Mark Melton speaks with Paul D. Miller about his recent book Just War and Ordered Liberty (Cambridge University Press, January 2021). Miller explains how just war thinking has shifted over the centuries—from Augustinian, Westphalian, and now Liberal traditions. They also cover how Miller’s view of just war would allow for the defense of ordered liberty to serve as a just cause for war, whereas proponents of a Westphalian view of sovereignty would say such a war is wrong. Miller also explains how Liberal ideas about sovereignty compare to the notion of responsibility to protect (R2P), which has its roots in the Augustinian just war tradition.
In the book, Miller writes at length about jus post bellum, or justice after war, so in the podcast he and Melton cover this topic and why this category is helpful, even though some proponents of the just war tradition do not use it.
Finally, Miller talks about foreign policy implications of his ideas—particularly on whether Americans would be willing to do what is necessary to secure ordered liberty in another country after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, what countries must consider if war with North Korea becomes necessary, the problems drones can present for ethicists considering the “Forever War,” and what the just war tradition might say about cyberattacks.
For further reading be sure to see Miller’s articles about Augustinian Liberalism—“Augustinian Liberalism: A Symposium” and “Augustine of Hippo, Christian Democrat.” Also, be sure to buy and read his book, which also responds to critics who say this liberal view would lead to imperialism.
Welcome back to the Foreign Policy ProvCast. My name is Mark Melton and I am the managing editor of Providence.
We are talking with Paul Miller who has spoken with us a couple of times before. Regular listeners will probably know Paul also from a podcast he did with Mark Livecche recently on Afghanistan, which was originally a True North series on YouTube, and we uploaded it to the ProvCast so that listeners can learn about that… you can pull that up.
But he is a contributor to Providence, he’s written a lot, and he’s also written a book called Just War and Ordered Liberty and we’re going to be talking about that book specifically, today.
So first off, Paul, thank you so much for joining us today.
Paul D. Miller
Thanks for having me back on the show.
So my first question is, could you give a synopsis of the book and why you wrote it?
Paul D. Miller
Yeah, so this book on just war theory was rattling around in my head for maybe 20 years or so.
I served in the United States Army and when I joined up about 21 years ago, I of course thought through some of the ethical issues of being a Christian, serving the armed forces. And that started me on a very long journey of trying to think through all the different ethical issues surrounding the use of force and use of violence.
And I read a lot of books on just war. I didn’t quite find the one that really, kind of explained it the way I was looking for, with the rigor and the depth and the scope and the intellectual history of just war thinking.
So, I ended up just writing the book that I always wanted to read about the subject, and that’s kind of where it came from. After having served in the government for 10 years in various positions, largely surrounding the war in Afghanistan, I really want to sit down
and chew on that experience and reflect on the history of just war thinking and bring that to bear on today’s national security challenges.
In the book you talk about different just war traditions, and so you have the Augustinian, the Westphalian, and now the liberal. Could you describe these different traditions and how do they develop.
Paul D. Miller
So one thing I found as I read various, sort of just war books, is that there’s no one consensus about what constitutes the just war tradition. Rather, there is multiple traditions and I describe three of them, roughly chronological: The Augustinian tradition is the one that really is the… kind of the Christian tradition. It mostly formulated by Christian theologians from Augustine up through Suarez and Vitoria and others in the 15th and 16th centuries.
But I do want to say it’s got roots in Pagan antiquity, right? Cicero actually kind of belongs to this tradition as well.
And in the Augustinian tradition, the real distinction… the hallmark, is how they think about sovereignty, right? Sovereignty is the responsibility to care for, provide, and defend the common good, understood by the principal political virtues in the classical tradition: peace and order and justice.
Uh, so that’s what sovereignty is. It’s a Commission of responsibility to defend and uphold peace, order and justice. And if you don’t do that, you’re not acting as a sovereign, and you sort of lose the prerogatives of sovereignty if you don’t uphold peace, order, and justice.
That changes when you move to the Westphalian tradition, so named after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, ends the 30 years’ war.
It really changes how thinkers think about sovereignty, natural law, justice, and warfare, and the purpose of the state. In the Westphalian tradition the state exists to defend itself, its own borders, and its own power. It’s not so much concerned with upholding abstract ideals of peace, justice, and order. Rather, it exists to defend itself, its borders and its power. And so, sovereignty is about unlimited power rather than responsibility. It’s about power, not responsibility, and that’s a real… a key change.
And so war is fought not to defend abstract ideals of justice and order, but rather to defend the state and its power, its borders and its autonomy.
Changes again when we move to the 20th century with the liberal tradition and we start to defend things like human rights and accountable governance and it begins to look a
little bit like the Augustinian tradition in defending abstract ideals. And there is a similarity to the Augustinian tradition and what I’m calling the new liberal tradition.
And so would you say that, you know… I’ve, you know, since my graduate school days have heard about “responsibility to protect” or R2P. And so, would you say like your ordered liberty is like a Christian reworking of R2P? Or is it something different?
Paul D. Miller
I would… You’ve put the cart before the horse. I would say that R2P is a modern reworking of some Augustinian concepts. So yes, there is a similarity there. In fact, the guys who wrote the R2P documents, they make explicit appeal to the just war tradition because they argue correctly, I think, that states are supposed to defend and protect their own citizens, their own civilians. And when they fail to do that, they are failing to be sovereign. They’re actually failing to act as sovereigns by abdicating their own moral responsibility to protect their civilians. And when they do that, they lose the prerogatives of sovereignty. And we the others on the outside have no obligation to treat them as sovereign. In fact, we actually have an obligation to help protect the people inside those states. And that’s the ground for humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect.
So yes, I do think there is a similarity there with the Augustinian tradition, and it’s a sound moral argument that I think we should support.
And you wrote about this in the book, but I think it’s kind of a good way to highlight a difference between the traditions, where you talk about how… like the state sovereignty, like invading another country on humanitarian grounds, to support the ordered liberty would violate the country’s sovereignty, only if you adhere to the Westphalian tradition.
Paul D. Miller
That’s right, you know. A humanitarian invention is a violation of Westphalian sovereignty because it involves crossing borders with armed force.
In Westphalian tradition, that’s the greatest crime: to cross borders with armed force, regardless of why you do it. And they wanted to stop that kind of cross-border meddling and interference at all costs. Of course, Westphalian sovereignty became the shield behind which dictators hid as they murdered and massacred their own civilians with
impunity. You know, the Holocaust was sort of legal, you know?… under that understanding of sovereignty. You know, that’s one argument you could make about why Westphalian sovereignty is so flawed.
However, humanitarian intervention is actually a defense and a support of Augustinian sovereignty, because what we’re trying to do is restore sovereignty to a place that has lacked it. Restore to a country undergoing humanitarian crisis. Restore to them legitimate authority that is capable of upholding order, peace, and justice. So that that new legitimate authority can then provide for the common good in that in that country.
And so that kind of intervention again defends and upholds sovereignty, understood in Augustinian and liberal terms.
You write about how ordered liberty can give… or defending the ordered liberty can give a country just cause to go to war. And actually, you spend a while talking about just cause. Could you describe that for us?
Paul D. Miller
So, everything I said about sovereignty is the kind of groundwork for thinking about just cause. Oftentimes when people think about just war theory, they go immediately to the checklist: just cause, right authority, right intention, and so forth. I like to try to lay the groundwork by talking about foundational concepts of sovereignty and justice and natural law first. When you understand sovereignty and justice in Augustinian terms, you understand that the just cause for the use of force is the defense and maintenance of order and liberty. Peace, justice and liberty. Or in Augustinian terms it would be peace, order, and justice.
Regardless of the terms here, you understand it’s the concept of providing for the common good, that is the just cause for using lethal force. When the good of the whole is interrupted or violated with violence from the outside or from the inside the state must respond -including with coercive instruments- to restore order and liberty within its own sphere of sovereignty. And that’s the grounds for both sort of domestic policing, but also for international defense and the defense of sort of the international common good: a system of ordered liberty among nations. And that’s the just cause for using force at home and abroad.
You know one thing, so when I was reading it, you talked a lot about Afghanistan and I know you’ve already talked about Afghanistan and Iraq in the previous podcasts and other articles, so we’ll focus more on some other issues that you touch upon…
But when you were writing about Afghanistan and Iraq, one of the things that I thought about was how, after World War 2 we were willing to spend the time to rebuild Germany and Japan and it was really in our strategic interest to do this. But you highlight how we had just caused to intervene in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that we didn’t follow through on the jus post bellum. So, in other words, like the justice after war. We weren’t really focused on that. And we really failed to commit to, you know, fulfilling the obligations of fixing the country after we broke it. And so, do you see a situation or a scenario in the future where the American people would be willing to commit to a long-term military operation to rebuild a just and liberal order, or to build just order in another country? Or does that require some type of strategic interests for Americans to continue to support that type of mission?
Paul D. Miller
It is difficult to envision us doing that kind of long-term operation again in the future. I think Americans right now are war-weary and they’re a little bit cynical because of the experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And you’re correct in your characterization in my argument about those two countries. I think that you know, the justice of the war in Afghanistan is self-evident. Iraq is a more difficult case, but I do conclude that it was morally permissible to intervene in Iraq, imprudent to do so, and then the way we fought the war and the way we ended the war, unjust in effect, because we left the country in in ruins, so to speak. And so that’s kind of how that case turned out.
In the future let’s imagine that there’s a war with North Korea, which is, I think, a very plausible scenario. I think that’s a war that would require a post war reconstruction that is sizable, protracted, and would require a serious commitment by really the United Nations, by the world, led by South Korea and led by the United States, with participation from many other countries in the world.
And if we don’t do that, and if we leave a place like North Korea in ruins, it would be a strategic disaster for the world with perhaps loose nuclear material on the black market, with waves upon waves of refugees flooding China and South Korea.
It would be… in addition, it would just be immoral to fight a war and then leave that kind of mess in the aftermath the way we did in Libya 10 years ago. So, we should not fight a war and then leave a mess in the aftermath.
A big part of my book is arguing for the justice after war. The reason you fight a war is to make the world better than it was before the war. And if you fight and then leave a mess, you’ve not done that. If we’re going to fight, for example, in North Korea, we should
absolutely fight with the intention of staying to help restore order and restore some semblance of peace and put them on the road to some semblance of justice as well, before we’re able to transition out. And that’s I think the implication of my argument for future conflicts like North Korea.
And as a reminder for our listeners, ’cause I know for me personally I didn’t study just war tradition or Christian realism really, until after Graduate School… it was much more of a secular focus.
But when we use these terms: so there’s jus ad bellum, which is the idea of like the reasons why we go to war, there’s jus in bello, so in other words justice in war; So, we fight with proportionality and discrimination and so forth, which your book doesn’t really go into much, does it?
Paul D. Miller
That’s right, my book focuses mostly on jus ad bellum, the justice of going to war in the first place. And then I sort of conclude that a big implication is that we need to really pay attention to jus post bellum, the justice after war as you transition into kind of post conflict operations. I don’t have much to say in this book about jus in bello, the justice in how you fight. I think that is a less complicated moral argument: Don’t murder civilians, use proportional means. It gets complicated when you apply it to the particular case at hand. You know, what kind of technology can you use? Who can you aim at? That you know that sort of thing.
But for me, the real interesting moral argument is about the other two: jus ad bellum, jus post bellum.
And I know that some just war theorists don’t use the terminology of jus post bellum, but I appreciated your explanation of why you use that and the importance of policy makers to explicitly think about that and how that influences how they will fight in the future or in the middle of the fight.
Paul D. Miller
Yeah, you know, any old classic formulation in the Augustinian tradition… I mean like Thomas Aquinas explicitly writes about the need to fight with right intention, because he’s writing as a Christian theologian to those whom he presumes are Christian princes
or statesman. And he understands it to be his pastoral responsibility to speak to their hearts. Now we don’t… you know, we don’t really do that these days because the just war discourse has been largely secularized. Policymakers don’t think about the, you know, the accountability of their hearts, to anybody. So, I think the way to capture that discussion is by talking about jus post bellum.
That is to say, we see what policymakers are really out for, by how they treat the country that they’re going to war with. If you’re fighting just a war of revenge or bloodlust, you go in and you kill people and you leave. And I think that’s immoral. But if you’re going in with love for one’s enemies as well as one neighbors, if you’re going in with the intention of building a better peace and more justice, then you will stay and you will build. And that’s kind of where we see the proof of our intentions. So, I think jus post bellum, justice after war, is a really helpful way of reconfiguring the old criterion of right intention. I think these things speak to the same underlying reality.
By the way, this is the issue I have with President Biden’s withdrawal in Afghanistan. If you look at his speech, he said that we accomplished our mission because we killed Bin Laden. So, President Biden thinks that the war in Afghanistan is all about killing bad guys. I think that’s wrong, and I think that’s actually an immoral way of thinking about the war in Afghanistan. We didn’t just go to kill bad guys, that’s not fighting with love for our enemies and our neighbors, including our Afghan neighbors.
I think if we’re going to fight the war in Afghanistan justly, yes, we have to kill bad guys… That’s part of war. But then we also have to build a just and lasting peace for ourselves and for those in whose country we fought the war. And so we have to fight with love for the Afghans and for the neighborhood. And so, I think President Biden’s withdrawal, based on President Trump’s peace deal is immoral and wrong and we shouldn’t do it.
And to kind of attach some of these ideas to some more recent… or not more recent but just really difficult situations or questions, if we have time we’ll get to cybersecurity. But my first question is on drones. And so, you write about drones and the use of them to target terrorists overseas. And we can do this relatively cheaply and easily. We don’t have to have as many casualties, especially of troops on the ground and the American public is less likely to get too upset if we are using these drones to take out a terrorist here and there, even though there can be other casualties there.
So how can these new weapons pose problems for the just war theorist, especially one that is concerned about jus post bellum?
Paul D. Miller
So, drones are a double-edged sword. There’s some really good things about drone warfare… coupled with precision guided munitions. They can bring a level of discrimination and proportionality to the battlefield, unlike any other form of aerial warfare. That is to say, we can use them with surgical precision and cause very little collateral damage, and so that’s a good thing. We should rejoice in that and be glad that that they’ve allowed us to wage war with less collateral damage and more precision.
It is precisely for that reason that drones can come to be almost a seductive tool of war because they are apparently riskless. You’re generally not risking our human lives when we use drones and they’re also less politically risky. You’re not putting boots on the ground and so it can become… when you lower the cost of the thing, you’re going to increase the incidence of it. I’m afraid that drones may become too attractive to presidents who will then rely on them to whack bad guys around the world without understanding their responsibility to fight for justice and peace, and to fight with love for neighbors and enemies and allies alike.
And I think that’s largely what’s happened in the last 10 years. I think President Obama, Trump, and now Biden, have all kind of fallen into this in different ways: where they’re looking at drones as a quick fix, or an easy, cost-less, riskless solution that exempts them from the responsibilities of fighting for justice, peace and for love for enemies. And that is why people criticize the forever wars that the United States have been fighting, but that’s… Forever war is a policy. It’s a feature, not a bug, right? It’s exactly what we’ve chosen because it’s easy and it’s apparently cheap and riskless, and that’s what the presidents like and apparently that’s what the American people like as well.
I’m deeply troubled by this form of warfare because it consigns whole regions of the world to a never-ending state of war for our convenience so that we can treat it as a free Fire Zone where we whack people that we deem to be terrorists, with no due process, forever with no end in sight.
This is truly an endless war. And by the way that ends up not being very cheap if you fight it decade upon decade.
So, I just don’t think this is a morally sustainable form of warfare, although I recognize the particular tool of drones can be a very valuable contribution to more precision, precise kind of warfare.
When you look at them as a whole way of war as a strategy, not just a tactic, that’s when I think they become immoral.
What would be your solution like the humanitarian intervention if we could get the American people behind that? Or what else would you want the policymakers to do, instead of using the drones in this forever war.
Paul D. Miller
Yeah, that’s a case by case… It depends. You know it depends upon what we’re talking about.
There is still the role for the one-off reprisal attack, like for a punitive rate, right? So, to speak. This is what they used to do in the 19th century or early 20th centuries.
Landing marines to kill a few bad guys and then withdraw. And I think that there is still room for that. President Reagan dropped a few bombs on Libya after the Libyan government sponsored some terrorist attacks. And President HW Bush, you know, his invasion of Panama was a pretty quick affair.
Those kinds of things, I think, are still defensible. I’m not saying that we have an obligation to rebuild every country that we ever drop a bomb on.
But you know, Afghanistan is not just a country we dropped the bomb on. We’ve been there for 20 years. That I think, increases our moral responsibility. I think the same with Iraq.
Libya, we overthrew their government and then walked away, as if we had no responsibility to that country. I think that’s absolutely wrong.
So I would like to see in countries where we have a commensurate, larger, moral responsibility. That’s where we need to consider a larger kind of intervention that aims at these broader concepts of peace and justice and ordered liberty and love for the people in his country who fight wars.
Kind of the final topic. I wanted to touch upon in our remaining time is in relation to cyber-attacks. So you write that quote “if we believe the dire scenario, cyber-attacks could be used to shut down our nation’s critical infrastructure. And this month, as many of you know, we had a cyber-attack against the colonial pipeline, which I believe most Americans did not know even existed, until it was shut down. So, it was done by Darkside, which is based in Eastern Europe, probably Russia, though it doesn’t appear to have state support. And it was done, from my understanding, they weren’t intending to cause a, you know, huge national problem, where people weren’t able to get gas or it created a rush on gas and caused problems there. But they just wanted money for Bitcoin which they did get.
And so you know, we can only imagine, I think, what an entity with support from China and Russia could do if they were coordinated and had more effort and were more determined to cause problems. Or what in the future cyber criminals might do, the same
way that pirates on the high seas could disrupt traffic. So, what would the just war tradition do?
On the situation of cyber attacks during peacetime and how should the US respond when we are considering the just war tradition?
Paul D. Miller
So the colonial pipeline attack was criminal activity. I don’t think it was an active war. To my knowledge, nobody died, at least, not directly.
What’s evident is that it was an attempt at a blackmail right. I think they attacked cloning pipelines data and demanded ransom, right? It was a ransomware attack where they were demanding payment in exchange for unencrypting colonial pipelines’ data files, and the pipeline refused to pay the ransom and had to shut down the pipeline as a result.
So, you’re right, Darkside did not intend for that to happen, but that was the result of it and it caused inconvenience to 10s of millions of people on the East Coast.
I’m not sure the just war tradition speaks directly to this because it’s more criminal activity. It’s not the lethal use of force, but it does illustrate what could happen in wartime. And this could turn lethal… if you’re able to shut down not just pipelines, but power grids. If you’re able to mess with infrastructure like tunnels and bridges, that could start to cause real destruction. The property loss and possibly death.
And when it does, I think then the just war tradition does speak pretty directly to this, that you know, if it’s politically motivated, that’s an act of war, or at least it’s an act of terrorism, or an active sort of cyber insurgency and should be treated as such. NATO, to the best of my knowledge, decided some years ago that it would look at the effects of an attack rather than the technology of its use. In other words, whether it was cyber or not doesn’t matter. What matters is, did it kill people? Did it wreck stuff? And that’s how you determine if it’s an act of war worthy of a military response.
So, if somebody attacks us with a cyber tool, we don’t necessarily have to respond only with cyber tools. We can respond with any and all means that are appropriate and proportional for that attack.
And if a cyber-attack kills a lot of people or wrecks a lot of infrastructure, we might end up responding in conventional military means or not, depending upon the case.
Well, Paul, thank you so much for joining us today and talking about your book and ordered liberty and some of the implications.
And I recommend listeners to check the show notes, because we’ll have a link so that they can look at the book on Amazon. And again, thank you so much for joining us today.
Paul D. Miller