Libya & Just War Theory: Is this intervention moral? THE VIOLENCE: Libyan refugees arriving at the Libya–Tunisia border, fleeing the violence unleashed by Gaddafi. Said one, “We were in horror and panic these last few days in Libya; something that made us rush to escape.” Pro-democracy activists across the Arab world upload photographs like this into global photo-sharing websites, in this case Wikimedia Commons. SEA (March 19, 2011) The guided-missile destroyer USS Barry launches a Tomahawk missile toward Libya. This was one of approximately 110 cruise missiles fired from U.S. and British ships and submarines that targeted about 20 radar and anti-aircraft sites along Libya’s Mediterranean coast. The U.S. Navy shares this photo through Wikimedia Commons.The U.S. is now involved in a third conflict in the Middle East, joining France, Italy, Canada, Great Britain, Spain, Belgium, and Denmark in military action to establish a no-fly zone in Libya. An Arab nation—Qatar—will soon join the military effort.
What makes for a “just” intervention?

“Just War” criteria were discussed in a recent interview on PBS with ethicist Shaun Casey of the Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. Here are a few of the points Casey raised:

  • Is there a “just cause”—a moral cause—for the intervention? A just cause would include war crimes, genocide, or other grave and serious injustices on a large scale.
  • Who should authorize an intervention? Casey said that the UN Security Council would be the best kind of authority. Days after his remarks, the UN voted to authorize military intervention.
  • Is there a reasonable chance of success? This involves the effectiveness of the actions to be taken and the capacity to undertake them. Critics of the no-fly zone that has been established say that it won’t stop Gaddafi’s efforts.
  • Who should take military action? We now have the answer to this question—a coalition of forces.
  • Casey also points out that not taking action when there is a just cause and we have the ability to act means “moral culpability as a result.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church imposes four strict conditions for a Just War. Two of these are covered in the excerpts of Casey’s comments that are available online. Two other conditions bear consideration:

  • Did we exhaust all other means of ending the grave and serious injustices?
  • And, is the cure worse than the affliction? 

Today, please tell us in your Comments:

1.) Is this a “just” intervention?

2.) Do you support the intervention?

3.) What do you think of America’s involvement in it?

(Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.)

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