Four Global Challenges

This article is the seventh chapter of Professor Simpson’s War, Peace, and God: Rethinking the Just-War Tradition, available from Augsburg Fortress Press. It is reprinted in JLE by permission.

Four Global Challenges
[1] In this final chapter I introduce four global challenges as we ponder God’s preferential future for earthly peace. First, we will look into humanitarian intervention, its problems, and the new turn to “the responsibility to protect.” The responsibility to protect sets the stage for our second challenge, the nemesis of global terrorism. Third is the prickly issue of empire and the American future. Finally, we will address the issue of patriotism in a time of war and in an era of global citizenship.

The responsibility to protect
[2] Elie Wiesel, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and prophet laureate of the Holocaust, gave a stunning opening address at the dedication of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on April 22, 1993. Wiesel ended his address by asking, “What have we learned? We have learned some lessons, minor lessons, perhaps, that we are all responsible, and indifference is a sin and a punishment. And we have learned that when people suffer we cannot remain indifferent.” At that moment he turned from the audience, looked vigilantly into the eyes of President Bill Clinton, who sat in the front row of the small auditorium, and said:

Mr. President, I cannot not tell you something. I have been in the former Yugoslavia last fall. I cannot sleep since for what I have seen. As a Jew I am saying that we must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country! People fight each other and children die. Why? Something, anything must be done.[1]

[3] President Clinton responded by adding a third purpose to the museum’s original two purposes, which are (1) to advance and disseminate knowledge of the Holocaust, and (2) to preserve the memory of those who suffered. The new third purpose is to develop moral conscience concerning genocide and crimes against humanity. A year later, however, President Clinton turned his back on Rwanda and the genocidal slaughter of over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, not to mention over two million Hutu refugees, by refusing to intervene. He has since called this his biggest failure as president. We the people also failed. Senator Paul Simon, a Lutheran layperson, surmised that if each congressperson had received one hundred letters from constituents urging a U.S. response when the Rwandan crisis first surfaced, our policy would have been different.

[4] The so-called right of humanitarian intervention involves the question of when, if ever, it is appropriate for states to take coercive and in particular military action against another state for the purpose of protecting people at risk in that other state. Humanitarian intervention has been controversial when it has happened, for instance in Kosovo in 1999, and when it has not happened, for instance in Rwanda in 1994 and in Bosnia in 1995.

[5] Four big problems plague the notion of a right to humanitarian intervention. The first is the conflict between the Westphalian and UN principle of nonintervention in the sovereign affairs of another nation, on the one hand, and, on the other, the failure of a sovereign state to protect its citizens from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity, or the malevolence of a sovereign state to carry out such atrocities on its own citizens, its resident aliens, or its visitors. Second, the UN has shown itself incapable of undertaking a competent armed intervention when necessary. A third problem concerns the intention that motivates a powerful state to intervene in the affairs of another state even when there is a just cause. In one case, national self-interest motivates a state with the capacity to intervene to do so. In another case, a lack of national self-interest motivates a powerful state to avoid intervention when there is just cause. Fourth is the lack of a moral and political protocol that guides the international community in such circumstances. The right of humanitarian intervention does not include an effective principle of publicity with the safeguards that publicity provides.

[6] In 1999, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan challenged the 54th General Assembly to resolve the problem. The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty proposed The Responsibility to Protect-R2P as it is called-in December 2001, and the UN’s 2005 World Summit agreed to take action on it. R2P’s basic theme is that sovereign states have a responsibility to protect those within its borders from avoidable catastrophe, but that when they are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of states. States that fail to protect are often “failed” or failing states.

[7] R2P accomplishes three basic things. First, it clearly recognizes a moral basis inherent in the very concept of sovereignty, which was lacking in the Westphalian notion. At a minimum sovereignty means protecting one’s own populations from harm. Failure due to unwillingness or incapacity violates the moral ground of sovereignty. Second, R2P invokes the principle of publicity and implements it as a kind of international republic in these kinds of “conscience-shocking situations crying out for action.”[2] Third, R2P identifies three core responsibilities that make up the overarching responsibility to protect: the responsibilities to prevent, to react, and to rebuild. To prevent means to address both the root causes and the direct causes that put populations at risk. To react means to respond to situations of compelling human need with appropriate measures, which may include coercive measures like sanctions and international prosecution, and in extreme cases military intervention. To rebuild applies particularly after a military intervention and means to provide full assistance with recovery, reconstruction, and reconciliation and to address the causes of the harm that the intervention was designed to halt or avert.

[8] All three responsibilities in their ordered relationship capitalize on Ambrose’s maxim, which fills out the natural law of “Do no harm.” These responsibilities flow right out of just-war tradition (JWT), especially when it is self-consciously placed within the luminous arc of just peacemaking. R2P boldly notes that prevention is the single most important dimension of the responsibility to protect. Thus two of its core principles are that force protection cannot become the principal objective and that maximum coordination with humanitarian organizations is paramount. When dealing with force protection, R2P specifically cites JWT’s criteria of just cause, right intention, legitimate authority, last resort, probability of success, and proportionality of means. The end of peace is obvious as is noncombatant immunity, since the lack of civilian immunity is the precipitating event.

[9] The principle of publicity underlies how R2P connects right intention with legitimate authority. Whatever other intentions intervening states may have, the primary intention must be to halt or avert conscience-shocking situations. Therefore, “right intention is better assured with multilateral operations, clearly supported by regional opinion and the victims concerned.” Under legitimate authority R2P states, “There is no better or more appropriate body than the United Nations Security Council to authorize military intervention for human protection purposes. The task is not to find alternatives to the Security Council as a source of authority, but to make the Security Council work better than it has.” In this spirit it urges the Permanent Five members of the Security Council-China, England, France, Russia, and the United States-to agree not to apply their veto power in matters where their vital state interests are not involved. R2P also recognizes other alternatives if the Security Council tragically fails to protect.

[10] The 2005 World Summit also agreed to take bold action around peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. These three peace actions roughly correspond to R2P’s three preventive responsibilities. These peace initiatives are designed to preempt and prevent conscience-shocking situations from ever arising. Against these actions there is no law.

[11] “Terrorism haunts our times.”[3] The attacks of September 11 brought this haunting reality into American homes. Terrorism deliberately and grossly violates the moral obligation of noncombatant immunity. This in itself presents a justifiable cause that calls for public condemnation together with other resolute responses. But what kind will be effective? America responded with “war”-but war is not the only possible response. It is also not the only effective response, though it might be depending on the circumstances.

[12] Because terrorists injure and kill, terrorism looks mostly like a military tactic, only immoral. But terrorism is primarily social and political violence within a larger social and political strategy, policy, and ideology. It is a social and political tactic that targets civilians in order to generate fear and panic in society. It aims to influence people and therefore it is theater and propaganda by means of deadly deeds.

[13] Both state and nonstate actors, sometimes together, use terrorism. We often call these actors “rogue states” and global terrorist networks. Taken together these factors mean that war is only one possible effective response across a range. Some, for instance, have called for “just policing” protocols. The 2005 World Summit agreed to push for a comprehensive convention against terrorism with a strategy that strengthens the international community and weakens terrorist rogue states and global networks. Even though the context of terrorism is different from the context that R2P addresses, R2P provides crucial guidance for a future convention against terrorism, especially about the value of international publicity.

[14] There are other issues that terrorism raises. For instance, perfect security in an imperfect world is not possible. How do we negotiate then the tradeoff between heightened security and weaker civil and political rights? What kind of security is too much because it weakens our rights, which make a free life possible? What kind of security is too little because it leaves us a free life too vulnerable to violence and death? How do we live with a certain level of “healthy fear,” on the one hand, and yet live a “healthy life” beyond fear on the other hand? Since religious categories have emerged along with the current intensification of global terrorism, how can we contribute to interfaith understanding and to collaboration for earthly peace?

American empire?
[15] In his 2004 State of the Union Address, President Bush said: “America is a nation with a mission, and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire.”[4] But why does the president have to offer this assurance to the nation and the world?

[16] Four days after the president’s 2004 address Vice President Dick Cheney, in Davos, Switzerland, again disavowed any ambitions to empire and used a territorial definition of empire. The president had first stated this kind of disavowal in his West Point graduation speech on June 1, 2002, four quotations from which show up as official epigrams in The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, which officially houses much of what has become known as the “Bush Doctrine.” The President denied empire again in similar terms on November 11, 2002, in a speech at a White House reception for veterans, saying, “We have no territorial ambitions, we don’t seek an empire.”[5] Like the vice president, the president uses a territorial definition when he denies that America is, or aspires to be, an empire.

[17] When real estate was the prime way to expand a nation’s economic wealth and political power, the definition of empire was attached to territory. Now, however, access to economic resources and markets and to sources of cultural capital is the path to wealth, power, and prestige. Therefore, establishing and expanding an empire now comes by gaining and dominating access to economic markets and seedbeds of culture. In different times of world history, there have been other models of empire. For instance, in some eras controlling religion has been the key. The neoconservative movement, which has influenced Mr. Bush’s administration, desires an ever-expanding unipolar world, marked by growing American primacy and full-spectrum dominance.[6]

[18] Already in the late 1950s, America’s most famous twentieth-century theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, described an America “so desperately anxious not to be an empire.” In the twenty-first century prominent Americans have advocated a kinder, gentler “empire lite,” or urged America to “be imperial without being imperialist.” Some assert that empire is our national “default” destiny. George Washington warned the young nation about foreign adventurism and ever since the ambition of empire has been our permanent temptation. Succumbing to this temptation remains a failed patriotism.

[19] The patriotism of empire comes from the otherwise legitimate desire to live securely. A brief history of the failed patriotism of empire began already with the British invasion that started the War of 1812. President James Monroe assigned his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, the task of developing the “Monroe Doctrine.” Adams’s principle was to achieve security through expansion. In 1811 he had already written to his mother, Abigail, that America was “destined by God and nature” to expand. A few years later he noted, “any effort on our part to reason the world out of a belief that we are ambitious will have no other effect than to convince them that we add to our ambition hypocrisy.”[7]

[20] Adams carried out the Monroe Doctrine’s expansionist principle of empire around three foreign policy practices: unilateral visioning, waging a blur of preemptive-preventive wars, and pursuing a preponderance of American power rather than a balance among several powers. President Andrew Jackson executed the Monroe Doctrine by waging an intentionally blurred combination of preemptive and preventive wars that dispossessed Native Americans of their lands and self-determination. Presidents James Polk, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, and, early in his administration, Woodrow Wilson, all carried out empire to varying degrees and with differing skill.

[21] John Gaddis notes that President Bush “whether intentionally or not, has been drawing upon a set of traditions that go back” to the Monroe Doctrine. The Bush Doctrine only “reflects a return to an old position, not the emergence of a new one.” This is what the National Security Strategy does when it permissively blurs preemption and prevention, stresses “our best defense is a good offense,” and pursues “regime change.” Like Gaddis, many think that Adams’s three expansionist practices of empire are and should remain America’s “default: when in doubt, fall back on these.” Soon after 9/11 a stunned President defaulted and has had “no doubt” since.[8]

[22] President Bush has continued, in his words, to “stay the course.”[9] In his second inaugural address of January 20, 2005, he asserted, “We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.” On January 10, 2007, Mr. Bush again used familiar rhetoric, “the advance of freedom is the calling of our time,” and credited our national calling to “the Author of Liberty.”[10] On the surface the words can sound noble. But as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details, and here trouble lies in words like expand and advance. The policy and strategy tsunami that powers this rhetoric is Adams’s old unilateralism combined with the permissive blurring of preemptive-preventive war.

Patriotism, repentance, and civic international publicity
[23] While the expansionist empire of Adams, Polk, McKinley, and others is one American tradition, most Americans, precisely on a common-sense level of American patriotism, relate to a richer set of traditions embodied in the likes of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In fact, what exploded at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, as a national security crisis became, ironically, a hopeful opportunity for FDR. He repelled the tradition and practices of an expansionist American empire as failed patriotism. Instead, he led America in a more civic internationalist direction. Those who followed him helped build the United Nations, the jurisprudence of International Humanitarian Law, and the traditions of international publicity with its preference for just peacemaking.

[24] Before finishing, let us retrieve Luther’s understanding that all wars, especially those waged justifiably, are to be repentant wars. As we saw earlier, this was his posture for waging war against the Turk. On October 31, 1517, Luther had already engraved repentance into the very first thesis of his famous ninety-five: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Even when Christians are only a few, they should set the pace for national repentance in a just war.

[25] In American history President Abraham Lincoln picked up on the same biblical pervasiveness of repentance in the face of war. Already as a U.S. congressman, Lincoln implored “good citizens and patriots” to undergo “genuine repentance” and “to confess their [political] sins and transgressions” as a national practice of truth. This was January 12, 1848, twenty months after President James Polk had declared war on Mexico. Shortly after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and eight months before his Gettysburg Address in November 1863 he issued a “Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day”: “And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon . . .” Only by walking the path through national repentance could America begin “to bind up the nation’s wounds”; “to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations”; and to do so “with malice toward none; with charity for all.”[11]

[26] Against repentant patriotism there is no law! Indeed, repentant patriotism binds JWT to the rich arc of just peacemaking, God’s preferential future for earthly peace.

End Notes

Elie Wiesel, “Remarks at the Dedication Ceremonies for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, April 22, 1993”; (accessed June 4, 2007).

See the “Synopsis” in The International Commission of Intervention and State Sovereignty, The Responsibility to Protect (December 2001); (accessed Jan. 5, 2007). Also see United Nations, 2005 World Summit Outcome: Fact Sheet, High Level Plenary Meeting, 14-16 September 2005; (accessed June 4, 2007). What follows comes right from the International Commission of Intervention and State Sovereignty document in light of what we have learned in our review of just-war tradition and just peacemaking.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, “Living in a Time of Terrorism” (2004); (accessed June 4, 2007). This is a helpful initial approach.

President George W. Bush, State of the Union Address (2004); (accessed June 4, 2007).

Vice President Dick Cheney in Davos, Switzerland, at; President George W. Bush at West Point graduation, at; The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (hereafter NSS) at; President George W. Bush at the White House at (all accessed June 4, 2007).

For prominent neoconservative thinking, see Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy, ed. Robert Kagan and William Kristol (San Francisco: Encounter, 2000); also see “Statement of Principles” (June 3, 1997), Project for the New American Century at; also see Thomas Donnelly, “Brave New World: An Enduring Pax Americana,” National Security Outlook, American Enterprise Institute, April 1, 2003, at (all accessed June 4, 2007).

John Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), 26-27. Gaddis is a prominent political and military Yale University historian.

Ibid., 31,16, 31. The neoconservative thinkers had been advocating this unipolar, empire default since the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union.

A good example is the president’s February 8, 2004, interview on NBC’s Meet the Press with Tim Russert at (accessed June 4, 2007).

President George W. Bush, “Second Inaugural Address” (January 20, 2005), at; see President George W. Bush, “President’s Address to the Nation,” (January 10, 2007) at (all accessed June 4, 2007).

Abraham Lincoln, “Speech in United States House of Representatives: The War with Mexico,” in Collected Works, vol. 1 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953-1955), 432, 433, 431; Abraham Lincoln, “Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day,” in Collected Works, 6:155; President Lincoln’s memorable Second Inaugural Address of March 4, 1865, less than six weeks before he was assassinated; see (accessed June 4, 2007).

“Four Global Challenges” is excerpted from the book, War, Peace, and God: Rethinking the Just-War Tradition, by Dr. Gary Simpson, Professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. The book is scheduled to be released by Fortress Press in October 2007.

“Four Global Challenges” copyright (c) 2007 Fortress Press, an imprint of Augsburg Fortress, Publishers. All rights reserved. This material may not be reproduced in any form without prior written permission from the publisher.

Gary M. Simpson

Gary M. Simpson is Professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota.