Is IT POSSIBLE, at this stage of the campaign against Slobodan Milosevic, to know with any sureness what our moral reaction to the Nato bombings of Serbia and Montenegro ought to be? A statement issued by Bishop David Konstant on behalf of the Department of International Affairs of the English and Welsh Bishops' Conference adopts a stance of what can only be described as friendly neutrality: having first summed up the case against Milosevic in terms which might have been dictated by Downing Street, the statement continues by saying that "military force which is aimed solely at stopping intolerable aggression against civilians and at restarting negotiations might well be a legitimate, if deeply regrettable, action." It might be: but is it? Bishop Koustant's statement is just about understandable as an exercise in playing for time, but a nation directly involved in waging war is surely entitled to less ambiguous moral guidance from our bishops than this careful exercise in saying nothing.
We need, of course, to have a due sense of our own limitations in making historical judgments about events which are still taking place. We need to remember, too, that the Catholic faith does not necessarily forbid recourse to warlike action. Commenting on the Nato action in Serbia, the Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls perhaps unwisely — invoked the words of Pope Pius XII on August 24, 1939: "Nothing is lost with peace. All can be lost with war". Pius XII was a very great (and currently undeservedly slandered) Pope: but he was wrong to say that nothing would have been lost by preserving the unreal peace within which the monstrous tyranny that had already engulfed three nation states was with impunity preparing to ovemm the rest of Europe.
World War II is now seen. by general consent, as a just war. How convincing is the proposition — advanced by one of our regular columnists on the opposite page, but denied by the other — that the present campaign is itself such a war? The criteria for a just war apply not merely to the intentions of those involved, but to likely outcomes. How many of these tests does the current Nato bombardment satisfy?
In classical just war theory there are several series of questions to answer. St Thomas Acquinas laid down three preliminary tests: 1) The cause must be just; 2) It must be undertaken by legitimate authority; 3) The intention must be right. Here, we can say at the outset that though the first and third conditions may well be satisfied, the second is contentious, to say the very least. The United Nations is the only body generally accepted by the nations of the world as having the right to confer such legitimacy: but it has been with conscious policy bypassed, and its authority thereby massively diminished. This may or may not be defensible. But what cannot be denied is that for Nato, founded as a defensive military pact, to fill the vacuum left by the UN's impotence by redefining itself not only as an offensive alliance but as a selfappointed moral arbiter, is to launch the world into turbid and uncharted seas.
Other important criteria for a just war are that it should be the last resort; that there is a reasonable hope of success; and that there should be a proportionality between the evil produced by the war and the evil hoped to be avoided or the good hoped to be achieved. There should also be an immunity of non-combatants from direct attack.
The first of these tests is probably satisfled: and serious attempts are at least being made to minimise civilian casualties. But by the remaining criteria, it has to be said that the Nato bombardment fails decisively. The unavoidable fact is that there is — and can be — no reasonable hope whatever that "the evil hoped to be avoided and the good hoped to be achieved" will be attained by the means currently being employed by Nato; it may even be that the reverse is being brought about. If one thing is certain, it is that though aerial bombardment may or may not bring about a substantial "degradation" of the capacity to wage full scale war, it has almost no deterrent effect on a government's capacity to repress a subject population; indeed, it may have the opposite result by creating the political conditions necessary to suspend such civil rights for those opposed to government policy as still remain: this is what appears already to be happening not only in Kosovo but throughout Serbia.
The only way a civilian population can be defended is by a successful military occupation of the territory concerned, but that has been ruled out in advance. There will be no deployment of land forces; therefore Slobodan Milosevic will continue to repress the Albanian Kosovans.
No coherent justification has been offered for the campaign actually being waged. There is, instead, a disquieting tendency to proffer empty rhetoric, in the place of clear and attainable war aims. Churchill used rhetoric as a means of screwing his people's courage to the sticking place — but this was a means to a clearly defined end: the unconditional surrender of the Gemian state. How will we know whether the Nato campaign has succeeded, if we do not know precisely what it is aiming to achieve? There is an alarming feeling abroad that the governments involved are making up policy on the hoof, that they are dropping bombs in order to see what will happen. But the question remains: if Slobodan Milosevic simply hangs on to power (as he almost certainly will), what happens to his victims then, when the bombing has to stop?