To restate the nonaggression principle (NAP) from my perspective it is that no one should use force against someone else unless it is in defense of themselves or another person from aggression. This is not passivity but an understanding of a respect for freedom in others. When a libertarian looks at war from a national standpoint, the principle still applies and some libertarians turn to just war theory and utilize it to demonstrate the non-aggression principle. Let’s see if this works. To have a just war according to just war theory you must have a just cause to go to war, it must come from the right authority, it must have right intention, it must have a reasonable chance of success, you must only use force proportional to the force used against you and it should always be a last resort.
1) Just Cause: The only real just cause the NAP would allow is if our country was attacked directly or another innocent country was attacked and we had the power to protect them from their aggressors. People ask me what wars then qualify historically? I think World War Two became a just war after the attack of Pearl Harbor for sure for the USA, but we might not have gotten there in the first place had we begun to understand what Hitler was doing globally sooner. To me an example of a just War more recently was a the first Gulf War where the nation of Kuwait was aggressively attacked and we could do something about it. Since then the justification has been oil and that is not a just war or an NAP reason for war. Besides as we have learned recently that reason falls short when we start producing oil ourselves and we have a large supply and don’t really need to fight wars for it.
2) Right Authority – This is a good question because as a rule libertarians question what right authority is. If Congress and the president both agree to war then according to our constitution then the war should be waged. However, in recent years I have become very alarmed at how Congress has just given over its powers of war to the President. The whole point is in a matter of such importance as war, the whole of the government should be involved not just one person making the call. When the President alone is making the call, I don’t think the war is grounded in proper authority. Obama’s current use of drones is one of those things Congress should be asking if it is right to do.
3) Right Intention – There are only two intentions that are right in the NAP. Defense of self and defense of others. If your intention is to stop an invasion and then get out so that country can go back to its free life, that is a good intention. I however question this notion that we can spread democracy and freedom by force. The First World War has a problem here except perhaps when the USA finally gets involved in trying to make the world safe for democracy. In our recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan it is hard to get any sense of what our intention is in the first place. There is no clear mission or why we are there that makes sense which is why we should depart and not get involved.
4) Reasonable Chance of Success – This goes to the moral side of the soldiers fighting for you. You are not engaged in a just war if you are just sending soldiers to die. No war is a guaranteed and there are always risks, but if the assessment is that there is little chance of success then it is time for negotiations. World War One fails this test because the most likely outcome could be seen where soldiers were just dying by the droves and success was not even measured. History is a big factor to look at hear. To be honest there are certain countries you just should not be involved in because they have stood up to every invader. Afghanistan comes to mind as well as an example. The NAP also would contend if you have no chance of defending yourself against an aggressor it is time to negotiate or get some friends to help. While other libertarians want to avoid tangled alliances I think good alliances need to be caught of other countries that follow the NAP so they can stand together in the event of being threatened with force.
5) Proportionality – The idea is you don’t just nuke a country when they attack you but act in a way that is proportional to what is needed to bring the war to a swift conclusion with minimal loss of life. Some might argue that the USA use of nukes against Japan was out of proportion but the fact was we would have lost many more soldiers invading Japan, not to mention the losses for Japan itself than by dropping the two bombs. Proportionality is somewhat more of a principle when your deciding who to go to war with. You don’t declare war on the whole world when you just being attacked by one country. This can be a sticky area once war is declared. Truth be told wars should at times be waged with maximum force and done as quickly as possible to victory. Patton was right from my perspective once war is declared. In a sense if you can see a long war coming ‘proportionality’ might be the thing that keeps you from starting such a war in the first place.
6) Last Resort – This is probably more of a guiding force in conjunction with NAP. War should be something that happens when all other options are truly exhausted. One of those option that has not been used much of late is what I call ‘take my ball and go home’ Just because a country is not treating us well diplomatically does not mean we have to go to war with them. It might simply mean that we pick ups stakes, close our embassy and go home and leave them to their own devices. When you want to be friends again give us a call. In my opinion, the United Nations causes us to not do this as much which is why we should either give them less credence or withdraw from them altogether. Sometimes the way to coexist with a bad neighbor is to walk away and build a larger, fence not punch them in the nose.
When both philosophies are put together there does seem to be some harmony. I am not sure however if they mess so well in the area of Just Cause. Just war theory might think that there are more just causes than just self-defense or defense of others. Resources, certain principles other things might be just causes for some and they could still use Just War Theory, but for the follower of the NAP those things are not about war but negotiation. I still have some things to think through here but I believe I am off to a good start.