Sunday, March 25, 2012

Iran and Just War Theory Critique Part III - Right Intention

This is the third post in a series critically examining the article "Just War and the Iran Crisis" by Robert C. Koons. In this article Koons argues that the moral criteria required to wage just war are not met by the United States and Israel in the current Iranian nuclear conflict. I have argued and will continue to argue that Koons' analysis contains significant flaws, both in his analytical treatment of Just War Theory and its application to this specific conflict. It is my opinion that these flaws undermine his overall argument substantially.

Early in the article Koons defines the third criterion for just war, right intention, and declares that it is dependent on the last four criteria, three of which I have already discussed.
The third condition, right intention, simply requires that the just cause be the real reason for the action, and not merely an excuse for hostile action motivated by malice. At first glance, this would also seem to be met in this case; however, closer examination reveals that right intention cannot be met unless the final four conditions are also satisfied.
The final four are comparative justicelast resortcompetent authority, and probability of success.

Later in the article, Koons does try to show that comparative justice, last resort, and probability of success are required for right intention.’s intention cannot be properly focused on rectifying an injustice on the part of another nation while harboring a similarly unjust intention on one’s own part. Thus, right intention requires comparative justice.
Here Koons claims that the intention to stop a wrong being committed against oneself (or one's ally) cannot coincide with committing a similar or identical wrong. But of course it can. While reality doesn't tolerate logical inconsistency, nothing at all prevents a person (or a nation) from holding beliefs and intentions that may in some sense be inconsistent with their actions. Koons probably wouldn't try to convince us that a murderer would be incapable of defending his own life against mortal attack. He probably also wouldn't try to convince us that the murderer's intention wasn't "properly focused" on self preservation, a just cause when considered in isolation of his other deeds. If we want to account for his other deeds, and we feel the need to tie comparative justice to another criterion, just cause seems a much better candidate1.

Koons also tries this trick with last resort, the loose end I referred to in the conclusion of Part II.
Why is the condition of last resort so important, given that following this principle brings with it a significant risk of great harm? Last resort matters because when we go to war prematurely, we cannot act with the right intention. If war is something other than our last resort, we reveal our unjust disregard of the humanity of our enemies... When we kill prematurely, we allow other considerations to weigh against the value of their lives, and we deny the inherent dignity of our enemies when we anticipate evil intentions that they have not yet formed.
Koons admits that abiding by last resort can result in "a significant risk of great harm", but declares that right intention depends on a regard for the humanity of one's enemies high enough to outweigh this risk. But why should it? It seems entirely plausible that war can be undertaken with "just cause be[ing] the real reason for the action" even if the actor isn't willing to trade risk of great harm to itself for the humanity of its enemies.

In both cases of trying to convolute right intention with other criteria, Koons extends the concept unnaturally and unnecessarily. Koons' own definition of right intention doesn't imply moral consistency or a sufficient regard for our enemies or any other thing we might consider morally relevant to just war. As defined, the sole moral requirement for right intention is just cause. Since Koons' concerns are addressed by the other criteria without appeal to right intention, it would seem we have nothing to gain from Koons' approach except confusion.

Competent authority, addressed in Part II, is treated briefly as a requirement of last resort, and so presumably could count as an indirect requirement for right intention in Koons' analysis. He doesn't attempt to connect them directly. I don't think there is any dependence between competent authority and right intention.

Part IV will contain a belated discussion of probability of success, both its relation to right intention (Koons gets it right) and its application to the Iran conflict.

1. Koons may be thinking of the case where an unjust aggressor tries to justify continued or elevated warfare on the basis of counterattacks by the original victim. This is indeed a violation of right intention, but not because of comparative justice. The absence of a just cause, explicitly required by the definition of right intention, governs the morality of such a situation.