Jump to content

Stretched to All Proportions


Recommended Posts

Stretched to All Proportions

By Michael I. Krauss, J. Peter Pham 

Tech Central Station 

July 17, 2006 

While Israel continues its war of self-defense following two invasions by neighboring governments, the usual critics of the Jewish state have managed to find a reason to show their disapproval.

The European Union issued a statement noting that it was "greatly concerned about the disproportionate use of force by Israel in Lebanon" and pronounced the Israeli actions "contrary to international humanitarian law." French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called Israel's exercise of its right to self-defense "a disproportionate act of war," echoing Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abou Gheit's charge that "Israeli practices violate international law." Not to be left out, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan summoned reporters to tell them of his concern for Lebanon's infrastructure and to condemn actions which were "disproportionate."

Word has gotten round to the anti-Israel coalition: the new talking point is "proportionality." Unfortunately, righteous demagogues are particularly susceptible to the trap against which we warn our (respectively) political science and law students: don't use "big words" unless you know what they mean. The terms "proportionality" and its contrary adjectival "disproportionate" have precise meanings within the context of the classical law of war, meanings that won't get Israel's critics the result they wish, even if they engage in constant repetition.

In terms of the jus ad bellum, or justification for going to war, proportionality means having a reasonable relationship between the goals and objectives to be achieved and the bellicose means being used to achieve them. A country may not go to war to avenge an insult, for example: in simple terms, jus ad bellum reflects the wisdom behind "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words..." To create a just cause for warlike self-defense a serious infraction must occur. Even the obscurantist Saudi regime has characterized Hezbollah's invasion as an "uncalculated adventure;" no respectable legal opinion can fail to see it as a casus belli. Israel's recourse to force is a response to this unjustified act of violence, and its aim of inflicting maximum damage to those who invade its territory and bomb its citizens creates an obvious link between means and objectives. So much for jus ad bellum.

With respect to the jus in bello, or justice in war, proportionality means that the amount and type of force used must be such that unjust consequences do not exceed the legitimate objectives. Compliance with this principle requires an affirmative answer to the question: "If I take this military action, will more good than harm result from it?" To this equation, one must not forget -- as the critics tend to -- the many lives that will be protected by acting vigorously and decisively against the aggressor. Our response to Taliban-launched mayhem in America, massive military responses against an unrelenting and fanatical aggressor in Afghanistan, was proportionate. So is Israel's. The Jewish state's counterattack, focused on targets such as Hezbollah TV and radio studios, and the infrastructure (airports, bridges, highways) used by Hezbollah to wage war, has been absolutely classical.

On Friday, July 14, birthday of Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy's purportedly liberty-loving nation, two Israeli civilians were hurt in a bomb launched at Safed by a component of the government of Lebanon. Another Hezbollah bomb hit a house, setting it on fire. Two Israeli civilians were killed in Nahariya and Safed Thursday. Nearly one hundred Israelis were injured by more than a hundred Hezbollah rockets that same day. Further south, Hamas (a component of the PA government) shot 7 Qassam missiles from Gaza into Sderot on Friday, sending 9 Sderot civilians into shock. These dastardly attacks don't kill civilians accidentally -- are meant to kill civilians, and they are launched by agents of the Lebanese and Palestinian authorities.

Which country in the world would tolerate such attacks on its citizens from neighboring governments? Adherence to the principle of proportionality surely requires judgment and prudence, virtues which, had they been possessed and exercised by some of Israel's latest critics, could have headed off the present conflict by dealing with its real root cause, the irredentist anti-Semitism propagated by states (Syria, Iran and others) bent on fomenting death. This war (and war is what it is) is characterized by disproportionality, all right -- the disproportionality of the West's and the UN's pitiful responses to war being waged on Israel.

Michael I. Krauss is professor of law at George Mason University School of Law. J. Peter Pham is director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University. Both are adjunct fellows of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies


Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...