Dec 13, 2009

Susan Brooks in the Washington Post: "Obama's new Just War/Peace policy"

Obama's new 'Just War Peace' policy

President Obama broke with traditional Just War thinking in his Nobel prize acceptance speech, and so far almost no one seems to have noticed. The President said that the "old architecture" of thinking about war and peace is "buckling." What is required now, argued the President, is to "think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of just peace."

If there is an emerging "Obama Doctrine" on war and peace, it is contained in these "new ways," not in the older Just War theory alone. Just War theory, a doctrine first developed by St. Augustine in the early 5th century, has been around for a long time. Just War language was a significant part of Obama's Oslo speech, and it was used specifically to describe the kinds of structural violence that endures in the world, especially "genocide in Darfur; systematic rape in Congo; or repression in Burma."

The President is far from naive about the extraordinary challenge to ideas of both peace and war such conditions pose. But the President did not stop with his reflections on systematic evils. He went on to provide a specific introduction to a new concept for thinking about peace and war, a theory called "Just Peace." Just Peace is an emerging fourth paradigm that goes beyond Just War, Pacifism or Crusade. Just Peace theory actually outlines how you get to "lasting peace."

Most commentators on the President's speech haven't even noticed the Just Peace language. They zero right in on the Just War language. But the President is actually using Just Peace as a way to talk about how we cannot let the tragic nature of enduring violence in this world have the last word. We can act positively to create the conditions for peace. In contrast to President Bush's dualistic thinking about war and peace, evil and good, Obama is a far more subtle thinker and he refuses to be drawn into simplistic categories.

In his Oslo speech, the President systematically moves through Just Peace theory in technically correct ways. Just Peace theory has 10 "practice norms" -- actions that can be undertaken to increase the likelihood that peace will develop and be sustained. These include not only the proven methods of conflict resolution (nonviolent direct action and threat reduction), but also an emphasis on human rights and religious liberty, just and sustainable economic development, and support for the United Nations. The President touched on all of these Just Peace criteria in his speech, including support for human rights through "painstaking diplomacy," and a recognition that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights means that "if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise."

The President moved on to other Just Peace criteria, noting that "a just peace includes not only civil and political rights -- it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want."

Peace is the good we seek; war can never be a good. While individuals show courage, "war itself is never glorious." Indeed, "War promises human tragedy."

Complexity, realism and idealism together, a recognition that these times demand new thinking about peace and war, and a specific repudiation of the dualism of good versus evil: that's the emerging Obama doctrine.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

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