Friday, October 24, 2008


Barack Obama has repeatedly stated that if necessary, the United States will attack inside Pakistan, with or without their permission, to hunt down Afghani insurgents. He advocates the US military taking action against “high value” targets in Pakistan if the Pakistani government is unwilling or unable to assist. This raises a number of issues. It’s no secret that Obama has been under fire from the beginning of his campaign for his inexperience, and lack of foreign policy exposure. This Pakistan position has been seen by some as an attempt by Obama to appear strong and determined on foreign policy issues. Also, unauthorized raids into sovereign nations have numerous tactical and moral implications. Specifically, alienating Pakistan would have both long term and immediate consequences; they are a major non-NATO ally of the US, they are a nuclear state, and they have the sixth largest population in the world. With such a tentative relationship already in place between the two nations, any unauthorized military action by American forces over the Pakistani border could be dangerous.

Recently, Sarah Palin has criticized this very position taken by Barack Obama about cross-border raids into Pakistan. She has pointed out the very same tactical difficulties that may arise from unofficial attacks in Pakistan which have been outlined above. She is correct to rebuke Obama’s stance on Pakistan. However, it was nearly one month ago that Palin responded to a question about cross-border raids by saying, “if that’s what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should.” She did not explicitly refer to raids with or without Pakistan’s permission but it seems that her beliefs include tracking down “high value” terrorists no matter the situation. My point here is not to point out Palin’s seemingly abrupt change of policy, or to say that Palin and Obama agree on Pakistan (who really knows what they believe), my point is that they are both wrong. Any cross-border raid is questionable as it is, but to exercise military power inside the borders of another country without that country’s permission is simply morally wrong.

In 2002, Cardinal Ratzinger famously stated, “concept of a ‘preventive war’ does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” He was responding to the proposed invasion of Iraq not by the United Nations, but by the United States leading a small coalition. Now that the Cardinal is Pope Benedict XVI, I’m sure he would agree that the concept of “unauthorized cross-border raids” also does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catholic doctrine of Just War also admonishes the concept favored by Obama. The tenants of Legitimate Authority, Comparative Justice, and Proportionality seem to be brushed aside by the notion of unauthorized military force. The likelihood of success must also come into play, but I am no tactician who can rightly comment on Probability of Success. Legitimate Authority would include not only the United States government, but also the government of the territory in which the action is taking place. Comparative Justice requires that one injustice must significantly outweigh another. How can that be true here when Pakistani citizens have not sanctioned intervention? Proportionality forces us to weigh the benefits against the expected evils. As detailed above, the expected evils simply on a world wide basis could be dire, not to mention the harm to innocent Pakistani’s.

Invasion of a sovereign nation is difficult to justify. And it is especially difficult if that nation is an ally, and refuses permission to exercise military force. Past military actions aside, if the “war on terror” is taken inside the Pakistani border by the United States without their permission, the ethical repercussion will extend far beyond Central Asia.

1 comment:

Jennifer Draeger said...

First off, I want to thank Tony for highlighting this issue. Recently, I have been focusing a lot on more domestic issues, so this was a really good reminder to be aware of the impact the election may have on a global scale. The post does a really great job of summing up the implications of unauthorized U.S. military activity in Pakistan, especially in light of the Just War Theory. I agree that such an invasion could be a very dangerous move. I guess maybe the next presidential administration could perhaps justify the invasion if they could somehow prove that the threat of Afghani terrorist activity was greater than the threat of what the Pakistani government would do if the U.S. were to invade without their permission. In short, I suppose that one might argue that the terrorists are more of a danger than offended Pakistani leaders. Such justification seems speculative and improbable to me, not to mention it would be a type of the "preventative war" that, as Tony reminds us, the Holy Father has denounced. For those of the Catholic pacifist tradition, such an invasion would of course be unacceptable in any case. Tony's post brings up a lot of vital questions and calls us to consider the impact of the U.S. as a global power. As Uncle Ben says in the movie Spider Man "with great power comes great responsibility." There is no denying that the U.S. has great power. Tony's post challenges us to envision how the U.S. might use that power with great responsibility, especially in light of Catholic social teaching.