Wotton’s Society Professor Nigel Biggar (Oxford University) – ‘Was Iraq a Just War?’

Professor Biggar started by explaining how the just war argument had emerged out of fourth- century Christian thought. For Augustine, force was necessary to preserve the social order, but needed to be restrained as violence can easily become intoxicating. Having set out the Just War criteria (Ius ad bellum – just cause, legitimate authority, proportionality, last resort, right intention and a reasonable prospect of success; Ius in bello – proportionality and discrimination; and Ius post bellum, which involves having what is required to secure peace), he discussed the flaws of warfare and, with reference to the Second World War, argued that there can never be a war which is beyond controversy.

He then went on to argue that the imperfections of the Iraq war did not render the whole enterprise unjust. Firstly, he pointed out that, whilst the war may have been illegal, this does not render it immoral. The failures to restore order were mitigated by the fact that steps were taken to correct them and so did not constitute a determining factor. There were too many civilian casualties, but many of these were caused by native uprisings and the brutality of terrorist groups. The forces of America and her allies were not seen as morally responsible for these as he rejected the utilitarian view that the agent is equally responsible for all the consequences of an action. The Abu Ghraib human rights violation was certainly an unjust moment of the war but was stopped as soon as it became known. So these factors fail to be sufficiently morally reprehensible to cause the whole war to be judged as illicit.

He then stated that the essential issues were whether the war had a just cause and was a last resort. It was suggested that, from a Christian perspective, just intent constitutes love or care for neighbours. He argued that such intent could be seen in wanting to bring an end to and right the wrong of Saddam Hussein’s murder of at least 400,000 civilians, which was referred to as a state atrocity. The regime’s possession of or plan to construct WMDs was a secondary issue and meant that there was an urgent need for action given that such possession would make the country immune to interference in the future and these WMDs could have been supplied to terrorists. So the war can be seen as satisfying the key criteria of being just. He maintained, with reference to expert opinion at the time, that the only other option of containment was not viable in the long term and so concluded that removal of the regime by force was the last resort. He finished by affirming that as the Western forces had the capacity to remove the ‘persistently atrocious regime’, they had a moral responsibility to do so.

His talk stimulated an engaging discussion on matters such as to what extent the criteria could be broken, Blair’s motives and whether the UN has a moral imperative to invade Libya considering the state atrocities of Gaddafi.

Will Ryle-Hodges OS (RGGP)