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Posted February 11, 2003

Latest from U.S. Bishops on Iraq

February 6, 2003

The Issue

The United States seems to be ever closer to going to war with Iraq. The first report of the inspectors to the UN Security Council acknowledged Iraq's steps on access but faulted its lack of clear commitment to disarmament. As the United States responds to calls for more evidence to support its position, the UN Security Council will be considering whether to take up a new resolution authorizing force against Iraq or whether to give inspections more time to work.

Last October, Congress voted overwhelmingly to grant the President the power to go to war with Iraq, authorizing the President to "use the armed forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq."

USCCB Position

Moral obligation to address threat Iraq poses.

We have no illusions about the behavior or intentions of the Iraqi government. The Iraqi leadership must cease its internal repression, end its threats to its neighbors, stop any support for terrorism, abandon its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, and destroy all such existing weapons. The United States should be commended for pressing for the resolution that led to the return of inspectors to Iraq. Iraq should continue to be pressed to comply fully with Security Council resolutions. All involved should work to see that UN action will not simply be a prelude to war, but a way to avoid it.

Moral concerns about the use of military force.

People of good will may differ on how to apply just war norms in particular cases, especially when events are moving rapidly and the facts are not altogether clear. It is difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature. With the Holy See and bishops from the Middle East and around the world, the U.S. Bishops Conference fears that resort to war, under present circumstances and in light of current public information, would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for overriding the strong presumption against military force.

Just cause. The Catechism of the Catholic Church limits just cause to cases in which "the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations [is] lasting, grave and certain." (#2309) The Bush administration's proposals to expand dramatically traditional limits on just cause to include preventive uses of military force to overthrow threatening regimes or to deal with weapons of mass destruction would create troubling moral and legal precedents. Moreover, consistent with the proscriptions contained in international law, a distinction should be made between efforts to change unacceptable behavior of a government and efforts to end that government's existence.

Legitimate authority. Decisions concerning possible war in Iraq require compliance with U.S. constitutional imperatives, broad consensus within our nation, and some form of international sanction. That is why the action by Congress and the UN Security Council are important. As the Holy See has indicated, if recourse to force were deemed necessary, this should take place within the framework of the United Nations after considering the consequences for Iraqi civilians, and regional and global stability. (Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, 9/10/02).

Probability of success and proportionality. The use of force must have "serious prospects for success" and "must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated" (Catechism, #2309). Not taking military action could have its own negative consequences, but the use of force might provoke the very kind of attacks that it is intended to prevent, could impose terrible new burdens on an already long-suffering civilian population, and could lead to wider conflict and instability in the region. War against Iraq could also detract from the responsibility to help build a just and stable order in Afghanistan and could undermine broader efforts to stop terrorism.

Norms governing the conduct of war. The justice of a cause does not lessen the moral responsibility to comply with the norms of civilian immunity and proportionality. The United States has improved capability and has made serious efforts to avoid directly targeting civilians in war, but the use of military force in Iraq could bring incalculable costs for a civilian population that has suffered so much from war, repression, and a debilitating embargo. In assessing whether "collateral damage" is proportionate, the lives of Iraqi men, women and children should be valued as we value the lives of our family and citizens of our own country.

Alternatives to war. The United States, in collaboration with the international community, should continue to pursue actively alternatives to war in Iraq. It is vital that our nation persist in the very frustrating and difficult challenges of maintaining broad international support for constructive, effective and legitimate ways to contain and deter aggressive Iraqi actions and threats. In addition to the UN inspections, the military embargo could be enforced more effectively while political sanctions and much more carefully-focused economic sanctions which do not threaten the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians should be maintained. Addressing Iraq's weapons of mass destruction must be matched by broader and stronger non-proliferation measures that are grounded in the principle of mutual restraint.

Action Requested

Urge your Member of Congress and President Bush to work with other world leaders to find the will and the ways to step back from the brink of war with Iraq and work to fashion an effective global response to Iraq's known threats that both recognizes legitimate self defense and conforms to traditional moral limits on the use of military force.

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