable for other purposes. And those other purposes—notably health care, education, access to clean water and technological innovations—are factors that, if absent, heighten social tensions and conflict in a desperate population. Ironically, by investing in military preparedness, a society may increase the likelihood of war. This is certainly the case when an arms race arises between two enemy powers, but it is also the outcome of foolish budgeting by governments—including Canada, as Douglas Roche, Ron Shirtliff, Hippu Nathan, Jamie Swift, and Ian McKay show.