A tall, ramrod straight combat arms officer faced the graduating class of the U.S.
Military Academy at West Point. "I tell my men every day," he said, "there
is nothing worth one of them dying for....Prohibiting casualties is the top-priority
mission I have been given by my battalion commander." In other words, if the mission
conflicts with force protection, the mission gets scrubbed. Gone is the moral tenet, as
stated in Samuel Huntingtons military classic The Soldier and the State,
"for the soldier to respond effectively when called upon to defend the defenseless,
even to the point of death."
The officer corps of the U.S. Army is in an ethical muddle. In a provocative paper
titled "Army Professionalism, the Military, and Officership in the 21st
Century," three West Point teachers are challenging the U.S. military and, by
inference, NATOs policy of "radical force protection." They believe that
this policy is the latest example of the erosion of the soldiers ethos of
self-sacrifice and "corroding the professional military ethic." They place the
blame in part on changes in international politics since the end of the Cold War, the new
nature of conflict, and undue political pressure for "force protection."
Apparently the problem is so widespread that West Point has opened a Center for the
Professional Military Ethican oversized camouflage couch on which the Army can work
through its identity crisis.
This ethical confusion is affecting U.S.-lead NATO as well. Criticism of NATOs
conduct in Kosovo is coming from all sides. A recent issue of Janes Intelligence
Review, a highly respected international journal on threat analysis, calls the Kosovo
operation a "military adventure NATO seems destined to lose." By their
accounting the economic cost of Operation Allied Force will push $50 billion, including
the air strikes, humanitarian aid, peacekeeping forces, and reconstruction. The political
costs of destabilized relations with Russian and China and having Milosevic still in power
WARS ARE FOUGHT for many reasonsas idealistic crusades, for political or economic
gain, sometimes over national "honor." NATOs newest type of warfare is the
"ethical war" that employs "humanitarian intervention" for just and
moral reasons. Concurrently, by its new policies NATO has completely abandoned the only
guidelines that have attempted to impose ethics in warthose of the "just war
theory" as adopted into the U.N.s International Laws of War.
Abandoning those principles means NATO is guilty of war crimes. Amnesty International
outlines a few of NATOs violations in Kosovo. First, NATO required that its aircraft
fly at altitudes higher than 15,000 feet to ensure maximum force protection. This made
adherence to maximum protection of civilian lives and infrastructure impossible. No NATO
forces were killed in hostile action, while civilian casualties were sky high.
Second, the U.N.s Laws of War prohibit any direct attack on civilians or civilian
objects. NATO intentionally blew up the Serb state radio and television station, killing
Third, attacks that do not attempt to distinguish between military targets and civilian
targets are prohibited. NATO failed to suspend attacks on bridges even after it was
evident that civilians had been struck.
The British parliaments foreign affairs committee stated the problem clearly.
While they acknowledge that NATO air strikes in Kosovo and Serbia were "contrary to
international law, the committee still feels that the military action was justified on
moral grounds." When so many lives are at stake, however, one can not assume that a
war is a "just" war solely because it feels just. The international
communitys most rigorous moral standards must be applied concerning the waging of
war. It requires self-sacrifice on the part of soldiers and the maintaining of the highest
regard for the lives and property of civilians.
As Christians we can support ethical guidelines that lead to violence reduction and
civilian protection. Just war theory in international law is better than no ethical
standards at all.
Our support, however, can not become confused with an understanding that war is
"just," "ethical," or "humanitarian." Christians know there
is nothing justifiable about itin fact, war is a failure of justice itself. For
Christians the question is not whether to resist evilbut how. Protecting human
rights and working to prevent their violation is a fundamental principle of justice. Yet
Jesus calls us to fight injustice with militant nonviolence. Our struggle is how to
uphold both the command to "love thy enemy" (Luke 6:28) and the command
"neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor" (Leviticus 19:16).
ROSE MARIE BERGER is assistant editor of Sojourners. "Army Professionalism,
the Military, and Officership in the 21st Century" is online at:
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