Do we have to go to war?
Are we in war against ISIS? Even though there are no official declarations of war made by political leaders around Europe or the U.S., their activities – such as air strikes and intelligence warfare techniques – are all over the newspapers. Now, what seems to be at hand is that we do engage in armed conflict, again, a war.
What is even more puzzling, is that in the public sphere there is no discussion about the different ways of reacting to groups like ISIS or Assad’s regime without falling into rhetoric about the necessity of armed conflict. Be it in the form of intervention or pre-emptive strikes. And when this rhetoric starts stirring the public domain, the available options seem to be either the armed conflict or disengagement from the situation completely.
For example, in “Meet the Press”, an American weekly television show that specializes in interviews with national leaders about their views, one can read of the interviews with current and former presidential candidates. What gets my interest are some of the bold statements by people such as Jeb Bush, younger brother of the former president George Bush and an active presidential candidate until February 2016.
When asked about the conflicts in the Middle East, he makes statements such as: “We have to be in this fight. There is no other option. And this threat can be contained, but more importantly, it’ll never die unless it’s destroyed. The policy of containment isn’t going to work.” These statements are not merely an isolated phenomena which can be followed back to Bush dynasty. Rather, it is possible to recognize such attitude about the inevitability of war as prevalent in the public discourse of American politics. Next to that, the so-called Bush Doctrine has become a synonym for American foreign policy, the set of policies including the employment of pre-emptive strikes in Middle East (remember the intervention in Afghanistan after 11th of September 2001) and strong pursuit of national military interests. If one is to compare the National Security Strategy of the United States under the Bush presidency and that one of Obama, journalists, such as Savage (2015), see only minor departures from this way of policymaking in the work of Obama.
On European soil, in the light of the current massive migration, the public statements of our political figures can also give the impression that the armed conflict is an inevitable course of action. When asked about the strategies to counter ISIS, French minister Manuel Valls says: “As long as the threat is there we must use all means at our disposal”. Although there is no clear declaration of war at hand, the actions can tell us something about the underlying assumptions about the armed conflict.
While it is obvious that the decision makers usually pursue the agreed-upon agendas of foreign policy making, it is important to distinguish that the war as an expensive publicly funded action is never an obligation in itself, but rather a consequence of different deliberative practices and factors.
Finally, in my argument, a state, coalition or alliance must be able to asses each situation which possibly asks for the armed intervention or conflict in a domain specific way. That is, a way that allows careful assessment of all moral (ethics of war and peace) and non-moral (economic incentives, growth strategies) factors, before reaching conclusions about war as the only option. This way, strategies such as development of civil society or disengagement of national interests of greater countries can be considered. It is important to stress out that such strategies do not yield instant results (neither does the shelling) – it might even take generations to resolve the situation at hand. Then again, the situation as we have it today didn’t develop over the course of one night either.