There being five minutes to spare after the end of the test on Friday, I decided to have a plenary session, asking questions of students around the class.
The previous lesson in the series on ethical issues we had looked at Just War theory, asking the question of what conditions needed to be met for a war to be considered “just.” It seemed simplest to return to what was most recent in their exercise books (and, hopefully, in their minds), and to try to apply it to an example.
Talking about the rising tension between the United States and Iran, I asked what the idea of a “just war” would require of any action that was contemplated. The concept of action being initiated by a lawful authority, in this case the United Nations, was mentioned. Then there was the suggestion that the violence used must be proportional to the end being sought. Another student added that there should be the avoidance of the unnecessary loss of civilian lives.
Then one student raised his hand. “Why stick to just war ideas, sir? It’s theory. If a country breaks it, who is going to do anything about them? If the United States decided to wipe out Iran, who is going to stop them? Who could do anything about it?”
My colleague who had been sat at the back peacefully marking test papers, looked up. “What about the millions of innocent civilians who have no part in the conflict?”
The objection was almost a postscript to the student’s words. It would be a question that would be asked by those who have come to the realisation that hopes of a “just” conflict rest on a very fragile foundation.
The Post-War settlement that saw the emergence of the United Nations as an international overseer has been slowly fading. Countries no longer feel bound by ideas from seventy years ago.
Once there was a sense of obligation to adhere to the rules set by the United Nations. The years of George W. Bush and Tony Blair saw an attitude that said the United Nations could be ignored when it was convenient: if we want to invade Iraq, we shall do so. So it is now that the UN has been increasingly marginalised, its influence has been diminished.
The student was right. The present age is one in which might is right. If there is a massive air strike against Iran, who is there who could punish them for it?