Understanding Afghanistan: The Application of Just War Theory

I’m pleased an announce a special project for Public Ethics Radio. Christian and I, along with the talented producer Barbara Clare, are in the process of producing a special episode on the war in Afghanistan. The roots of this project are simple: we want to understand the war. As any observer can tell you, this isn’t easy.

My own impression, having loosely followed discussion of the war since its inception, is that Afghanistan has not received nearly the same depth of scholarly attention as the war in Iraq. This is understandable—there was a fairly wide consensus in the early years that the war in Afghanistan was just. It was straightforward self-defense against aggression. This consensus on the rightness of the war endured largely throughout the Bush presidency, but has very publicly begun to erode along with the nascence of “Obama’s war.” Clearly Afghanistan is in a very different state today than it was in 2001. But what is this state? Have the goals that were set out at the time of invasion been met? When would it be appropriate to leave Afghanistan, or ought we to have left already? Are the tactics we employ undermining our successes? Should we be trying to create a new, democratic, right-respecting government in Kabul, or should U.S. and NATO soldiers aim simply to hunt down Al Qaeda and the exporters of international terrorism?

These are just a few of the questions that spring to mind when we contemplate Afghanistan. While we slowly piece together what we hope will be an enlightening show on these questions, we’ll be posting a series of discussions of just war theory as it applies to Afghanistan. The first is a look back at 2001 and the initial discussions of jus ad bellum, or the justice of the resort to war. More will follow shortly. We’ll also post round-ups of good reporting and analysis. Stay tuned.


Filed under Analysis, Schedule

2 responses to “Understanding Afghanistan: The Application of Just War Theory

  1. Alan Shanley

    At the outset I felt that it was a “Just War” and thought the subsequent initial efforts by the Allies to reconstruct the country and put it on a democratic path were in accord with Just War theory.

    Now, eight years later, it appears that the Allies are failing, if not failed, in the post war effort. The corruption and the shambolic elections are witnesses to this failure.

    I also wonder whether the application of Just War Theory and its Jus post bellum are an adequate litmus test for assessing the conduct of the allies and if we need a different philosphical approach.

    • Matt

      Thanks for the comment, Alan. I feel the same uncertainty about whether just war theory can adequately describe the war for us. But I also suspect that there simply isn’t enough effort being made to apply the theory that’s out there to the war (or at least not in public). So hopefully we’re going to achieve that latter goal in this project. Our minds are very far from made up.

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