Saturday, January 09, 2010

Winning a Just Victory

In part two of The Power of Nightmares, Adam Curtis digs a little deeper into the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States' move to fund and support the Mujahideen groups resisting them, and the aftermath of the war.

In the aftermath of the Soviet expulsion from Afghanistan, Curtis notes that both the United States and the Mujahideen believed they had defeated the Soviet Union. When the Berlin wall fell, each side rushed to claim credit for what would, in time, be the end of the Eastern bloc and the USSR.

No real peace emerged from the Afghan-Soviet War, despite the fact that many considered it to be an entirely just war.

Much like a just war has to be fought for just purposes, a just peace has to be maintained for just purposes.

But in order for a just war to lead to a just peace, it requires one important element: a just victory.

In this case, a just victory shouldn't necessarily be defined solely by whether the side whose violence was justified wins. It should also take into account the means by which they won.

For example, the Second World War is considered to be the most just war ever fought. It was a war to prevent Nazi dominion over the continent of Europe, and Japanese dominion over Asia and the Pacific ocean. In time, the world even came to learn of Adolph Hitler's genocidal enterprise in Europe. Stopping the Holocaust is often referred to as the fundamental justification for the war.

Yet winning the war for the allies -- the justified party -- required some acts that would be considered unthinkable today. The firebombing of Hamburg and Dresden, as well as the use of nuclear weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki consistute acts which some historians argue were war crimes. While the nature of the total war fought by both sides the war calls into question whether or not modern notions should be considered truly applicable to the acts, they have led many to wonder if the victory won by the allies in WWII was truly a just victory.

In the end, perhaps the definitive element of a just victory is whether or not it results in a just peace.

The general criteria for defining a just peace, as defined by Pierre Allan and Alexis Keller, require that each side recognize the autonomy of the other, that each side needs to recognize the identity of the other, that concessions need to be made by each side, and that rules need to be in place to ensure that such a peace is sustainable.

In Afghanistan, the Soviet Union simply withdrew when the cost of occupying the country became too high. No peace was mediated between the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan government led by Mohammad Najibullah and the Mujahideen who had driven the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. A civil war ensued, and Najibullah was eventually executed after the Taliban took control of Kabul.

Not only had no peace process taken place, no peace process had taken place involving all of the parties involved. One oc the consequences for this is that no one could agree precisely who had won the conflict, leaving each of the victorious paries -- the United States and the diffuse collection Mujahideen -- with no agreement regarding who had won, and who was responsible for that victory.

As Curtis notes, the Islamist movement that had spawned the Mujahideen claimed credit for the victory went on to declare its right to dictate the course of Muslim society as a whole. The actions that they undertook were fundamentally unjust.

Meanwhile, the United States -- particularly the small ideological cohort that had worked so hard to promote the American role in the conflict -- also claimed credit for the victory, and went on to assert its right to dictate American foreign policy. The actions that they undertook are more reasonably debatable.

Either way, the lack of a just peace led each side -- benefactor and client -- back into conflict with one another, as figures such as Osama Bin Laden began to target the United States as a method of intimidating its allies among the governments of coutnries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

The United States and the Mujahideen failed to win a just victory in Afghanistan because they had never agreed on what the purpose of their victory would be. Whether or not both sides could ever have agreed on the purpose of that victory, considering the course each followed after, is probably unlikely.

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