Is it possible that the character or conditions of war could change in such a way so as to make a just war impossible, and therefore, render war no longer a suitable means of self-defense?Umberto Eco seems to think so.
In a 1991 essay written during the time of the Gulf War, Eco argues that some conditions in our century make war impossible. Eco writes,
Over the centuries, what has been the purpose of warfare? War was waged to defeat an adversary, in order to benefit from his defeat, and in such a way that our intentions--to act in a certain manner, to attain a certain result--were tactically or strategically conceived with a view to make our adversary's intentions impracticable. To these ends it was necessary to field all the forces at our disposal. At the end of the day, the game was played out between us and our adversary. The neutrality of the others, the fact that our war did not bother them (and that to a certain extent allowed them to profit from it) was a necessary condition for our freedom to maneuver.The birth of the world war changed matters.
The discovery of atomic energy, television, air transport, and the birth of various forms of multinational capitalism have resulted in some conditions that make war impossible.Among other conditions (he gave six), "war can no longer be frontal, because of the very nature of multinational capitalism," and
power is no longer monolithic and monocephalous; it is diffused, packeted, made of the continuous agglomeration and breaking down of consensus. War no longer pits two native lands against one another. It puts a multiplicity of powers into competition with one another. In this game individual centers of power gain advantage, but at the expense of the others.Because of these conditions, war had become what Eco calls a "neoconnectionist" or parallel system, which, he says, "requires the individual cells in a network to assume a final configuration in accordance with a pattern of weights that the programmer cannot decide on or foresee beforehand, because the network finds rules that have not been received previously, modifies itself accordingly, and cannot distinguish between rules and data."
Everybody got that? Good.
If war is a neoconnectionist system, it is no longer a phenomenon in which the calculations and intentions of the protagonists have any value. Owing to the multiplication of powers in play, war distributes itself according to unpredictable patterns of weights. It may resolve itself in a way that is convenient for one of the opposing parties; but in principle, since it defies all decisional calculations, it is lost for both parties.Moreover,
it is the politics of the postwar period that will always be the continuation (by any means) of the premises established by the war. No matter how the war goes, by causing a general redistribution of weights that cannot correspond fully with the will of the contending parties, it will drag on in the form of a dramatic political, economic, and psychological instability for decades to come, something that can lead only to a politics "waged" as if it were warfare.Because of the interconnectedness of the world, economic and otherwise, there are many unforeseeable (and therefore unintended) consequences to warfare. An invasion of a country by another causes unforeseeable or unintended evils and disorders not only to those countries, but to people living thousands of miles away who may have no inclination that a war has erupted.
To an extent, this unforseeablility and unintentionality have been present in all wars throughout time--indeed in every human act, but whereas in times past one could reasonably conclude that a particular state of affairs would result from a war, now the unforeseeable and unintended consequences are so many that speculation about the results of a war can no longer be reasonable. At least, so it would seem.
What, if anything, has Eco's argument to do with traditional just war theory?
Two of the conditions that must be met for a war to be just are 1) there "must be serious prospects of success" and 2) "the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated."
If Eco is correct in his interpretation of war as a neoconnectionist system in which calculation and intention lose their value, then do assessing success and calculating a use of arms to produce evils less grave than the evil to be eliminated both become exercises in futility? There would seem to be no way of knowing what the consequences across the world would be to a war against one regime, let alone the consequences of a global war on terror. We may have an idea of what success would look like, but with the complexity of possible outcomes, many beyond our foresight, what we think would be success may not be success in another sense. We may eliminate a grave evil only to empower a graver evil. We can never know whether or not graver evils would be produced, and we cannot reasonably calculate what powers will grow and diminish, what good will come, and what evil will plague us.
Even if Eco's analysis of war is correct, and if the two mentioned conditions for a just war cannot knowingly be met, that still doesn't change the fact that there are real and grave threats and powerful, aggressive evils in this world. Nor does this eliminate the right of self-defense. Are there, then, practical alternatives to war? Or can war still be justified despite its being "neoconnectionist"?