Which is more important – peace or justice? According to the standard interpretation of Just War Theory, there is a ‘presumption against war’; the harm war does is so great that anybody wishing to wage it has to prove their case beyond all reasonable doubt, and peace – defined as ‘an absence of war’ – is a supreme value. Some philosophers, however, claim that there is no presumption against war. Rather there is a ‘presumption against injustice’. In this view, an absence of war (‘negative peace’) is not true peace at all. In order to produce a ‘positive peace’, in which justice flourishes, it is permissible to fight.
An interesting new survey reveals that the inhabitants of different countries have very different attitudes towards this issue. According to the Halifax/IPSOS Global Snapshot, produced for the 2015 Halifax International Security Forum, ‘over 70% of Americans and Chinese – more than any other country – believe that under certain conditions, war is necessary to achieve justice … [but] only 38% of Russians agree with that statement.’ I have been unable to copy the chart used in the Global Snapshot Report, but have entered the data into an Excel spreadsheet to produce a version which shows the main results, as follows:
A number of things come out of this. First, the Anglosphere (the USA, UK, Australia, Canada, and to some extent India) is remarkably belligerent. Second, Hispanic countries (Mexico, Spain, Brazil, and Argentina) seem remarkably peace-loving. Third, Russia is a lot less inclined to wage war for some interpretation of ‘justice’ than most Western states. How do we explain these differences?
Power may have something to do with it. The United States, China, and Saudi Arabia are, probably not coincidentally, the first, second, and third largest spenders on defence in the world, while the UK is fifth. It would appear that having a lot of weapons may create, or spring from, an inclination to use them. But that wouldn’t explain why Russia and Japan (4th largest and 7th largest spenders respectively) are so much less inclined to use force than the USA and China. There appear to be some missing variables.
Culture and history are obvious candidates to fill the gap. As I have mentioned in previous posts, ‘just war’ isn’t part of the Russian philosophical tradition. War is seen as a tragic necessity, fought for reasons of security and not as a means of pursuing ‘justice’. By contrast, the modern Western philosophy of universal human rights means that it is relatively easy for Western Europeans and North Americans to regard war as something which can bring justice to the world. The religious zeal of the Saudis may perhaps give them a somewhat similar attitude. Overall, I speculate that countries which prefer peace to justice either haven’t had much experience with war (Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico), and so haven’t got into the bad habit of thinking that it might be a good idea, or have had really bad experiences with war (Japan, Spain, Germany, and Russia), and so have learnt the hard way that war doesn’t bring justice and is best avoided.
What obviously isn’t true is the much beloved neoconservative idea that democracies are peace-loving. Some are, but some aren’t. And Russians, it appears, value peace more highly than Americans.