At first blush, NATO’s military actions in Libya look and sound like Exhibit A of a just war: 1) it aims to protect innocent people, and 2) with proportionate means. If NATO’s actions do not escalate beyond that, it would be an historical exception. It may also be a step in the development of a global strategy of policing against genocide. These are some of the arguments that justify the current NATO action by just war standards, some of them, at least. For this is not 3) a defensive war carried out on our own territory. Nor is there 4) a near guarantee of success.
But no one in NATO or Washington seems to be calling this a “war.” Its a “kinetic action.” And that is only one mystery, hinting at dishonesty and self-delusion, among others in this war. Mystery surrounds the roots of this war as darkly as it does the outcome, if wars can be said to have outcomes. More often, they are flare-ups of enduring conflicts over resources, security, territory and status, such as the Western European war that we can trace from before the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 through World War II, or the war from the Korean War through the civil wars of Africa, Asia and Latin America, as expressions of the Cold War.
But war it is, however limited the aims or the means. And like most wars, there was violence before the shooting began, violence, at least, of a political, economic and social manner. Libya has long had its own share of inter-tribal violence, in the forms of blood feuds, revenge-and-honor-killings and favoritism for the spoils of government and oil. How much tribalism fits in to either the rebellion or Qadafi’s reactions is hard to say, but the current military stalemate between eastern and western Libya, and the differing levels of support for the rebellion in each side of the country, would tend to point in that direction.
Then there is Qadafi’s violent enmeshment in global structures of violence. Qadafi has long been a bad neighbor, in addition to being a bad ruler, most notably by his likely bombing of the Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland. But he was also implicit in other conflicts, such as the civil wars in Chad and Liberia. Which leads some to suspect that there is an element of “payback” in NATO’s recent “kinetic action.” But for such crimes there are economic and political sanctions, which have only been applied in a chaotic on-again/off-again fashion against Qadafi over the years. I take the humanitarian concern of NATO governments and our president, expressed for oppressed and endangered Libyans, at face value and honor it. But until recently, the world seems to have been more interested in Libya’s oil than in Libya’s people.
The bigger picture of the current Libyan conflict is that NATO air strikes are destroying NATO heavy weapons that NATO countries (Italy, France, Germany, etc.) sold to Libya, purchased with money from the sale of Libyan oil to NATO countries that was stockpiled in NATO member-nation banks. Given that this money and these weapons allowed Qadafi to misrule his nation with impunity, was that not a form of violence that made Qadafi’s own violence against his people possible, and NATO’s violence nearly inevitable?
My nation is the world’s largest arms merchant as well as the world’s largest consumer of oil. That is not a recipe for a happy outcome, nor is it sustainable. How many other wars and “actions” are brewing, and soon to explode onto the scene, under similar causes and circumstances?
Once a dictator like Qadafi starts bombing, shooting and strafing his own people, and threatens to show them no mercy, pacifists and peacemakers like myself must not pretend that the world is not faced with a dilemma, fraught with unintended consequences, whatever our actions, or non-actions. But those who make the calls and push the buttons for war must not pretend that there are no dilemmas, nor any risk of unintended consequences, either, despite the typical militaristic sloganeering. A simple review of history shows that any war, any day, is rooted in the military solutions, or victories, of previous years. Somebody then needs to raise the difficult questions and bear prophetic witness about where and how we are sowing the ground for more military violence by means of economic and political violence, as was the case with Libya. Generals, presidents, arms merchants and manufacturers don’t tend to do that. Someone must do it for them, and before them, even when it requires the kind of courage and exacts the kinds of costs associated with soldiering. For it is that, another kind of soldiering, that is called for—one done with bread, not bombs, on our knees in prayer, not on the march with guns, with acts and words of love, not weapons of hate. And somebody needs to push ahead the art, science and wisdom of peace-keeping to at least the same degree that we have so madly developed the art and science of war-making. That somebody is the church of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Lets not let the brutality of Qadafi, nor the boosterism of our governments and military establishments, push us off that costly higher calling.
Pastor Mathew Swora