How is postwar justice related to the justice of the war itself and the conduct of its battles? Iraq poses this question in an especially urgent way, but the question would be compelling even without Iraq. It seems clear that you can fight a just war, and fight it justly, and still make a moral mess of the aftermath-by establishing a satellite regime, for example, or by seeking revenge against the citizens of the defeated (aggressor) state, or by failing, after a humanitarian intervention, to help the people you have rescued rebuild their lives. But is the opposite case also possible: to fight an unjust war and then produce a decent postwar political order? That possibility is harder to imagine, since wars of conquest are unjust ad bellum and post bellum, before and after, and so, presumably, are wars of economic aggrandizement. These two are acts of theft-of sovereignty, territory, or resources-and so they end with critically important goods in the wrong hands. But a misguided military intervention or a preventive war fought before its time might nonetheless end with the displacement of a brutal regime and the construction of a decent one. Or a war unjust on both sides might result in a settlement, negotiated or imposed, that is fair to both and makes for a stable peace between them. I doubt that a settlement of this sort would retrospectively justify the war (in the second case, whose war would it justify?), but it might still be just in itself.
If this argument is right, then we need criteria for jus post bellum that are distinct from (though not wholly independent of) those that we use to judge the war and its conduct. We have to be able to argue about aftermaths as if this were a new argument-because, though it often isn’t, it might be. The Iraq War is a case in point: the American debate about whether to fight doesn’t seem particularly relevant to the debate about the occupation: how long to stay, how much to spend, when to begin the transfer of power-and, finally, who should answer these questions. The positions we took before the war don’t determine the positions we take, or should take, on the occupation. Some people who opposed the war demand that we immediately “bring the troops home.” But others argue, rightly, it seems to me, that having fought the war, we are now responsible for the well-being of the Iraqi people; we have to provide the resources-soldiers and dollars-necessary to guarantee their security and begin the political and economic reconstruction of their country. Still others argue that the aftermath of the war has to be managed by international agencies like the UN Security Council-with contributions from many countries that were not part of the war at all. And then the leaders of those countries ask, Why are we responsible for its costs?
Whatever one thinks about these different views, the debate about them requires an account of postwar justice. Democra...
For just $19.95 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + Online
For $35 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our full online archives.