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Professors discuss consequences of war

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, September 2, 2009

In front of a packed auditorium in the Hesburgh Center on Tuesday evening, David Cortright, director of Policy Studies at the Kroc Institute, and Notre Dame Law Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell examined the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan in a discussion titled “Is Afghanistan a ‘Good War?'”

Cortright and O’Connell began the event with an overview of issues related to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan and answered questions at the end of the evening.

Cortright questioned the means by which U.S. objectives are being carried through in the two countries, specifically addressing Just War theory.

“If we consider the mission in Afghanistan, I would say that it must be judged a worthy and just cause,” Cortright said. “The question, however, is not about the objectives of the mission. It is about the means of their execution. Are our objectives able to be served through military means?”

“I would argue that war is an inappropriate means of countering Al Qaeda,” Cortright said, citing a study that claims sheer military force eliminates terrorist organizations seven percent of the time, while state policing and political negotiations towards terrorist organizations achieve vastly higher rates of success.

“War against non-state terrorist organizations also has many harmful and detrimental consequences,” Cortright said.

“The presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a principal factor motivating armed resistance and insurgency,” he said.

Professor O’Connell continued the discussion, speaking about U.S. use of drones against potential Taliban targets in Afghan and Pakistani mountainous tribal regions. Drones are unmanned aircraft that are used for various purposes, including airstrike.

O’Connell cited a personal study that found that drones caused far more civilian casualties than high-profile kills. The study claimed that 700 civilians had been killed by air strikes so far, while only 12 Taliban or Al Qaeda commanders had been killed.

“That is a kill ratio of 58:1,” O’Connell said. “If that is not disproportionate killing, I don’t know what is.” The study only took officer casualties into account, and not regular militant deaths, she said.

“Drone attacks are proving counterproductive to the military objective of suppressing militancy and terrorism. The strikes have been to date wildly disproportionate in respect to civilian lives lost,” she said.

“We are failing with respect to the fundamental principles of international law, and with those principles our practical chances of success and most importantly our successful compliance with our most cherished moral principles,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell’s commentary was not based on the Just War theory, but of current international law, her academic specialty.

“The international law on the use of force, both the rules respecting the resort to force and its conduct … grew out of the Just War teaching of Augustine, Aquinas, and Grotius,” she said.

O’Connell said our military must be cautious in their efforts so as not to destroy innocent civilian lives.

“You may only use that force which can accomplish the military objective, and only in such a manner that does not cause disproportionate loss of life or destruction of civilian property,” O’Connell said, citing international law.