July 19, 2007

Zimbabwe is a disaster area, ruled by a Marxist dictator whose murderous tendencies make Saddam Hussein look like a saint.  The massacres of the early years of Robert Mugabe’s rule may soon look like a mere warm-up compared with the mass starvation descending on the former Rhodesia.  If ever there were an argument for the justice of a preemptive war, surely this would be it.

But it’s not.

My old friend Fr. Rob Johansen raised the question on his blog, Thrown Back.  Fr. Rob hasn’t yet offered his answer, but he points to statements made by Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube, who, along with his brother bishops in Zimbabwe, has spoken out courageously against Mugabe’s reign of terror.  On July 1, Archbishop Ncube told the Sunday Times of London that he thought that a British invasion of Zimbabwe, with the intention of deposing Mugabe, would be justified.

I can understand his sense of desperation; I can sympathize with a man who may very well end his life as a martyr.  But Archbishop Ncube is wrong.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums up the four conditions for a just war as follows:

  1. the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  2. all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  3. there must be serious prospects of success;
  4. the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

Even though the conditions are cumulative, let’s work backward.  Conditions 4 and 3 seem no-brainers: It’s hard to imagine things being worse in Zimbabwe after the deposition of Mugabe (unlike, say, in Iraq, where anyone with any historical sense knew that conditions would likely be worse after the removal of Hussein), and it’s next to impossible to imagine Mugabe repelling even the British.  We could argue about condition 2; Pope John Paul II clearly believed that condition was very hard to meet in any case that didn’t involve a direct attack of an aggressor.

Which takes us back to condition 1.  Isn’t the damage Mugabe is inflicting on his nation “lasting, grave, and certain”?  Absolutely.  But that doesn’t matter, because the nation under consideration is not his own.  If the question is the justice of an invasion by Britain, then the nation under consideration is the British one.

Despite all of the efforts by such men as Michael Novak and George Weigel to try to redefine just-war theory to allow for preemptive war, the Catechism is clear.  Introducing the four conditions, the Catechism states (p. 2309): “The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration.”  The italics are there in the original, which means that the point could not be more certain: Nations can consider waging war only in defense.

Mugabe’s Zimbabwe does not even begin to represent a threat to Britain.  The very first condition for just war, therefore, cannot be met.

Now, tyrannicide?  That may be justifiable.  But, as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith emphatically declared in September 2002, “the concept of preemptive war does not appear in the catechism.”

I doubt that he’s changed his mind, now that he’s become Pope.


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