To What Extent Was the War in Afghanistan a Just War?

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On October 7, 2001, the United States and its British ally initiated Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and attacked Taliban and al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan. The war had the backing of most just war theorists those who believe that wars must meet certain criteria before they can be deemed just. This essay will discuss various aspects of the causes and conduct of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how they fit into established ethics of war in Western traditions. First, this analysis will deal with the justifications to go to war (jus ad bellum). While second, it will focus on the conduct of war (jus in bello). The analysis is divided further into the reasons behind the decision to wage war and the chief ideas of the conduct of warfare that will be examined both by the validations given and the individual ideologies of the ethics of war.

A military response, to the attack on the United States on the 11th of September was justified in terms of self-defence. In modern interpretations of just war theory there are two legitimate reasons for aggressive war: ‘self defence against an aggressor and humanitarian intervention against a sovereign state in response to acts that shock the moral conscience of mankind’. Evidently, if the US singled out Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda as its targets, it would have run up against the widely held view that terrorist attacks, in and of themselves, do not justify military responses against sovereign states. Subsequently, in order to maintain the coalition against terrorism and establish a ‘just cause’ for OEF, the US adopted a two-pronged legal strategy. It began by expanding its focus to include the Taliban. By giving refuge to Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda and refusing to hand him over, the Taliban were alleged to have directly facilitated and endorsed his acts. The US in this way broadened the claim of self-defence to include the state of Afghanistan. Thus, the Taliban regime assumed responsibility for the armed attack against the United States and opened the way to the exercise of forcible US response in self-defence. It needs to be noted that the US can also be seen to have satisfied the jus in bellum criteria for a ‘legitimate authority’. Under article 42 of the UN Charter, the UN Security Council has become the sole legitimate authority for authorising the use of armed force ‘to maintain or restore international peace and security’ and several legal commentators have argued that it authorized the United States to go to war against al Qaeda and the Taliban by pointing to two resolutions unanimously adopted by the Council in the aftermath of 9/11:Resolution 1368 of September 12, 2001, and Resolution 1373 of September 28, 2001. However, others have argued that a close reading of the resolutions, and a comparison of these resolutions with an earlier resolution, shows that they did not authorize war. Nevertheless, it has further been argued that there was an implicit authorization following from the references to the inherent right of self-defence and the lack of notable opposition from any government to United States actions in Afghanistan. Additionally, the secretary general of NATO, declared that ‘the evidence linking Al Qaeda to September 11 provided the factual basis 5 for invoking Article 5 of the Washington Treaty’. Evidently whilst they may not have explicitly authorized it, it can be argued that Operation Enduing Freedom received some legitimate authority from both NATO and UN Security Council. Further, the criteria of ‘last resort’ cannot be ignored, particularly seeing as though OEF commenced merely four weeks after the attacks of September 11. The criterion of last resort requires that reasonable measures be taken to seek the achievement of the just cause of the war through non-violent means as ‘war can be morally legitimate only when a state has made every effort through measures short of war to seek to redress the evil’. It has been argued that since the US...
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