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Old 08-30-2009   #1
M-A Lagrange
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Default Humanitarian action: a Just action?

South Sudan creation as a state and recent history impose the fact that humanitarian aid is now days a weapon. Without "Life Line Sudan" operation led by UNICEF and basically conducted by the civilian agencies of the United Nation, John Garang would never have been in position to impose a peace agreement to Khartoum.
In south Sudan, humanitarian action has been the logistic and health service of SPLA. Even if NGOs and UN agencies did not provide ammunitions and weapons, they feed, dressed and healed SPLA.
Humanitarian action is by definition neutral according to Geneva Convention. But even in Geneva convention the definition of neutrality is linked, bound and made to be in accordance to La Haye convention. If Geneva convention are seen now as the rules of war, it is forgetting that La Haye convention are the law of war. Those laws are defining boundaries of humanitarian action. According to La Haye convention, a neutral action does not have to provide any support that would influence war.
But is that possible for any one to stand still and not provide support, even through food and medicine, to a just cause? Would have it been just to let South Sudanese been killed and denied their right to be different in the name of neutrality?
On the opposite, would have it just to let the hutu starve and die in Zaire as Kagame was hunting them down after they committed genocide? Would have it been just to let the people guilty of an unforgivable crime made in the name of an unjust cause?
Is moral applicable to humanitarian action? And if yes, what would be a just or unjust humanitarian cause?
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Old 08-30-2009   #2
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Humanitarian aid has always been a weapon, of sorts. Indeed, historically more soldiers died from sickness or disease (humanitarian problems) than from fighting (military problems). I imagine that in less developed areas of the world the same is still true. You cannot give aid to one side, regardless of the type without hurting the relative advantage that the other side holds.

I hate to sound relativistic, but the idea of Just War, to me is just something to let others sleep well. After all it wasn't until the 20th Century with moralists like Reinhold Niebuhr that anyone even thought about the idea of there being such a thing as moral war, as a function of its structure or motivation. Either you believed that war was a contest between good and evil, and therefore one side was evil (i.e. not yours), or you thought that war was inherently evil, and therefore there was no such thing as just war.

To me, people who try to justify war by looking at its structure are missing the forest for the trees. Humanitarian or not, who you help is the important issue, not the structure of the conflict.
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Old 08-31-2009   #3
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On the opposite, would have it just to let the hutu starve and die in Zaire as Kagame was hunting them down after they committed genocide? Would have it been just to let the people guilty of an unforgivable crime made in the name of an unjust cause?
Is moral applicable to humanitarian action? And if yes, what would be a just or unjust humanitarian cause?
As an intitial particpant in the humanitarian op to save Hutu refugees--whom we knew had massive amounts of blood on their hands--I can attest that it does put you in a quandry if you let it. We chose instead to concentrate on the immediate needs and let the longer term consequences sort themselves out. To get us through this period, we--Stan and I as well as a young lady who now works for USAID--resorted to black humor as well as praying to a volcano, hoping that it would solve the Hutu militia question once and for all.

Later whilst across the border in Rwanda, the costs of the moral dilemma became more clear and resluted in quite a rift between elements of the same IOs and NGOs. MSF announced at one stage it was quitting operations in Goma because they helped Hutu killers while MSF inside IDP camps in Rwanda assisted Hutu killers. Go figure..

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Old 08-31-2009   #4
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Originally Posted by M-A Lagrange View Post
In south Sudan, humanitarian action has been the logistic and health service of SPLA. Even if NGOs and UN agencies did not provide ammunitions and weapons, they feed, dressed and healed SPLA.
Well you've struck on the issue, that 99% of the Conflict Industry wants to ignore. While there are good people in NGOs I have grave doubts as to some of their conduct, and most consistently their refusal to look to their own houses.

Like the media, NGO's are sometimes willing actors in a conflict, based on the perception that their actions are somehow justified for a greater good. This usually has scant regard to the military/political consequences of their actions (EG: the example you cite). Moreover a lot of NGOs have political agendas which they are choosing to promote via aid/humanitarian assistance, and the definition of an NGO is pretty broad - likewise the media.
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Old 08-31-2009   #5
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Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
Well you've struck on the issue, that 99% of the Conflict Industry wants to ignore.
I don't doubt that it sometimes gets ignored in practice, sometimes out of ignorance or willful neglect. More often, humanitarian organizations face damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't choices about whether to help civilians (and influence the conflict), or not do so (and let innocents die).

That being said, I don't think you can say that "99% of the Conflict Industry wants to ignore" it. On the contrary, ever since Mary B Anderson wrote Do No Harm, hardly a week goes by without a conference on the moral dilemmas and operational imperatives of this issue. Indeed, much of the work on "peace and conflict impact assessment" or "conflict sensitive development," the "ethics of peacebuilding,"(etc, etc) is motivated by precisely this concern, namely that humanitarian and development assistance can serve to exacerbate, rather than mitigate, armed conflict, or otherwise have perverse social and political effects. OECD aid agencies have been meeting on these issues for years (up to and including the ministerial level), almost all of them now have some form of internal assessment or screening process for these sorts of issues (of varying degrees of effectiveness), and while the identification of "best practices" and Principles for Good International Engagement doesn't mean that follow-up is perfect, the aid community can hardly be accused of avoiding the problem.

This shouldn't be seen as a blanket defence of the aid industry, but I do think its important not to leave the impression that aid folks are unaware. Moreover, its not as if they face easy choices in highly politicized environments: when UNRWA complained about IDF hits on its facilities in Gaza, it was accused of a pro-Hamas bias; when it teaches about the Holocaust in its schools or promotes tolerance at its summer camps it is accused by Hamas of serving a Zionist agenda.

The real question, IMHO, is why having recognized the nature of the dilemma, do mistakes get repeated. Here the answer lies in a combination of training, bureaucratic, operational, and political factors, rather akin to how countries can "get" COIN at an intellectual level, yet see much less-than-perfect implementation.
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Old 08-31-2009   #6
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Originally Posted by Abu Suleyman View Post



I hate to sound relativistic, but the idea of Just War, to me is just something to let others sleep well. After all it wasn't until the 20th Century with moralists like Reinhold Niebuhr that anyone even thought about the idea of there being such a thing as moral war, as a function of its structure or motivation.
If I may...
(Yes I know it's Wikipedia...but it's a place to start
wikipedia: Just War

The idea that resorting to war can only be just under certain conditions goes back at least to Cicero.[3] However its importance is connected to Christian medieval theory beginning from Augustine of Hippo[4] and Thomas Aquinas.[5] The first work dedicated specifically to it was De bellis justis of Stanisław of Skarbimierz, who justified war of the Kingdom of Poland with Teutonic Knights. Francisco de Vitoria justified conquest of America by the Kingdom of Spain. With Alberico Gentili and Hugo Grotius just war theory was replaced by international law theory, codified as a set of rules, which today still encompass the points commonly debated, with some modifications.[citation needed] The importance of the theory of just war faded with revival of classical republicanism beginning with works of Thomas Hobbes.

The Just War Theory is an authoritative Catholic Church teaching confirmed by the United States Catholic Bishops in their pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response, issued in 1983. More recently, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2309, lists four strict conditions for "legitimate defense by military force"
(snip)

Point is The Just War Theory goes back a lot farther than Reinhold Niebuhr.
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Old 08-31-2009   #7
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Originally Posted by Rex Brynen View Post
That being said, I don't think you can say that "99% of the Conflict Industry wants to ignore" it. On the contrary, ever since Mary B Anderson wrote Do No Harm, hardly a week goes by without a conference on the moral dilemmas and operational imperatives of this issue. Indeed, much of the work on "peace and conflict impact assessment" or "conflict sensitive development," the "ethics of peacebuilding,"(etc, etc) is motivated by precisely this concern, namely that humanitarian and development assistance can serve to exacerbate, rather than mitigate, armed conflict, or otherwise have perverse social and political effects.
Well 99% may have been harsh but, excepting your examples, I have yet to see most NGOs really seriously question their role beyond the most basic levels. What ever questioning they do, it never seems to translate into action. - as you say,
Quote:
The real question, IMHO, is why having recognized the nature of the dilemma, do mistakes get repeated.
Quote:
Moreover, its not as if they face easy choices in highly politicized environments: when UNRWA complained about IDF hits on its facilities in Gaza, it was accused of a pro-Hamas bias; when it teaches about the Holocaust in its schools or promotes tolerance at its summer camps it is accused by Hamas of serving a Zionist agenda.
While in no way excusing any deliberate action taken against UNRWA, it may well be the perception of their alleged pro-Hamas bias that results in such unfortunate action, or "message sending."

Yes it's a tough job, but make the situation far worse when you start giving TV interviews, saying X and Y happened when you cannot possibly know or start repeating what the local Hamas IO man told you. You are making yourself an actor in the conflict. How can that help?
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Old 08-31-2009   #8
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This topic reminds me of stories about how
- refugee camp services prolong the refugee status and prevent resettlement, thereby keeping conflicts and problems intact
- U.N.-imposed ceasefires regularly fail to solve anything, and even prevent a violent but quick conflict solution.

War is full of (seeming) paradoxes.
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Old 08-31-2009   #9
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- U.N.-imposed ceasefires regularly fail to solve anything, and even prevent a violent but quick conflict solution.
The UN hardly ever "imposes" a ceasefire, and generally lacks the capability of doing so. Usually it is called in to monitor and implement a ceasefire that has been reached by the combatants themselves. (Certainly, the UN may help mediate the negotiations, but that's hardly imposition.)

I agree with the broader point, however--war is full of paradoxes.
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Old 08-31-2009   #10
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First of all thank to all of you for participating to that debate. I just want to give some few comments that will either resume opinions, either complete some, either integrate practical perspective.

The research for a just use of violence:
Looking for a moral justification to war is indeed an old issue. The Hindu set rules forward in -1750 through the code of Manu. The Babylonians legislated on war in -1500 with the Code of Hammurabi. The Muslims stated that the use of chemical weapons and non discriminative weapons were forbidden as immoral after Constantinople siege…
The research for Just war is as old as war practice. Jus in bello and Jus at bellum are middle age notions. War is part of humanity and it is its practice that defines our humanity.
Separating military and civilian first as actors then as practices in war is important, just as separating military from humanitarian is. But it is limitative.
The separation between Humanitarian action and military action is based on the universal search of all to exclude parts of the populations from war into conflicts.

Unjust humanitarian action:
As Tom said, it is difficult to help people with blood on their hands. I experimented the same twisted feeling in my first mission in Kosovo as I was providing aid to Serbs. It feels really "strange" to remain neutral when having a toast in the name of the great Serbia and killing all the Albanian slaves...
An unjust humanitarian action could be partly defined on the choice: who you decide to help. This is a discriminative approach which is not in accordance with humanitarian doctrine/principles. It is also the military approach of humanitarian aid and leads to its militarisation. Does that mean it is an unjust action? I would be very glad to have both opinion (civilian and military or veteran) on that point.

Just humanitarian action:
The theories of Do No Harm is an important theory and difficult practice. It has been well pointed that most of experienced humanitarian workers, donors and other civilian actors in relief are aware of it.
Does that mean that being aware makes your action Just?
And even, looking at practices based on legal status as refugee, IDP... leads to discriminative actions led by civilian, targeting civilian, almost not integrated into military plans. Do no harm recommends to use a vulnerability approach. But is that sufficient? Or efficient? And is that Just?

Practical approach
But boundaries between military action and humanitarian action are getting thinner if not relegated to moral postures; as the distinction between military and civilian.
The actual doctrine in Afghanistan is to convince civilian that they have to choose a political master rather than one other.
In South Sudan, war was politically won through humanitarian action.
In North Kivu, military are using humanitarian aid to monitor and restrain military misbehaviours.
Humanitarian actors and humanitarian action is no more (if ever had) a hippie stuff. It is a complex civilian action into a complex military environment. What would be the limit to keep humanitarian action Just?
If humanitarian action allows providing direct security or support security action, is that still humanitarian action? And is that unjust?

The "Jus" in war:
Carl Schmitt exposed the limit of the Just War as an eternal unjust battle from a moral dictator that justifies on its victories the rightness of his cause.
He point was based on his experience of the nazi regime that can be seen as Evil but would have been seen as Good if they had won the war.
Is their such limits in humanitarian action? And what could be humanitarian limits?

I know, I am asking more questions. But I believe that answering to those questions is important for all of us that are participating to conflict and trying to provide protection to civilian populations.
If some points are not taken or misunderstood: please let me know. (I am human, that my strength and wickness.)
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Old 08-31-2009   #11
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Originally Posted by M-A Lagrange View Post
But boundaries between military action and humanitarian action are getting thinner if not relegated to moral postures; as the distinction between military and civilian.
So humanitarian action includes the use of violence? Military action is always instrumental to policy. I fail to see how humanitarian aid can do the same, unless it can set forth a policy, in which case it is merely political - since it does not use violance.

Quote:
The actual doctrine in Afghanistan is to convince civilian that they have to choose a political master rather than one other.
Is that a doctrine or is it's a policy. - the distinction is important.
IMO, the policy, being applied by the strategy, is to have a stable essentially pro-western government. I fully agree that the strategy could well use humanitarian aid, as an instrument - and where possible it should be done.
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Old 08-31-2009   #12
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So humanitarian action includes the use of violence?
Hmmm, that depends I reckon. Our decade long humanitarian program includes the persistent use of explosives
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Old 08-31-2009   #13
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Humanitarian action does not include the use of violence. But can participate to protect populations by providing alternatives, especially economical alternatives, that can participate in destabilising an opponent.
In DRC, by providing alternative sources of energy, some NGO participate to the effort to undermine FDLR incomes linked to charcoal trafficking.
Like I said, the boundaries between humanitarian action and military action are getting thinner. I am not judging, I am making an observation.

I accept the go for it. I did it my self. But would that be humanitarian or military?
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Old 08-31-2009   #14
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Is that a doctrine or is it's a policy. - the distinction is important.

Quote:
From Wilf: IMO, the policy, being applied by the strategy, is to have a stable essentially pro-western government. I fully agree that the strategy could well use humanitarian aid, as an instrument - and where possible it should be done.
Thanks for correcting me. As I said, professional are much more than welcome to comment.

Last edited by davidbfpo; 08-31-2009 at 07:53 PM. Reason: Quotation completed and sourced.
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Old 08-31-2009   #15
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In DRC, by providing alternative sources of energy, some NGO participate to the effort to undermine FDLR incomes linked to charcoal trafficking.
We also tried that as an active military mission by supplying drinking water. Little did we know the Zairois were selling water to the refugees and we put a dent in their business (practices). It wasn't long before this humanitarian act went Tango Uniform with violence (at the water point).

There is simply no way you can remain (or claim) neutral(ity). It sounds good on paper with all those conventions, but the stark reality is people like the Congolese do not follow the same set of rules.
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Old 08-31-2009   #16
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If I may...
(Yes I know it's Wikipedia...but it's a place to start
wikipedia: Just War

The idea that resorting to war can only be just under certain conditions goes back at least to Cicero.[3] However its importance is connected to Christian medieval theory beginning from Augustine of Hippo[4] and Thomas Aquinas.[5] The first work dedicated specifically to it was De bellis justis of Stanisław of Skarbimierz, who justified war of the Kingdom of Poland with Teutonic Knights. Francisco de Vitoria justified conquest of America by the Kingdom of Spain. With Alberico Gentili and Hugo Grotius just war theory was replaced by international law theory, codified as a set of rules, which today still encompass the points commonly debated, with some modifications.[citation needed] The importance of the theory of just war faded with revival of classical republicanism beginning with works of Thomas Hobbes.

The Just War Theory is an authoritative Catholic Church teaching confirmed by the United States Catholic Bishops in their pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response, issued in 1983. More recently, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2309, lists four strict conditions for "legitimate defense by military force"
(snip)

Point is The Just War Theory goes back a lot farther than Reinhold Niebuhr.

Yes and no. The ideas that you presented there are all different ideas of "Just War" from what people mean today when they say just war. THe case of Cicero, the Catholic Church, and so on all argued that certain wars were just because they were forwarding a Just Cause. As such the war, and whatever were involved in it was just. Now that might seem the same as humanitarian issues but it is not, because sometimes to win the war and forward the just cause, you allowed thousands to starve and enemy troops to bleed to death on the battlefield. In other words, it was the ends that offered the justification for the war. You see this a lot in pre-WWII literature, where "this is a just war because the Nazi's are evil," and so on.

After WWII, and really, in Europe after WWI people began to realize that both sides make the same argument. This wasn't really a challenge to those who thought that war was evil in and of itself, and indeed, many people decided that fighting was simply not worth it. This became a problem when people in the military (specifically the French military) started to think that way. In essence, western europe laid down and died before Fascism.

Many important thinkers, but Reinhold Neibuhr was one of the earliest and one of the most lucid, attempted to demonstrate that there was actually a Method for fighting wars that made it just. They did this to show that Liberal Democracies could fight wars, and that they were not the same as totalitarian regimes that they were opposing. Basically, they tried to set up an objective litmus test whereby both participants and observers of electoral democracies could know that their wars were not the same as the blood thirsty wars totalitarians waged.

In essence, the just war is a war waged by a state, not for its own interests. The way that you know that a state is not waging a war for its own interests is that it turns the declaration of wars over to outside bodies, like the UN. This is the moral argument that people use to beat up George Bush and the Iraq invasion, and what most people are appealing to when they say that a war is illegal. Under this definition, war is not justified by its ends (e.g. spreading a religion, freeing a people, creating stability in the system) but by the way in which it is waged (i.e. you go to the UN and they tell you that it is ok to go to war)

It is clear, based on the negotiations surrounding the establishment of the UN and the League of Nations that they were aware of this reason for existing, and they clearly thought that humanitarian type missions would fall as just. However, the immediate problem became that, just like before, all wars have sides, and helping in any way helps one side. Moreover, in these organizations states vote their interest. Therefore, the UN is much more likely to authorize force for humanitarian reasons if more states stand to gain from such actions than stand to lose. Of course, you also have veto powers to consider, as well.

Naturally, states who have humanitarian problems are usually just trying to implement a policy, no matter how egregious that policy may seem to us, and they don't care for the undercutting of that attempted implementation by an outside body. Indeed, no matter how well intentioned, humanitarian aid remains a subtle way of forwarding one side over the other, and of forwarding ones own policies. Indeed, the entire UN process has become more of a way of amalgamating interests rather than extricating them from the process.

Of course, the easy way around all this is to recognize that there is a right and a wrong, exactly like all those old thinkers did, and that sometimes you are going to have to fight a war. A war is just if you are on the right side, and not because you called for a vote on it. This is not to say that there should not be humanitarian considerations, but generally the best way to end a humanitarian crisis is to win. Make sure the right side wins. I know that it is easier said than done, but I would rather try to get the answer right, than muddle around with a bunch of answers we already know are wrong.
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Old 08-31-2009   #17
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Yes and no. The ideas that you presented there are all different ideas of "Just War" from what people mean today when they say just war.
The difference here is that between jus ad bellum (that is, whether the reason for war is morally just) and jus in bello (that is, whether the manner in which the war is fought is morally just). Certainly attention the the latter increased exponentially during the 20th (and 21st) century. However, the idea of laws of armed conflict are considerably older than this (especially in Islam), and although ancient and medieval warfare often seems unlimited, there were also a great many examples of self-restraint (usually on a combination of normative and practical grounds).

Personally, I think these changes are a good thing--the "ends justify the means" is a very slippery slope, and I would like to think that the society I live in tries very hard not to slide too far down it, even if the opponent does.
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Old 08-31-2009   #18
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Personally, I think these changes are a good thing--the "ends justify the means" is a very slippery slope, and I would like to think that the society I live in tries very hard not to slide too far down it, even if the opponent does.
I agree to an extent. I would not agree that all ends justify any means. My view is that ends and methods are both necessary but not sufficient conditions of justification. Any attempt to define a war as just without looking at both of them will result in a lot of tail chasing.

BTW, love the Latin phrases.
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Old 08-31-2009   #19
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BTW, love the Latin phrases.
The only subject I ever failed, actually!
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Old 09-01-2009   #20
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Hey Guys

If you do not like french army... Neither do I But probably not for the same reasons. (Had my ass save a couple time by foreign legion and was happy to see them. Must say they're good guys).

To come back to the Just war: what abu suleyman is quiete true. But there is a difference between looking to criminalise war, which is what the UN under anglo saxon NGO (espacially Oxfam and some others) are looking for. And setting rules for a just use of war, which is the spirit of the UN charter.
To follow Abu Suleyman, please take time to look at Carl Schmitt theories (I know, I am repeating my self). But I will defenitively go for some readings of Reinhold Neibuhr.

To complete Rex brynen, jus in bello is an important thing. And is basically what all of us are looking at into war. What Manu code says in -1750 is almost the same as Geneva Convention: do not kill a desarmed enemi, do not kill civilian... In Deteronomy the judes declared that killing women and children under the age to carry weapons is a crime, that destroying agricultural land also... So looking for an honorable way to make war is something that all of us have been looking for.

The use of violence is not something evil, it is the way you use it and the objective you're persuing that will make it good or evil. I am sorry but fighting the Nazi was a ####ing good thing. But bombing german town was terrorism and UK knew it. On this see Michael Walzer Just and Unjust wars.

How using action dedicated to limit the use of violence in a positive way (like healing wounded, protecting women and children...) to conduct military ation can be seen as a just/fair way to conduct war? (does not mean I am against).

To come to Stan.
Well, it is all the problem that your pointing out. Having a discriminative approach of distributing aid in a location leads to violence among civilian. In counter insurgencies, this is counter productive. We faced the same in DRC in 2007/2008 and I spend with a couple of foes a hell of a time to explain it to the UN.
But in a military approach of relief, being discriminative may help. What you have to target is a larger range of people. If you target individuals, you may be accurate but you will be counter productive as you put a side part of the immediat neighbourhood. And then generate violence among communities.
You better target a larger audiance. Targetting villages would be my advise (not saying I have the holy truth in my hands). This allows to inpulse an autoregulation obligation in the community. But providing aid is limitative, you have to couple it with security in a barter like: you help me and I protect you and provide aid. You try to #### me I stop every thing and even more. But that would defenitevely fall under unjust war and unjust humanitarian action.

I am actually looking at what to do for drug production. In my perception it would more or less follow the same pattern for producers than mining in DRC.
M-A Lagrange is offline  
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