Follow up on Proportionality in Asymmetrical War

Nagarjuna excerpts a nice line from a piece in The Economist and then comments on it (quoting a piece from my earlier post on the subject).

The Economist graf that he quotes is the following:

A country must first have exhausted all other means of defending itself. The attack should be proportionate to the objective. And it must stand a reasonable chance of achieving its goal. On all three of these tests Israel is on shakier ground than it cares to admit.

N’juna then quotes my passage relative to #2 (proportionality).  He asks this question:

I’m inclined to agree with Dierkes that we cannot reasonably apply the concept of proportionality to the situation at hand and to other instances of asymmetric warfare. So, what do we do instead? Use only tests 1 and 2. or add a new test to the mix?

I think he means should we use only tests 1 and 3 (since I’ve argued against relevance to #2).  I feel I have even badder news on this front ‘cuz I’m not sure 1 and 3 are totally relevant either.

Number 1: Country must have first exhausted all other means.

–If that principle holds, then certainly the Israelis are open to criticism given that they never accepted the Hamas election in 2006 and immediately set about trying to wrest them from power (I argued against that policy at the time, but too late for that).

–The principle (#1) assumes that a country can not live with a certain degree of violence intruding upon it.  While this is a crazy proposition, I’ll put it out there.  Maybe the best form of defense is too admit there is no ability to end all such violence and ask what the best amounts of violence are?  i.e. To create resiliency. . I realize this is insane and suicidal politically speaking.  What I mean is even having exhausted all means other means, one might still not go to war on the presumption that the violence is inevitable and will only cause more blowback than the current low-grade level of violence already intruding.  Easy to say in the abstract for Israel to be sure.  But I still think it might be right.

#2 I already covered.  I’ll only add that the proportionality is relative to the objective.  But the objective itself has to be open to some kind of normative critique.  Which are proper and which improper objectives?  This question I think directly leads to….

#3, reasonable chance of success

This one again comes up against the same question of 4th Generation War.  Asymmetry.  Irregular forces.  Proxy or Low-Intensity conflict.  Whatever term you prefer.  A reasonable chance of success typically assumes armies fighting armies.  What does a reasonable chance of success look like relative to Israel-Gaza.  Depends on what success is defined as–which even the Israelis have realized they can’t make public since they themselves have basically no clue.

The Israelis on the military side (“the war” side if you like, or first round of war anyway) have more than a reasonable chance of successs.  They have a guaranteed one.  The whole point is to bait them into a ground invasion anyway.  On the political (“peace”) side–which is the real endgame–I see no way they have any reasonable or even unreasonable (i.e. highly unlikely but still small percentage) of achieving success.  Hamas is embedded in civil society.  Either you may support the hardline factions of Hamas, end up with something worse than Hamas, or worse both simultaneously.  When the strong fight the weak, the strong are weakened.  Winning battles loses wars in this fight.

It’s a Chinese finger trap.  For the Israelis to win the peace, they have to reconnect Gaza to the outside world.  Exactly the opposite of what they have been trying to do with the blockade, shutting out bandwith (so no nasty photos of the civilians they’ve killed get out onto YouTube), cutting off escape routes into Egypt, etc.  So doing however would also empower those on the black weapons market (which is undoubtedly getting through anyway).  The Egyptians can’t stop it.  The Israelis can’t.  Nobody can.  Also, any attempt to rebuild Gaza (“win the peace”) would require the Israelis to have a political mediator on the Gaza side.  But any group the Israelis try to “putsch” through (i.e. Fatah returned to power in Gaza) will inherently be de-legitimized.  So the Israelis can’t rebuild civil society, hence they are only seen as targeting it, targeting civilians (in the eyes of Gaza and much of the Arab Street).  So they can’t (re)build the place, hence they see everything as a military problem with an attending military solution, which only furthers this downward cycle.  The more they struggle to resist, the more become entrapped in the device.

In that scenario, I’m simply don’t know if any of the classic just war principles are particularly relevant anymore.  I don’t look on that point btw as a good thing; frankly it scares the bejesus out of me.  I also struggle with Nagarjuna’s question:  If not this, then what?  Short answer: I’m not really sure.

Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 9:25 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Peace between israel and gaza ! The Peace can win !

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