Early last month Israel bombed a site that Israeli and American intelligence analysts judged was a partly constructed nuclear reactor. The Syrian government says Israel bombed an abandoned military facility.

What the bombing raises again is this question: when is a pre-emptive military strike against a sovereign nation justified?

Apparently even the hawks in the Bush administration debated whether the Israeli strike should go ahead. Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary, Robert Gates were particularly concerned about the ramifications of a pre-emptive strike in the absence of an urgent threat. (Shades of the attack on Iraq).

American foreign officials said it would have been years before the Syrians could have used the reactor to produce the spent nuclear fuel that could, through a series of additional steps, be reprocessed into bomb-grade plutonium. In point of fact, Syria would have had the legal right to complete construction of the reactor, as long as its purpose was to generate electricity.

But the Israeli’s clearly agree with the Bush doctrine that any country that even thinks about developing nuclear weapons can find itself the target of a pre-emptive military strike.

Does a pre-emptive military strike on Syria strengthen Israel’s security or does it further de-stabilize the region?

Would it not be better for both the U.S. and Israel to engage Syria diplomatically?

Does it strike you as ironic that those countries that have a plethora of nuclear bombs (the United States and Israel) have appointed themselves arbiters of those countries who can’t have them?

Update:  (Oct. 29)

UN nuclear chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, has accused Israel of « taking the law into their own hands » by bombing Syria »:  « To bomb first and then ask questions later, I think it undermines the system and it doesn’t lead to any solution … »



  1. 1
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    Neil you are on slippery ground here. Criticizing the USA is alright, but questionning Israel? Granted that on the nuclear question they are ONE. When the main weapon of anyone is fear clearly the elements fostering that fear must remain the exclusive possession of the fearmongering parties, in this case the USA and Israel.
    One wonders what will happen when all the Middle East countries have become nuclear powers?
    Of course armagheddon could resolve a conflict ongoing since Biblical times.
    I know, my wife keeps telling me that I am cynical

  2. 2

    « … slippery ground … » indeed.
    When I was hosting a radio talk show in Montreal in the seventies and eighties, we had a large group of Jewish listeners. Upsetting them was a hanging offense. The problem was that so many of them equated criticism of Israel with anti-semitism. Of course that equivalence is rubbish. But too often it threw a cold chill over free expression. And still does. A pity.

  3. 3

    I’m of the opinion that diplomacy is about our only just option in resolving contemporary conflicts with other nations or states. Just wars are no longer possible in practice, as the interconnectedness of the world, economic and otherwise, makes calculation of the consequences of a war impossible. Therefore, there is no way of knowing whether or not a war will result in graver evils than the evil to be eliminated, and one of the traditional conditions of just war theory is that in order for a war to be just, the war must not produce graver evils than the evil to be eliminated. Of course, the world is not in short supply of real aggressors, so we’ve got a work cut out for us to come up with a practical and moral alternative to war.

    Oh, and I’m skeptical of the self-knighted defenders of the good and true, especially those armed with weapons of mass murder.

  4. 4

    Very thoughtful comment. Iraq is surely a prime example of a war that has cause far graver evils than it eliminated.
    I am wondering whether your stance on war leads inevitably to Christian pacifism.

  5. 5

    Perhaps in practice, but not in principle. The Church has not denied and would not deny nations the right to use force in self-defense, so long as that force is just. The problem is that certain conditions in the contemporary world make force very difficult if not impossible to justify. Perhaps the prudent course is to rethink the character of war and seek ways of using effective force that are much less destructive?

  6. 6

    But suppose the force you speak of is a nuclear force. I simply don’t see how the Church or anybody else could view a nuclear war as a just war because on the ground there is no distinction between combatants and non-combatants. So it seems to me we are back to the only stance morally sustainable – Christian pacificism.

  7. 7

    The Church is quite clear that nuclear war is a crime against man and God, and I agree.

    Pacificism may be the only morally sustainable stance. I for one can’t think of an alternative, and as I said, I think it is no longer possible to justify war.

    Our faith must be in more than human instruments.

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