Cadet 4/c Tony Gregg

United States Coast Guard Academy


Pre-emptive War



Lasting Peace

Just War Theory prohibits us from pre-emptive strike.  We are not morally justified in waging war to prevent the future aggression of another nation.  War as a possibility is to be preferred over certain war. However, once nations become engaged in war each is afforded the right to defend itself according to the rules of Just War as defined by Aquinas.  A nation should be obligated to ensure that opposing nations are unwilling to and or incapable of waging a future war.[1]  To conclude  war with the potential for further conflict in the balance antithetical to the principle concern of the Just War Theory: a lasting Peace. The actions of the winning  nation must  respect the sovereignty of  and  accept responsibility  for provide aid to the losing nation(s). 

            With the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine in mind this paper will focus on three wars in which nations failed to establish a lasting peace and the consequences that followed as a result of that failure.  We can then evaluate our actions to ensure we do not repeat the same fatal mistakes again in our attempts to establish a lasting peace in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Jerusalem.   At the close of WWI allied forces enforced strict reparations on Germany, so strict that in a short 20 years Germany was ready to go to war to escape the strains they caused.  In 1950 the United States came to the aid of South Korea after North Korea’s attempt to reunite the peninsula under a single communist government.  That conflict ended when both sides withdrew in a stalemate.  Lastly, the United States is currently engaged in a war that could have concluded 10 years ago in the sands of Iraq, but because the regimen of sanctions failed to pacify Iraq, America and its allies are engaged in Operation Iraqi Freedom today.  In each case, the initial conflict was a just war[2], but the actions of the belligerents at the end of the war prove unjust.

            At the end of World War I, the Allies defeated the Germans, though no country could claim a decisive victory because no country gained much ground.  Convinced that they would prevent future aggression from Germany the Allies imposed strict sanctions on Germany.  The result, however, was quite the opposite.  Germany was left with a strong desire for retribution, but without the immediate means to achieve it.  Adolph Hitler was able to prepare Germany for war within two decades time.  Because of the reparations imposed by the Allies were so extreme the only result of the armistice was a break for Germany to rebuild its army.  During that break Germans reflected on how humiliated they were by the Allies’ treatment of Germany at the conclusion of the war. 

Historically, some of the world’s greatest men have risen from times of national depression.  Germany’s phoenix came through not a great man but one of the world’s most inspirational leaders.  Hitler promised Germany what the Allies had taken away: her pride.  By imposing harsh reparations the Allies set the stage for Hitler to lead an angry and humiliated Germany.   Germany felt it had been wronged and now sought retribution.

              It is not merely enough to destroy a countries ability to wage war, because that can be rebuilt.  If a country is left without desire to wage war then its ability to do so is unimportant.    Allied forces at the close of World War I made the mistake of imposing unjust reparations on Germany.  They are unjust because the reparations rekindled Germany’s desire to wage war, and therefore prevented a lasting peace.

            How then should the Allies have dealt with Germany following the Armistice?  The balance between desire and means to wage war determine the duration of peace.  The two must be balanced; if the means are destroyed desire will rebuild them.  To be absolutely assured of peace a nation could extinguish both means and desire. This extreme is not ethically sound because it would involve the destruction of a people. Destroying both means and desire would require complete annihilation of a county, its resources and its people.  We are left with one option: extinguish a nations desire to wage war. 

A winning nation must not impose unjust sanctions that infringe on the losing nations sovereignty and must also accept the responsibility for rebuilding the losing nation so that it can function economically, defend itself, and rule itself.  Action cannot be taken to demean or further complicate the lives of civilians in losing nations.  To do so is to damage an already fragile nation.  By contrasting the actions the Allies took after WWI and WWII and the overall results of both wars one can evaluate the effectiveness of each.  WWI ended with heavy reparations for Germany to pay and as a result WWII followed in a mere two decades.  By contrast, the Allies implemented the Marshall Plan after WWII and rebuilt Germany. The Allies provided not only for Germany’s immediate needs but also her long-term growth.  The difference is clear; a losing nation is already burdened by the destruction of its industry and loss of massive portions of its workforce.  Forcing that nation to pay for the victor’s costs as well only deepens the problem.  Since wars are in part fought over poor conditions we are to expect that no country would tolerate such conditions.  Reconstruction of such nations must therefore not interfere with that nation’s sovereignty and it must be beneficial to the civilians of the losing nation.

In 1950, the United States came to the aid of South Korea as North Korea sought to unify both under a single communist government.  In the beginning the United States was confidant having experienced early successes, however as the conflict continued the war became a stalemate.  Though the US never completely withdrew its troops a ceasefire agreement was signed that ended the war..  While there has not been a recurring conflict in Korea the potential is extremely high.  North Korea is still viewed by the United States to be a hostile aggressor nation as it maintains its course to acquire and store nuclear weapons in violation to armistice agreements.  We cannot consider our ceasefire in Korea as an effective course of action because no gain was made toward peace.  The height of our effectiveness was the Demilitarized Zone, and it was not a peaceful solution by any means.  The need for such action as the DMZ is proof enough that there was no basis of establishing peace.  The DMZ was a mined strip of land intended to separate two aggressing forces; in essence it was a barrier to prevent fighting.  Peace is not achieved when nations are merely forced to cease fire. 


The third example of a failure to establish of lasting peace is the Persian Gulf War and the subsequent war in Iraq began in 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom. George H. W. Bush, the President of the United States in 1991, made several moral deliberations when considering US involvement in the war with Iraq. The UN Coalition gave Hussein an ultimatum to abandon Kuwait immediately in March 1990[3].  Hussein gave no response nor did he comply and the UN subsequently met and issued UNSCR 678 authorizing participating countries in the UN to use all necessary force in enforcing UNSCR 660[4].   Bush’s struggle was to assess what rights the United States had to defend Kuwait and invade Iraq if Hussein did not comply with the UN’s command.  According to the UN the United States was justified in coming to the aid of Kuwait but made no distinction about what necessary force entailed.

The consensus among coalition forces and the United States was two fold and while it can be argued that its results were favorable to the US the overall objective was Kuwait’s protection and stability.  First, the objective would be to weaken Hussein's military forces especially his air units prior to the assault on forces already in Kuwait[5].  Second was to push the already weakened invasion force out of Kuwait[6].    While no one can be certain of President Bush’s desire or that of coalition forces we will assume for the sake of this argument that because the greater objective and focus of military operations was on Kuwait’s fate that US and coalition forces acted justly according to Lackey’s rules of Just war. 

The second of President Bush’s concerns was to what extent the United States could invade Iraqi territory without violation of either UN Mandate of the rules of just war.  Now it is time to consider in what condition to leave Iraq militarily at the conclusion of the war.  President Bush  believed it in the best interest of coalition forces:

To reduce Hussein’s military might so that he would no longer pose a threat to the region, yet to do so in such a way that Iraq was secure from external threats and the balance with Iran was preserved[7].


This was a sound objective but at what point does Iraq cease to be a threat.  The Bush administration defined the elite Republican Guard as its primary target for weakening Saddam Hussein’s power throughout the region, believing that without his loyalist divisions the rest of Hussein’s military power would slip away[8].  While these decisions seem justly based the key decision to success in Iraq according to Bush had not yet been decided.  Was he justified in targeting Hussein himself, and ordering US forces to capture the dictator of Iraq?  

            Can a nation topple a dictator in order to preserve peace?  Bush did not believe that the United States was authorized by the UN to topple Hussein and called off US advancement just miles short of the capital and the capture of Hussein.  The result was that in just over 10 years time Americans found themselves back in the deserts of Iraq fighting a war reminiscent of the Persian Gulf War.  Bush acted according to the Just War Theory’s doctrine of Just Cause as laid out by Aquinas.  If that decision directly caused a subsequent conflict then the decision to leave Hussein in place directly conflicts with the prime directive of Aquinas’ theory of establishing a lasting peace.  Both answers cannot be right.  I assert that according to Brandt’s utilitarian approach to war and Aquinas’ belief that a lasting peace is to be desired above all else President Bush would have been justified to end the rule of Hussein in Iraq.  Because this action was not taken in 1991 the Gulf War was waged again just after a decadeprematurely ending the fighting is clearly not in keeping with the spirit of Just War Theory.    

            The current President Bush relied on the United Nations Security Resolutions from 1991 to present as justification for war with Iraq.  Namely UNSCR 678, which “authorizes UN member states to use all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 and all subsequent resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area.”  One of those subsequent resolutions, UNSCR 687, called the establishment of the

United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) to verify the elimination of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs and mandated that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verify the elimination of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. (UNSCR 687) 


Hussein did not allow these inspections to occur.  To Hussein this was a challenge to the sovereignty of Iraq and as such was excessive.  Because of the sovereignty of the situation the UN felt that these inspections were pertinent to the safety of the Middle East as a whole. 

How then can the UN create lasting peace when actions that limit sovereignty are necessary to the safety of a region?  The UN must consider other reasons for the continued violence in Iraq; the United States along with original members of the coalition forces, first and foremost the British deemed that Hussein  was the reason.  Hussein was considered to be the obstacle to a lasting peace in Iraq, and with his position of power posed a greater risk to peace than the decision to remove him from power.  It was inevitably more just to remove him from power than allow him to remain and cause harm to the people of the region.  Now that Operation Iraqi Freedom has commenced and Hussein arrested the United States and its allies are re-evaluating there initial strategy in Iraq in 1991.  In an effort not to make the same mistakes the United States and its allies are rebuilding Iraq,  offering everything from food and medical supplies to helping the Iraqi people establish a new form of government.  Because the rebuilding phase is still underway in Iraq no one is certain that it will mean a lasting peace, but for now it is a step in the right direction.

            While there is no certainty of overall success, Iraq is recognizing democratic elections town by town.  In the Province of Dhi Qar alone, Iraqi citizens have elected city councils in more than three fourths of its cities.[9]  Tobi Bradley, an American assisting in these elections recognizes that it is not a perfect system, but has been more successful than he had hoped it would be.[10]  These elections have not only established requirements of the candidates, but also requirements of the voters.  Though the country has not seen full scale democratic elections it is clear from provinces such as Dhi Qar that efforts made by the United States are effective and the approach taken in Operation Iraqi Freedom has had a far more positive and lasting impact than that of Operation Desert Storm.  With success in sight in Iraq we can look to it as a model for future conflicts of its nature.  While no two wars are identical they often share similar difficulties in establishing peace.


The conflict in Israel is unique.  When two nations or groups are fighting for some definite object, like land, both cannot be satisfied, because of the simple fact that they cannot both have it to themselves.  This is the case between Israel and the Palestinians who are both fighting over the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Jerusalem.  Palestine has legal rights to parts of the land in dispute as a result from the UN’s partition of the land in 1947.[11]  Israel claims the land of Israel in its entirety as God’s Promised Land to the Jews and refuses to acknowledge the UN separation in The Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem.  While both  parties  have appealed to the United Nations the UN has been unable to settle the dispute because  each have a legitimate claim to what was once both their homes I would argue that the defeat of one side would never result in lasting peace unless both countries are allowed to occupy the disputed lands. The UN  called for  the first cease fire through UN resolution 181 in 1947, which also called for the separation of the disputed lands into equal halves[12].   Subsequently the UN has been unable to reach middle ground for either side because Israel is still unwilling to give it up and Palestinians still want the land granted to them from resolution 181.   As established earlier it would not be morally right to annihilate one nation in order that the other could enjoy a lasting peace, but if neither side can win without ending the opponent’s desire to extend the conflict then war becomes infinite.  The only way for a lasting  peace between both nations is for  both nations to conclude that neither can be the sole occupant of Israel.  They must also recognize that both nations must also agree that there exists some point where the land is not worth infinite war.  A home cannot be a war zone forever and soon will become  a place where no one can live.  Ultimately both nations must conclude to co exist; if not the Middle East will never recognize a lasting peace. 

What can we as a spectator nation do to aid in settling this dispute?  By applying the lessons of each of the examples we have examined, we might find a solution to the ongoing conflict.  While no one historical example provides the complete picture, each offers a portion of a possible solution.  By applying what the United States has learned in its short history of war we can begin to devise a course of action  toward resolution.  In the past the United States has shown its ability to intercede and act as a police force.  Better known tactics include the DMZ in Korea, assistance in reconstructing foreign governments, and after war sanctions.

 Its most common role at the conclusions of such wars is its involvement in after war sanctions.  Even before the creation of the UN the United States sanctioned Germany at the conclusion of WWI and since then has taken an active role in the UN to do the same.  In the case of the Middle East, however, sanctions have failed.  On both sides of the issue each country has established a trend towards ignoring those sanctions not made in its favor.  Whether it is because the UN has failed to reach middle ground or because neither side is willing to compromise no one can be certain, but it is certain that current attempts to intervene by way on UN mandate have failed. 

Another process that the United States has endorsed is governmental re-establishment. Up until his recent death Arafat was believed by some to be an obstacle to peace in the region.  While his removal may have been a consideration at some point the usefulness of such action was voided by his recent passing. Now the question arises “Will his death have an impact on the progress towards peace, and if so how should the United States react,” and “What steps should the United States take to ascertain whether it will have an impact at all?”  The United States will have to wait and see who the Palestinian people elect as there new leader.  With recent successes in Iraq the United States maybe able to consider making an influence on those elections in the interest of a peaceful resolution, however, it could not be the United States alone, it must be a coalition effort as described below.

            Not unprecedented would be the establishment of a DMZ much like in Korea, where a neutral force would serve as policing partition.  While this might establish a cease fire between the two nations there would be no guarantee that either side would be excepting of the proposal.  If such action was forced onto both nations the desire to wage war would not be eliminated in fact it would be multiplied.  Animosity toward such a neutral force would not take long o turn into violence and effectively end any peace. Similarly to a DMZ is Israel’s current attempt to enclose its settlements behind a wall in attempts to protect itself from Palestinians.  The effectiveness of such a barrier would only exist militarily.  While it provides Israelis with a line of defense it makes no effort in establishing peace.  In fact this wall will serve to anger Palestinians.  Further more if the placement of the wall is not agreed on then the Palestinians will view its construction as trespassing and as such an act of war. 

I can cite no war in history in which two nations have come into conflict over the same thing and both nations survived the war.  Our efforts in solving this conflict could well be the largest contribution to establishing peace.  The above actions alone either are or where at sometime ineffective in establishing peace in Israel. 

 The extent of our military involvement should be in peacekeeping.  While none of the actions above seem to be flawless solutions they do have their own merits.  By combining previous policies of policing we can derive a new course of action. While barriers are by no means a permanent solution it would be effective to bring a break in the fighting for diplomacy.  Negotiations are more reasonable when the fighting outside has stopped, in addition both nations would be forced to meet or deal with a coalition police force.  While the nature of these negotiations is forced the outcomes must be left up to Israel and Palestine.  Our efforts to force a solution, as seen in UN resolutions, have failed, but a forced sit down between both nations in which agreements are made by Israel and Palestine and not mandated from an outside party may prove more effective.

The effectiveness of such an action relies greatly on two things and only one of which is in our, the worlds, control.  First any coalition police force efforts to force a ceasefire must be made by a world party.  One nation alone cannot be effective; Israel and Palestine must know that the world is calling for a resolution and simply the United States.  This itself is two fold, both nations must know that the world is interested in resolving this conflict but in addition a world force eliminates impartiality.  A single nation can be accused of serving its own ends, but a world coalition has only one common interest: Peace.  Secondly this course depends on the willingness that Israel and Palestine have to cooperate and coexist.  This greatly depends on those who lead; if a stalemate is the result consideration for replacing them will become a concern.  While it has been effective in the past, most recently it appears to be effective in Iraq, it has also failed miserably.  The key to success lies within the people; if they support their leader, chosen or not, then any attempt to replace that leader will end in failure.  It has only been effective in Iraq because the Iraqi people desired a change.  If the same is not true for Israel and Palestine as they gain a new leader then it cannot be considered.  Regardless of the outcome both side will have to sacrifice.  The effectiveness of any solution in the Middle East lies in both countries’ decision regarding what they are willing to sacrifice.  For decades now both have sacrificed their lives, their ability to live them in peace, and life itself. 

A nation’s greatest moral obligation is at the conclusion of war.  When and how wars are ended determine the endurance of a lasting peace.  It is the responsibility of all nations to prevent war, but even more so when a nation declares a victory it declares a deeper responsibility to its aggressor’s.  Uncompassionate victors lead to humiliated losing nations.  Those humiliated nations are often left with one surviving asset, the desire for retribution which is far greater than any other means of waging war.



[1] Future war for the sake of this argument is the extension of the current conflict later in time.

[2] Some might argue about the “justness” of each, but our concern is more about whether the conflict ends justly than if the conflict was just to begin.

[3] UNSCR 660,

[5] (Brent Scowcroft 383

[6] (Brent Scowcroft 383)

[7] (Scowcroft 432)

[8] (Scowcroft 433). 

[9] Anthony Shadid.  In Iraqi Towns, Electoral Experiment Finds Some Success.” Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 16, 2004; Page A01

[10] Anthony Shadid.  In Iraqi Towns, Electoral Experiment Finds Some Success.” Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 16, 2004; Page A01

[11] Global Policy Forum.

[12]!OpenDocument UN Resolution 181