Marc LiVecche gave a talk in Washington, DC, about the just war tradition and the Russia-Ukraine War.

Rough Transcript

Mark Tooley: Welcome to this evening’s course on the just war tradition especially as it may apply to the Ukraine War. I am Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and editor of Providence, a journal of Christianity and American foreign policy. With the pleasure of introducing Marc LiVecche, our executive editor and our in-house just war scholar who is going to regale you with his wisdom for the next 45 minutes about the just war tradition. After which there will be plenty of time for you to engage with your questions and your comments. So welcome to all of you who are here physically partaking of kebab dinner and welcome to all of you who are watching online through Facebook, this video will be posted later. Also, we did advertise this as part one of a two-part course, that was not justified in retrospect because we later realized Marc LiVecche is teaching on our behalf at Regent University next Wednesday night. However, we will ask you at the end of this course if you enjoyed it so much that you would like to have a part two. If a majority of you say yes, we will organize a part two. It may not take place until the month of May because that’s how busy Marc LiVecche is. You’re welcome to join Marc LiVecche at Regent University next Wednesday afternoon. Again, thank you for joining us and Marc LiVecche it’s now all up to you.

Marc LiVecche: All right thanks for coming, sorry it’s part one of maybe one, you can talk to this guy I think aboutrefunds if you feel that’s required. All right so I think my mandate is to talk about just war tradition so I’m going to do that, always cognizant of the situation in Ukraine and I will try to weave the situation in Ukraine throughout the comments and then at the end have a more focused period where I talk about Ukraine, but I’m assuming that a lot of you are either subject matter experts or astute observers so my primary ambition is to lay the groundwork for a discussion onUkraine by illinating what I understand to be the just war tradition. And I’ll explain why that may or may not be a light or heavy lift sort of as we go.

There’s a couple caveats, so the first one is that this is a discussion of the just war tradition through a predominantly American lens, which might be slightly strange to talk about the war in the Ukraine through an American lens for at least maybe two reasons. First, it’s and maybe this is a controversy or a provocation, it’s not our war, right so that’s the first thing. So secondly it might be better to talk about just war tradition throughthe eyes of Ukraine, that to me just to sort of show my cards would be a fairly short conversation. I think the question of whether or not Ukraine is fighting a justified war is a simple one, there’s sort of the paradigmatic case in both international law and within any understanding of just war tradition that I can grasp, they are the paradigmatic case of a justified war, right they’re suffering in unprovoked aggression, maybe that’s a provocation we can get to it in the Q and A, but it seems to me simple fact that it’s an unprovoked  aggression. They are defending their homeland in their homeland, and they are trying to push out an unjustified aggressor. From the perspective of Russia, we can get into that as to whether or not Russia is fighting a justified war.

Here it’s probably useful to point out that in my understanding at any one, in any consideration of a justified war at any one time, only one side at most can be fighting a justified war, all right at most, maybe neither is right, but by definition two sides can’t be fighting a justified war. We could argue about that if we want to the caveat to that is we are not omniscient, at least I’m not, and because I’m not, I can’t know if you are. Thank you can laugh out loud it doesn’t throw me off that’s totally all right. but because we’re not omniscient humility is in order, we can think we’re fighting a just war we can use reason and experience and authority andcounsel and prayer to try to ascertain that, but we might be wrong in certain circumstances right, butbasically only one side at any one moment can be fighting a justified war and in this particular case it’s pretty simple to me to say it is not Russia.

There was a question last week I talked on Ukraine somebody said well, you know are there complicating factors what about NATO expansion, you know wasn’t that sort of aggressive? You know if you wanted to, if you want to entertain the question you could say okay from the Russian perspective was it aggressive? Could it appear aggressive? Sure, I suppose if I was a Russian potentate that could seem aggressivebut by definition NATO is a defensive alliance, it’s not an aggressive one, it’s never engaged in aggression I would argue, so that seems flimsy. And beyond that you know their territorial claims stretching back to early Russian history are disputed at best and simply wrong I think on the face of it and with any you know sort of digging into the territorial claims that they make so we can talk about that a little bit. But simply said the question as to who is fighting the just war? I think is fairly simple, it’s Ukraine.

But back to this question about it not being ourwar, I think one, it’s an obvious thing to say because we were not attacked right, two and only slight less obviously a treaty ally was not attacked, and this has come up very often right as to why we’re only doing limited things, but I think that requires a little comment as well before we get into the sort of heart of just war tradition. An unprovoked attack on a treaty ally, NATO for instance, would be considered an attack on us, and it’s important to keep that in mind for all intents and purposes it would be an attack on us. If you read the language of NATO treaty Article 5 which has been brought up I think repeatedly in the last few weeks, the language reads like this it says “the parties,” NATO members, “the parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently if they agree that if such an armed attack occurs each of them an exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the charter of the United Nations will assist the party or parties so attacked by taking such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.” So, okay if it was an attack on a NATO ally for all intents and purposes it would be an attack on the United States. But then even here we see fairly flexible language, it doesn’t legally bind us to be sure to a particular course of action including armed intervention and even if we thought in that particular instance that it did, to beclear that the U.S. President alone cannot of course commit military force against an adversary who one doesn’t pose a direct threat against the United States and certainly not in a situationagainst an adversary that would require military action that would be particularly substantial in nature scope or duration. And arguably and I say this somewhat advisedly and somewhat cheekilyarguably a war against Russia would be substantial in nature’s scope and duration, althoughhere’s the cheeky bit, the last few weeks might suggest otherwise, but who knows. All right, so all that said, where does that bring us?

We don’t have a legal obligation to intervene on Ukraine’s behalf, we don’t have a treaty obligation. The more interesting question to me is do we have a moral one? All right do we have a moral obligation? Humanitarian intervention, the responsibility to protect both of these concepts are predicated on the assumption that international affairs don’t necessarily have to be a simple zero-s game it doesn’t always have to be a matter of our national interests at stake before we can intervene somewhere else. Both of these concepts are predicated in the idea that we needn’t always tolerate bullies, nor should we. I mean if a bully is doing something sufficiently bullish, maybe we intervene. It’s sometimes appropriate that even if national interests are not directly in jeopardy that the just war tradition gives counsel.

So, because I support that idea, I think my understanding of just war tradition is rooted in what is known as Christian realism. So here is another caveat, I try to be disciplined and not say the just war tradition, but I say it all the time because it’s just the shorthand right. But there is no “the just war tradition,” there’s multiple traditions, so it’s important to have that in mind. It’s also important to have in mind that once we’ve dispensed or not with a definite article, you still have the question of what you mean by a just war? Paul and I were talking about this earlier. Are you suggesting that a just war is a war that is morally pristine? Of course not.

And here you can play with the language, Jean Elshtain of blessed memory used to say just war tradition is really just after identifying when it’s justified to go to war, she didn’t like that 100% because that made it almost too weak, she still wanted to stress look you know we’re talking about justice in combat you know justice and war and she would point out that every great civilization and most minor ones from time out of memory have always been concerned at some level with justice in war, it’s almost never been simply war for war’s sake and no holds barred when you go. There’s always been some idea that wars probably require some level of restraint at some point.

So Christian realism, two parts Christian, realist. The Christian bit is simply an emphasis on classical Christian doctrines and the belief that classical Christian doctrines actually have something to say to everyday life which includes international affairs, global relations, war and such. It finds its headwaters in the Hebraic tradition, it helps coordinate the responsibility of political leaders to bring order justice and peace to their people. You could find it I think grounded in genesis 9, in god’s demand for an accounting of human life that blood is shed, I will demand an accounting, this is arguably the great commission text for government, it’s the grounding of political theology, it’s a foundation for it. You see it of course pushed forward in romans 13 in different areas, so it’s Christian.

It’s also realist when we say Christian realism is realist, we mean almost simply that it rejects utopianism and idealism is viable grounds for international affairs. okay it recognizes the ideal but it says you know how we behave can’t necessarily be grounded in the ideal, so it doesn’t pursue utopian dreams, it’s realistic and in the condition of the human heart and therefore the conditions of history. it’s also realist in the sense that it doesn’t regard national interests as necessarily pejorative, you could probably even say it’s stronger, it recognizes that national interests are appropriate. if you have a sovereign who is not concerned for your national interests you should probably vote them out.

Jean Elshtain used to say provocatively that if there’s and she would say it like this if any U.S. president, this was her voice, “if any U.S. president doesn’t care about the price of oil he or she should be impeached” right that went over really well at a liberal arts campus you can imagine but it’s true, and why? because among other things if the price of oil is too high as we’re seeing who is it that suffers the most the poor right, so if you care about social justice, you care about the price of oil, and sovereign should.

The Christian mode of realism however when it comes to national interests have a more capacious view of what an interest entails. Other centered acts of self-donation, right self-sacrifice are not necessarily incompatible with self-interest, the Christian realist is going to take this as a truism. Just as coming to the aid of a stranger on the street is a good, it’s good for our soul. So two, the Christian realist would argue a nation coming to the aid of another nation even when strictly speaking national interests don’t seem to be at play is good for that nation’s soul, all right, it profits that nation, it doesn’t profit that nation in terms of putting treasure in its pockets or in its treasury or you know territorial acquisition, but it does aid that nation the acquisition of virtue, and virtue is its own good the Christian realist is going to insist.

You know at the individual level the acquisition of virtue helps us to be that for which we were made to be, it helps us acquire a taste for heaven, which is an acquired taste I’m sure, and something similar can take place at a national level. This isn’t to argue that nations have souls per se, but we certainly have reputations and a nation that that develops a reputation for virtue among other goods is going to make its power sufferable to those who are beneath it, or at least more sufferable to those who are beneath it. And I think we see this in the career of America in international relations by and large.

All right so maybe that’s a basic introduction to what I want to do tonight, walk us through an examination of how just war tradition helps particularly American Christians think about our moral obligations required regarding the war in Ukraine. And a little bit because I want to try to stay away from abstractions, I’m going to funnel some of the conversation about just war tradition in terms of or by looking at the just war character. Because if you look at the just war tradition what should become immediately apparent is that there’s a certain kind of character that’s implied by just war tradition or in other words only a particular kind of person is going to care about being a just warrior, right because only just warriors will fight just wars with any sort of consistency, we ought to know what a just warrior looks like, what are their passions, what governs them ,what are they motivated by and so on. So, what is the just war character and how does a just warrior think about Ukraine? Our job is something like that.

All right just war tradition as you probably know as I hope you know because you’ve all been reading Providence religiously, just war tradition is broken into two major categories and if Eric Patterson is watching I’m going to admit there’s probably three. But there’s two major ones classically understood there’s the Jus Ad Bellum and there’s the Jus In Bello, Latin words for when is it right to fight and how do you fight that fight that’s right to fight?

Eric Patterson will insist to some profit that there’s a third category the Jus Post Bello, what do you do when the smoke clears and the bombs start stop falling, what are you looking for then? He’s probably convinced me mostly because of the debacle of the withdrawal from Afghanistan that this is worth maybe separating as the third category. For the longest time I’ve resisted because once you start expanding it then you got some other yahoo wants to say “oh there’s Jus Antebello also” right so just as before you talk about when it’s right to fight and then it just gets crazy. So, I like the two-pronged approach. In a little bit I’ll talk about right intention which is peace. And if you could imagine this was sort of like a windows and you click up on right intention you get your drop-down menu, one of the things that would drop down is Jus Post Bello you could click on that you would see the criteria for that. So, all that to say there’s either two major categories or there’s three I’ll talk about them.

All right so I’m going to give a quick overview of each and then slightly oddly for me I’m going to focus on the Ad Bellum because I think that’s the most interesting bit when we talk about America’s contemplation of the war in Ukraine. But first just a quick overview of the Jus Ad Bellum, three things have to be in place for a war to be just. You have to have a proper authority, and I mentioned the role of an authority already. When I say a proper authority, I simply mean that person or body over whom there is no one greater charged with care of the political community, charged with the responsibility of maintaining the justice order and peace of that political community that’s a sovereign. The sovereign’s responsibility is first to his or her own, so a sovereign is most concerned about their own people, their own constituents. In the second case, the sovereign responsibility can extend to our international neighbors, depending on your political persuasion that responsibility is bigger or smaller, but it can extend to both but it’s the first one first.

If I was to substantiate that as I’m sometimes asked to or to argue for why a Christian realist would still think being most concerned for our own is morally appropriate, I would just gesture to the idea of special obligations. I don’t know all of you, I’m sure I would love all of you if I get to know you, but just so you know if you and my son are hiking together and you both fall into a pit of vipers, I am going without question to pull my son out first, just so you know. And I would be morally perverse if I did not right because he’s my son and I have a special obligation, a special duty to my own.

Now, does anybody dispute that? Excellent. You haven’t even met my son and you still think this is true which is great. If you change the context slightly right and it turns out you jumped in because my son had followed in first; you jump in to try to get him out then I arrived, my son’s already bit it’s been 20 minutes, you’ve just been bit, maybe the situation changes right. Now I move to something my firefighter brother calls the law of resuscitability right, you begin pulling out, it’s kind of moral triage. You begin assessing the situation you realize okay whatever my prior obligations they might shift because of changing circumstances, you’ve got the best chance of surviving maybe I pull you out or maybe you’re a doctor and I pull you out and then we get my son out so you can treat my son, and on and on, but you get the basic point, special obligations are important.

Germaine to Ukraine while special obligations are important and they would extend even to the idea that I have a duty not just to save my son’s life but to provide for his basic goods right he needs shelter, he needs food, he needs security, it’s my obligation to provide these things. Now I should provide those basic things to my son even when those resources are scarce and maybe not everybody in the community can have them, and there it gets trickier. Maybe I don’t give my son his you know sort of full caloric allotment for the day, maybe we retract that a bit because you know our neighbors are hungry, but my basic obligation still remains. Now my obligations don’t extend to giving my son his luxuries, especially when my neighbor doesn’t have something to eat, especially in that circumstance. So, the analogy might be President Biden in the administration has an obligation to the American people not to let nuclear weapons for instance fall on our cities by acting rashly in defense of Ukraine. That would be an obligation that he has,  but maybe that obligation doesn’t extend to doing nothing in Ukraine just because we don’t want to pay more for gas. That’s not to say that the price of gas is Elshtain’s spirit has already asserted means nothing especially for the poor, but that might be a luxury that we can take a hit on because there’s probably other ways for us to deal with that. So, these special obligations aren’t absolute, but they matter. All right that’s sovereign authority.

Just cause, typically just cause is broken into three main categories. There’s protection of the innocent, there’s requiring an injustice or righting or wrong, and there’s punishing evil and all of those of course get qualifications it’s protecting sufficiently threatened innocent, it’s righting you know a sufficiently grave injustice, it’s punishing a sufficiently grave evil. Those three things have to be in place, and I think when we look at the situation in Ukraine from an American perspective, we see calls for intervention; the innocent are being trampled, there’s an injustice that needs to be requited that ought to be requited, there is an evil that ought to be punished right.  All those three things are in place, so we’ve got a proper authority and we’ve got a just cause, that seems clear to me.

The third is right intention. In a certain sense right intention is not flexible the reason you go to war is peace you know from Augustine forward, the only reason you fight is reconciliation. Ultimately qualifications in the first sense, peace is for the trampled innocent  and if that’s the only piece we get at the end of the campaign in one sense that might be a tragedy but in another sense that’s sufficient right because in the first sense our obligations are to the innocent but in the second sense we war against our adversary ideally with the desire if our attitude is properly focused and our loves are properly ordered  we fight for the for peace with our adversary that is a good we desire ideally to bring them back into the fellowship of nations the fellowship of reconciliation and peace. So, there’s another way of saying this is that the just war tradition is the first step in the process of forgiveness which might sound crazy, and we could talk about what forgiveness looks like if that’s sufficiently provocative to talk about in the Q & A, but just war properly understood is the first step in forgiveness.

A couple implications of this. One implication is, or one caution is not to think that every campaign, every military action has to result in peace right, sometimes we have lesser ambitions. So, in Syria maybe our ambition was simply we want you to stop gassing your people all right. And so, if you stop gassing your people then we’re good, we don’t have to be besties, I’m not looking for a friend, I just need you to stop this particular behavior, and that might be sufficient. So that that’s you know a more modest ambition but in a full-scale war the implication of this end of peace I think is decisiveness. Because I think history teaches us that we have the best chance of peace when a war has been fought decisively. So, I have two instances, WWI and the Treaty of Versailles right as General Pershing begged let’s not make this peace yet because the Germans don’t know that they’ve been licked right. And he said we haven’t even brought the war to German lands, the German people have no reason to believe they’ve been defeated, and in fact you know if you read some of the accounts German generals told their men to stand down and in their speeches to these men they said “we are surrendering on enemy occupied territory” and they perceived it to be a victory. And Pershing had the presence of mind to know that this was going to be a disaster right he said “all we’re going to do is postpone the true finish of this war” and a generation later after we had raised a new crop of young men to feed to the cannons, he was proved right. So, WWII and I’ll just make the provocation if you want to talk about it we can, WWII in the pacific ended decisively in the form of a mushroom cloud over Japan. I think you can draw a straight line from Versailles to Hiroshima right, because we recognize that the enemy needs to know that they’ve been licked, and the situation in the pacific from 1944 to 1945 was a jerk that Japan had been defeated, but they did not admit that and they did not act on that, and they needed the fight taken out of them. We took the fight out of them and that was ghastly and it was horrific and I think it helped lead to the peace we now enjoy with Japan.

So in most cases an implication of the just or tradition is that if a war is right to fight, its right to win. And that could be ghastly which is why we have prudential categories so those three things have to be in place for a war to be justified, and then depending on how you want to put the tension either those three things if they’re in place give you permission to fight or they oblige you to fight. I think in most instances they oblige you to fight, okay these represent your duty, and then you have these prudential categories that come into it. In the prudential categories there’s a vast number of them. I usually just go with three the first is proportionality all right and proportionality is a weighing of likely outcomes all right and so keeping in mind that the end is a decisive victory proportionality asks the following question is pursuing a decisive victory likely to lead to greater goods or greater harms? But you also have to ask the reverse, is not pursuing a decisive victory in light of the just causes that I’ve already established that I have likely to lead to greater goods or greater harms? all right that’s proportionality. It’s not like a simple quid pro quo, you punch me once I get to punch you once right. Some people think that’s proportionality the proportionality has to be aimed at the desired outcome all right which means your desired outcome has to be just, but that’s how you weigh or measure proportionality. 

This this leads directly to a consideration of the second prudential criteria which is probability of success. So, I have a just cause it seems proportionate if I pursue victory, but do I have any chance of being victorious in this at all or am I only likely to kill people and break things and little else and in such situations if that seems to be the case maybe you stand down. And then the third is last resort. And last resort is sometimes misunderstood some people think oh you know that means you have to actually try everything you can do before you can pull a trigger, in fact it really just means you know can you use some wisdom and common sense and look at the available options and establish with reasonable certainty that nothing else except war will do to right this wrong, to protect the innocent, to punish the evil in question right. So, it’s just a weighing of other options. All right, so you put all those things together and okay just hold that. The second category, and these two I’m going to go more quickly through I’ve already given you sort of the more substantive and not the overview that I said I was going to give you, so I’ve sort of lied but we’re all caught up.

The second category which I’ll just run through is Jus In Bello, how do you fight that war that’s right to fight and this in Christian circles is typically given two major categories, I give it three now again through the influence of Eric Patterson, but I think this is essential, and the ordering is important. The first criteria is military necessity. This is something you’ll find in international law, but you tend not to find it in Christian discussions which is interesting and it’s somewhat obvious and maybe partly that’s why people don’t necessarily talk about it, but before you do something within a war, it ought to be militarily necessary to do it. If it’s not actually necessary, don’t do it. It’s a stewardship issue in part, men and equipment are expensive, they matter. A commander might have to spend the lives of his men, but he ought never to waste them. And so military necessity helps dictate you know the caution against wasting the lives of your men.

The second piece of this is again proportionality but now it’s a proportionality of means whereas in the Jus Ad Bellum, it’s a proportionality of ends. Is our end goal going to be proportionate to what we’re thinking about doing? Now, we look at a tactical level and we ask is this militarily necessary activity proportionate to, as a means to our end. And so again you ask the question you know we’re contemplating action a, is that going to be likely to produce more goods or more harms if we do it? If we don’t do it, is it likely to lead to greater goods or greater harms? But here there’s a qualification, some people think that proportionality is a case-by-case evaluation. So you might say okay we’ve got to hit that radio tower because we want to knock out communications, but by hitting that radio tower we expect to kill 30 civilians, some people will say well that’s disproportionate, it’s a radio tower, it’s not giving you any immediate threat you already think you’re going to kill 30 civilians, that’s disproportionate. And if you only look at it in isolation maybe you’ve got an argument that in fact it’s disproportionate. But the way proportionality ought to work is you look at this discrete battle action as one of a succession of battle actions that are intended to eventually lead to a decisive victory and is this militarily necessary tactic linked in a long chain of militarily necessary tactics likely to be proportionate? Is it likely to do more harm than good? I think that’s how proportionality ought to be viewed rather than in isolation. In part because it’s almost impossible to see particular actions discreetly, you have to see them as a whole and also that’s just not how battle works. Maybe I need to take out that radio tower because I want to ruin my enemies command and control and I want to do that particularly today because tomorrow we’ve got this big attack plan that they can’t be able to communicate. And if we can do this attack, we might be able to end this war quickly, and that is almost always a positive thing. Because the longer a war goes on, the greater the innocent suffer.

The third criteria within the In Bello is discrimination. So you do not intentionally target non-combatants, you can only target combatants; so those who mean you harm versus those who pose no harm. So those are the three In Bello criteria. this third idea of Jus Post Bello in Eric Patterson’s handling, again has three components and I’m just going to kind of skim them. The first is order, the first thing you need in place when the bombs stop falling and the bullets stop flying is order, you need basic security because without that nothing else is going to matter. So, you have to establish security. In the case of Japan, it was an occupation right, and that could take various forms. And then the order ought to lead to justice which is often a far higher hurdle, and the justice then leads to conciliation or peace. All right so you’ve got order, you’ve got justice, and you’ve got peace. And if you think you’ve heard that before that’s because those are the three criteria in the just cause requirement. So, this idea is that by articulating a fuller sense of Jus Post Bello you make the just war tradition cyclical right the whole intention of peace is to bring you back to a situation that existed before there was a just cause, before peace had been violated, before an injustice had been committed. all right that’s the idea is that it makes it cyclical.

That’s a rough overview of just war tradition I want to say a couple things about it and then talk about Ukraine and then throw this open to questions.

I’ve already hinted, going back to the Jus Ad Bellum when is it right to fight? I’ve already hinted that you’ve got your duties right if you’ve got a sovereign authority if you’ve got to just cause you’ve got the right intent you might have an obligation to fight. And then I’ve said and then there’s these prudential categories right and one of these the things that these prudential categories might do is it might tell you to stand down. And so now enters into the conversation, I think, tragedy and humility. So another implication of just war tradition rightly understood is that international relations can be tragic, and here’s sort of how that works. This sense of duty you know sort of this kantian assertion  that you have to do your duties, the Christian realist isn’t going to dispute, of course we have to do our duties. The prudential categories of the Jus Ad Bellum are quite consequential and it’s not necessarily to say the consequential list, but they’re deeply concerned with consequences. This is going to be proportionate, can you succeed, are you going to do more harm than good. These assert that even duties have effects and some of those effects can be good, some of those effects can be bad. So, if you’re tracking you’ve already got the two great sort of ethical systems at play in the just war tradition, you’ve got your Kantian hard-nosed you must do your duty, and you’ve got your more flexible alertness to consequences.

Just war tradition incorporates both, the Christian realist ethic is both. The Christian realist ethic understands that life is complicated it’s not dismissive in the face of this complication of duties it

doesn’t dismiss them at all, it is not uncaring about the costs of doing duty, it acknowledges that consequences matter. But the uncomfortable truth is that the just war tradition and at least in its Christian realist perspective, recognizes that in this world, the moral life is not simply always a matter of simply doing your duty. It’s not because duties can be shirked, it’s not because we decided you know the personal cost of doing that duty is too high I don’t want to pay it, it’s because the Christian realist recognizes that duties conflict. We have a duty to help our Ukrainian friends, we have a duty not to act so rashly that the heavens fall right, these are a conflict of duties. It’s a conflict of oughts right, hopefully for the Christian realist if it’s simply a choice between the good and the bad, that’s simple, you do the good, you shirk the bad or you shun the bad. It gets more complicated when it’s either a conflict of goods or it feels like nothing I can do is particularly good, everything is unsavory, and so now the best I can do is the greatest possible good which in a God-fearing universe wouldn’t look good at all. So, Hiroshima, how do you navigate whether or not to drop a bomb on a city of people? It’s because goods are in conflict.

So, all this to say you’ve got your two great, you’ve got deontology you’ve got consequentialism, I think just where tradition is perhaps best conceived of as a kind of virtue ethic. It’s tailored for the person who is concerned about loving the good, hating evil, that these are the primary factors that ought to motivate behavior in the Christian sense it’s a desire to mirror the character of God. It’s you know how one who follows Christ ought to act in a situation such as this. This helps explain to my mind why the just war tradition is concerned not just with duty or not just with consequences, but also attitude. If you think at this point it’s already hard to ascertain if you’re fighting a fight rightly, Augustine pushes it further and he says not only do you have to fight only a just war and that you have to fight that just war justly, but you have to fight it justly with actually a just attitude. It’s not enough only to not target the innocent. You can’t fight the enemy with hatred, you can’t fight the enemy with a desire to see them suffer per se, you can’t intentionally create unneeded cruelties against them, and on and on. So, it’s an internal disposition as well. So just war tradition is sort of hard as nails. Some will say well the just war tradition can’t be a virtue ethic because a virtuous leader would never contemplate going to war. Because a virtuous leader presumably is beneficent, they’re loving, they’re charitable, they’re all these things they would never contemplate war. I’m going to reduce a great many things into fairly simplistic assertions but to my mind this is a basic misunderstanding of terms.

First a comment about rules, I actually think there are fairly few rules in the Christian moral life, even fewer absolute rules. Paul Ramsey said that Christianity is an ethic without rules, I believe he phrased it. What do we mean by this? Take the one absolute rule that I’m confident exists and that’s love right, so we know we are to love, in all circumstances whatever is going on we are to love. The question becomes what does love mean in this particular situation? Sometimes people will ask me snarkily, you know how can you a Christian ethicist advocate killing somebody made in the image of God? I’ve learned to respond by saying well, the real question is what am I supposed to do when one image of God is kicking in the face of another image of God unjustly and they will not stop? What do I do then?

So, I grant that I am to love them both, I am to love my enemy neighbor and I am to love my victim neighbor, both of them. And it’s not even that I love the one now and I love the other one later, it’s like no I have to love both of them now. But what also seems clear is that I cannot love both of them in exactly the same way in exactly the same instant, but I am to love them, I have to work that out. Augustine called some of this a beneficent harshness or kindly severity, that the just war disposition recognizes that sometimes peace comes through conflict. To call the just war tradition an ethic of love relies on asserting this beneficent harshness, and you see this at play in the chevalier cheval tradition. So, you think of Lancelot in C.S. Lewis’s the necessity of chivalry he alludes to Mallory’s assertion that Sir Lancelot was the fiercest and the meekest of men. He was fierce to the nth degree, he was meek to the nth degree, so he wasn’t a compromise, he was both, after absolute but it mattered; context mattered. He was meek in the hall, he was fierce in combat, and Lewis and chivalry didn’t see these as contradictions, somebody could be both at once. Context matters, this word meek is interesting because you see it replicated in the Sermon on the Mount and so the Sermon on the Mount, the section of the beatitudes you’ll recall, concludes by saying “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be sons of God” and in semitic thought sonship is a big deal. Sonship means that you convey the characteristics of the thing that is signified. So, a peacemaker carries the character of God.

So then one next question would be okay, if that’s true, what kind of peacemaker is God? And you look back at the rest of the beatitudes and you see something of a rolling character description that I think in aggregate results in peacemaker, and it begins with blessed are the meek. And so, modern American ears hear meek and we think well meek is weak right. But meek in this sense apparently refers to a war horse that has been trained to obey the reins of its master. And a war horse was like something to behold, these things could be like 3,000 pounds, they could run 30 miles an hour, they were designed to smash into enemy formations and scatter them, they could kick and bite and do all sorts of things, but they did it all in obedience to the commands of its master, of its rider. So, it was powerful. Meek, wasn’t weak, it was just power under restraint or power under control. This is the chivalric tradition this is what it’s grounded in, it’s this perfect blend of gentleness to the nth degree or obedience the nth degree and ferocity to the nth degree in context determines what is on display. So that’s beneficent harshness and this is a part of the that character that the just war tradition demands. The just war character is at heart a peacemaker, you know aimed ultimately at reconciliation with their enemies. They love justice, they recognize that reconciliation might come through conflict, but they love justice the nth degree, they love mercy to the nth degree, they are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect the innocent to right wrongs/punish evil. They recognize it in any one moment no matter what I do I am either moving circumstances closer toward or further from shalom, from the way things ought to be. They are limited in aspiration; they recognize that evils will not be ended in history.

Evil will be with us to the end, but they do recognize that we have been given the ability to overcome certain evils and restrain others and diminish others, this is important. As an ethic of love, just war tradition is oriented toward human flourishing, so it’s concerned about eudaimonia right. So how just war might aid the flourishing of the victim is probably obvious, it aids them through their rescue. How being a just warrior might aid the just warrior’s own flourishing might be a little bit more opaque, but I referenced it earlier. If nothing else, it aids in the acquisition of virtue, the willingness to put themselves into harm’s way to commit acts of other centered self-donation which is charity rather than you know spend a life of you know self-directed other donation which is the opposite of charity. And then this, and I think this maybe only makes sense in Hebraic context, but how does just war aid the flourishing of our enemy? You can say a great many things here, but among much else at the end of the day, if nothing else, and if we are right that we are fighting a just war and our enemy is not, then to restrain the enemy from the doing of evil is to their good. And if they can’t be talked out of it maybe they ought to be knocked out of it. But if it’s true that certain habits are habit forming, then to be allowed to continue doing something that is wrong malforms you. And here we’re going to get into complicated questions and I’ll just ask the question I suppose now. Is what does this actually mean for the war fighter on the ground?

So on Friday I was talking on Ukraine, somebody asked me they said okay so you’ve got a Russian soldier, he has your phone number, your friends, he calls you in the middle of the night and he says all right Marc, I’m engaged with you know not just Marc, Matt, he calls you up and he says okay I’m in contact with Ukrainian soldiers, we’re fighting I’ve just become cognizant of what’s going on, I realize I’m in an unjust war what do I do? What do we expect? I know what I expect from Putin, I know what I expected those within say arms reach of Putin right, what they ought to do is pretty clear to me. What do we do with the Russian soldier?

So, what do we do with the Russian soldier? We’ve had a short 47 minutes on just war thinking, what should the Russian soldier do? What’s that? Defect. Okay, what are other options? Well let me stop there, can you justify that based on Christian realism, Christian doctrine, the just war tradition, what would you say? So, on the one hand we’ve got this concept that a soldier is obligated to teaching at the U.S. Naval Academy you are obligated to follow every lawful order right the converse is also true you’re obligated not just permitted not just strongly recommended you’re obligated to disobey every unlawful order. So is that Russian private, by virtue of fighting a Ukrainian soldier is he following unlawful orders? So that’s one question.

There’s another concept which tries to address this, and it’s called the moral equality of soldiers which takes for granted, I think in its best version it takes for granted, probably only one side at most can be fighting a justified war but we can’t know necessarily because we’re not omniscient and for sure the average private has no clue. Like these poor kids, if the stories are true, they didn’t even know they were going to war, right they were going on an exercise right. Okay and because he probably isn’t fully aware of the justice or unjustice of his cause and because he’s you know inevitably to varying degrees a victim of propaganda and culture and everything else. What can we expect the average fighting man or woman to know? And so we come up with this idea the moral equality of soldiers where we say wars are fought between countries it’s not you know it’s fought with you know men with rifles and other tools, but we can’t hold them accountable for the decisions of their leaders. We can hold you accountable for the things you do right, if you obey a clearly unlawful order, if you commit a war crime, I can hold you responsible for that but I can’t hold you responsible for the war itself. And so on Friday I answered I said well if it’s safe for him to do so, he should surrender and the Lieutenant Colonel sitting right beside me kind of looked at me and she said and I would say soldier on, fight on right. And I think both of these responses can be argued from within the Christian tradition right.

I said I would say something about Ukraine and I’m cognizant that it’s seven o’clock so I’m going to say a few things very smart and then really open it for questions. All right, I’ve asserted that it’s not always a simple thing to do one’s duty not because we want to shirk it but because oughts conflict. I’ve asserted and I think it’s true that we ought to protect Ukraine, I think we have a moral obligation to protect people from bullies. I think that’s true, I think we have a just cause to intervene. I would take it so far as to say don’t jump on me yet because I’m gonna qualify it we ought to impose a no-fly zone, we ought to give them safe haven, we ought to do all those things, we ought to put boots on the ground and drive the Russians out. All right that is said in isolation of any other fact. Okay so as I’ve already said we ought also not to act so rashly that the heavens fall we ought to remember that Putin has a bomb all right, we ought to remember that I have no clue whether that madman will use it right, and I ought to remember that I’m really not sure which is going to be worse a victorious Putin or a Putin facing a humiliating defeat and I’m pretty sure it’s probably the latter right. And that will be something to behold, and I think we’ll behold it.

Christian ethics begins with an accurate description of the relevant facts. If we get the facts on the ground wrong our ethics are almost certainly going to fail as well and if they don’t it’s just by chance that they don’t. So, we take for granted that because Putin has a bomb that has to motivate our response. We also take for granted that this isn’t the only part of the world we have to pay attention too, China’s watching we have to be cognizant of that, we can’t get distracted. So, there’s there is this conflagration of alts that are colliding and what we ought to do is complicated. All these things have to motivate our behavior you know Putin has raised the readiness level of his nuclear arsenal, the former Russian president Medvedev, I feel like I’m butchering the poor man’s name but that’s okay, you know he’s asserted the Russian right to use nuclear weapons even if the Ukrainians only use conventional. So, their comments are obviously geared to deter us and there’s something to be said for how we can get back on. Right now, I feel like we are on our heels we’re trying to respond to their deterrence, we have to get on top of that escalation cycle and figure out how is it that we deter Putin and I think that’s increasingly difficult.

There are things that can be done, what do I know? I know that we cannot pursue justice precisely as we want to or as we ought to. I’m afraid we probably have to give Putin some sort of face-saving off-ramp. I find that distasteful, I find it unfair particularly to the Ukrainians. I think it will be hard for many Americans, I know it will be harder for Ukrainians, and whatever our motivation for giving Putin an off-ramp that motivation is not justice, and that stinks. Americans have been giving since 2014 we’ve given and now I don’t even know what the number is last week the number was four billion dollars just in training and equipment. All right the training part of that means that we’ve been working with them. Probably many of you have met many of the men and women who have worked on the ground with Ukrainians training them in various ways to handle the threats they’re now facing.

On the heels of Afghanistan especially in light of the debacle of Afghanistan these guys feel like once again America is abandoning its friends right and that stinks also. We’re leaving our friends to the wolves, and if moral injury is a true thing, and it is a true thing, I feel like we are again subjecting our warfighters to this notion that our leaders are betraying them, we are not giving them the opportunity and I think rightly, to do what they want to do and feel they ought to do. So, I’ve already talked about tragedy, we can’t always do the full measure of goodness that we ought to do. I’ve talked about humility you know we’re still I think the world’s most powerful military and we can’t do everything we want to do. And I think that’s maybe, well it’s probably not new for us, 20 years of conflict has probably taught us that but at least in terms of, I think this takes it to a different level. So that’s one side of it.

The other side is this is that we can’t it seems to be equally clear that we can’t simply roll over. Putin must not believe that nukes give him some sort of a trump card and there’s no double meaning there at all this is just you shouldn’t have a trump card. We shouldn’t embolden Putin, we shouldn’t embolden China. I think we face the situation in which the non-proliferation regime is going to go out the window because I think everybody in the world is going to look at the situation and say having a bomb is good, and if American leadership continues to falter they’re going to think okay having a bomb is really good because the American nuclear umbrella is being collapsed and we need to defend our own because it’s a sovereign responsibility. So I think we need to take the lead on this. We could talk about what that would look like. I think we have to stop being two things, one we have to stop being so clear on what we won’t do, we won’t commit troops, we won’t respond in kind, and at the same time, we have to be more ambiguous you know Putin has to not know what we will or will not do, he has to live in fear of the fact that actually maybe we’re just as crazy as he is. He knows we’re not going to drop a strategic nuclear weapon on his cities and reprisal for a tactical nuke, but he has to be reminded that we have tactical nukes too, and if he uses them then he has to not know whether or not we’re going to use them. That’s grim and that’s ghastly but I think that’s about the best we can do. There’s more specific things we can talk about but I’m going to leave it there for now and go to questions or comments or criticisms or any of it.

Questioner: First one is just a request for you to sort of expand on something from the others. The question of intelligence and secrecy, one of my examples is these big 29s and they mig-29s in Poland you know one of my reactions was why are we talking about this? not in the sense of debating it why do we know about it right wouldn’t the polls go to the American ambassador yes it says the CIA chief we got these planes you check back home and then you say Ukraine get  29 pilots over here and then fly them back and nobody says a word. But suddenly there’s an announcement. Anyway, but surreptitious hiding things and that any further comments on that. And the other one is, I don’t know any answer to this but when you said about you know Putin’s got to get something in that I cornered Putin right you know if he loses a war really badly, he’ll probably get killed which case he doesn’t have much to lose. So, and I’m just a quote here from sun tzu you know “build your enemy a golden bridge to retreat” right but you said if we did that it wouldn’t be just, and my instant reaction is to agree. But if the alternative is worse, how can it be unjust? Going back to I don’t know who said you know fiat you’re still here perry at mundi’s because we’re all quoting now but if the world perishes it cannot be just either. So, it’s just the question of justice and necessity I don’t know. Right, I just throw that out I don’t know any answer.

Marc LiVecche: The second thing first, I’m happy to lose a semantic argument on whether or not that would be justice it might be, I’m happy to say that. I also like the provocations that you know the full expression of justice would be Putin getting his due, right, and we should long for that. And happily, and this is not supposed to be like some goofy evangelical trite out, but the Christian gets to believe that Putin will get his due, and it would be awfully sweet if he got it now so we could all watch, but that might not happen. And to pursue that might be so ghastly you know that is simply not proportionate, and we come back to that criterion. On the first thing, there’s probably somebody in this room who knows more about sort of the strategy of secrecy and revelation than I do, and I mean if somebody does, I’d love to hear a disquisition on it because I think it’s important.  

Ironically the morning, so the Biden Administration released this I can’t remember what the number was 800 million dollars or whatever it was in in further aid and the morning that he announced in the afternoon. The morning before he announced it I did an interview with Rebecca Heinrichs, who is a contributing editor here, and we were talking about military aid and she said ah the one thing I wish we would stop doing is saying exactly what we’re sending them, and that night and I mean it was down to you know the tenth number of exactly what we were apparently sending them, that seems to me too revelatory. I could imagine there’s a sense in which we should give them some sense of what’s coming as a deterrent. Like look you know if you guys think it’s been going poorly for you up until now and it has, look what’s coming. So, I think there’s some maybe value in that, but you know I imagine some secrecy and ambiguity is a good thing.

The whole thing has been fascinating in a you know, they call it gray zone operations measure short of war. So, the misinformation, the deep fake attempt, it was a fairly shoddy one but the false video of Zielinski telling his troops to lay down their arms, you know modern technologies you know that there is a changing character of war. I mean war in one sense stays the same in another sense because of technology it’s always changing so it’s been fascinating just to watch that. I think the Biden Administration has done a great job of avoiding false flag attacks. So, you know Russia is good at doing something and blaming it on other nations in this case it would be Ukraine and we’ve been good at telegraphing those things, “oh watch for them to do x” and sort of you know takes the wind out of their sails so we’ve been good at that.

Questioner: This has been so great, I’ve got several questions here, but I will pick one for now. Can you talk a little bit about the preemptive applications of just war theory? So that if the threshold is, I don’t know either a declaration of war or its actual kinetic conflict, or can we think through it as a framework for preemptive sanctions, right to stop that kind of action, how would you talk about the application of just war theory? So before kinetic ever happens but we know it’s building up, how do we use just war theory as a framework to then justify or write cases/ actions?

Marc LiVecche: Okay, so a couple things. What one thing that maybe isn’t your question, but I’ll touch on really quick, I do think just war allows for preemption in the sense and there’s a distinction that can be made between preemption and preventative. You know preventative might be I think someday Matt Gobush might punch me so I’m just gonna punch him now, versus Matt Gobush is intoxicated, he’s stumbling toward me and he’s got his fist half-cocked right, and I punch him then that might be preemption. The earlier one was preventative, both of them will feel really good, but the one I ought not to do probably, in most cases. But when Israel attacked Egypt first in 1967, when Israel was the first to attack Egypt in 1967 that was preemptive but it was very clear that Israel or that Egypt was cocked and ready to go, they had already committed acts of war arguably by closing off the strait and all sorts of things. So preventative war/preemptive war is okay.

Stretching that out which is I think the heart of your question, I think that the category of last resort allows for that and so last resort says have you really tried everything you can to avoid kinetic activity? And I think that includes and this is why some people want the jus ante bellum like what are the things you should do before war is even considered? We should have been signaling to Putin long before 2014 that we know he’s a bad actor, that we don’t trust him, say in Ukraine that at all times all cards are going to be on the table, you know we should figure out early what are the things that will deter you because you’re the one I have to deter, I can’t deter a nation, I have to deter a leader of a nation or that nation’s you know leadership structure. So what are the things that are important to Putin? And in order to know that, we’ve got to do our intelligence and know like what kind of government they are, they’re not a communist government so much as a kleptocracy, it’s like the mafia. And so how do you deter the mob, you know, what are the assets that he will feel or sufficiently valuable that he doesn’t want to lose? And you start to signal both the ability to go after those things and the willingness to go after those things early on. Early on can I say disembolden him, to disembolden him right. You make your alliances stronger, I think if Germany had doubled their defense budget years ago that might have been helpful. Thank God they’ve done it now and what a crazy world we’re in which everybody is really ecstatic that Germany’s just doubled its military budget. So those are some of the things that we can do, and I think just war doesn’t just warrant it but demands it.

Questioner: I think what’s interesting about that is the tension, it’s not the tension, but the application of discrimination within that because if you think about something like sanctions, we are in a way it can almost be viewed, as unjustly punishing the Russian people. Creating an environment that responds to something that they would really have a part of right nothing has happened, more or less more or less right, nothing has happened to Ukrainian people yet but we’re creating something that is punishing a group of people regardless of whatever the indictment against them might be, but that would not almost invite an unjust discussion.

Marc LiVecche: And if you do it wrong, you could provoke the very thing you’re trying to prevent. When I said figure out the ways of hurting him and letting him know that we’re both capable and willing to do it, I don’t necessarily mean let’s pull the trigger on these things because I think you’re right. I think I’m not one of those people who think oh sanctions aren’t an act of war, where sanctions aren’t kinetic. And so, oh we should do sanctions all day long before we pull a trigger. I think history shows that very often the best thing for, that may not be the right thing to say, it’s often better for a populist to go ahead and have it out than have a long-draining sanctions regime because I think more often than not it’s not Putin or Saddam Hussein, I’m probably dating myself there but there used to be this guy named Saddam Hussein he was a bad actor, those guys aren’t going to suffer sanctions, their people will, they’ll probably be okay. So smart sanctions you know all of that, but for sure it could be unjust, and you got to be sure you’re targeting the right people. Is that addressing your concern? Right, that’s why I simply don’t believe war is the worst thing.

Questioner: We have a comment from our online audience from J.N. Kenyon who wants to know can you comment on any role played by patriarch kirill and the Russian orthodox in the invasion of Ukraine? Thank you.

Mark LiVecche: Probably less than I ought to be able to, is anybody here an expert on that? Yeah, Paul please.

Paul Marshall: I’m not an expert on that, but there is in the online magazine I’m connected with Religion Unplugged, yesterday a pretty long article 5,000 words or whatever, giving an overview of the Christian, well the clergy responses in Russia across the board dealing with carol and then  all the other groupings. But carol is, there are differences within the Russian orthodox church it should not be seen as a monolith but it’s the majority part and represented by Kirill, very much identifies its future you know Russia as a Christian nation with a historic mission in the world. And it is the duty of the church to support that, the secular arm in the orthodox term symphonia you know sort of playing music together would be a not a good translation. So it’s very much that identification and then that also plays out in Ukraine itself, that when it again became an independent country a usual orthodox position is that particular countries have their own orthodox church with their own patriarch, but the Russian Orthodox Church regarded the formation of an auto capitalist Ukrainian orthodox church as a schism, and have never recognized that. And because the patriarch Bartholomew, the primus into Paris of the orthodox did recognize it, that’s produced a major split within the orthodox church worldwide. So that’s a partial answer, but there’s a whole Ecclesiastical side as well as a religious side to this.

Marc LiVecche: And some people have made more out of that than others, that Putin has caused to believe and there’s evidence to suggest he believes that he’s embarked on some sort of quasi-holy crusade. Kiev is you know the historic home of you know Russian faith and you know there’s a dimension to this that transcends mere politics.

Porter references Paul Ramsey references reform theology and two kingdoms view, it’s the job of the theologian to give theological parameters to behavior to rebuke what needs to be rebuked arguably also to encourage whatever to be encouraged, but not to overstep their sphere. And the application here would be presumably that at least in this specific case, that the archbishop is driving outside of his lane if he’s goading very specifically the invasion and all of that.

Questioner: Hi, thanks for your presentation, it’s really helpful. My question is like a follow-up on the  preemption question, what level of certainty do you need for that? For example, I think a lot of people would now question the wisdom of the Second Gulf War, maybe most people. And so I think Cheney talked about a one percent doctrine or something like that how do we think about this kind of thing?

Marc LiVecche: Yeah, okay I don’t know the reference to one percent doctrine, that is potentially really scary. Yeah, question uncertainty, nothing about the just war tradition is calculus, which is great because I got like 14% on the math gre, so I’m happy that it’s not even arithmetic. Case specific, that’s not meant to be a dodge, but you know reason experience and authority are the only ways we know anything and when we evaluate a certain situation you know, do reason/authority/our experience collude to suggest to us that in all likelihood this thing is really about to go off? And then you would couple that with, so what? If I’m really sure that three-year-old is going to try to punch me? Okay. But if it’s Egypt, a mast on the other side of the Sinai and you’ve got you know Jordan and everybody else aligned in Syria to your north and this thing looks like it’s about to pop off and if we fall back at all, we’re in our ocean, the calculus changes and you strike first. So there’s a responsibility for us to get it right. When I say us, the nation contemplating preemption, but there is certainly also a responsibility for our adversary not to allow us to miscalculate right. So, if you don’t really mean to fight, don’t posture like you’re about to fight because if I hit first, that’s not my fault. Even if you never meant to assault me, you were just blustering, be careful with your bluster. So that that’s probably an inadequate answer but that’s the best I think I can do.