One of the criteria for a Just War is that it be declared by “competent authority.” In the case of a nation going to war, this “competent authority” is usually defined by law or in a constitution. For instance, the United States Constitution provides that only Congress can declare war. 

In the case of rebellion/revolution/resistance, this criterion poses an interesting issue. Who has the authority to call for a revolution against an existing government? In one sense, “the people” do, since according to the Declaration of Independence, governments rule only with the “consent of the governed.” . However, “the people” is an unorganized mass. In several historical cases, governors of subordinate units (state or province) have called for revolution. Barring that, however, it is not always clear who has the authority to call the people “to arms” against a tyrannical government.  Someone may speak up, but until he obtains followers, he is not a leader. He may end up as a martyr instead. 

In both Venezuela and Ukraine, the people took the issue into their own hands, staging protests. However, these protests were largely leaderless, in the sense that no one called for them, no one really could speak for them, and no one could negotiate on their behalf. In Ukraine, the legislature has apparently stepped up to its duties, impeached the President, and is planning to hold elections. Having been elected previously, the members of parliament presumably have the authority to speak for their constituents. 

In Venezuela, the legislature is part of the problem. Who, then, can speak for the protesters? It seems that a “leader” may have appeared. Retired general Angel Vivas has, according to press reports, become a “folk hero” by defying President Maduro’s attempts to arrest him because of his backing of student protests. Vivas has threatened to die fighting if Maduro sends troops to arrest him, and the local populace have taken steps to protect Vivas. 

Whether anything will come of this is uncertain as of this writing. However, this illustrates the problem of justifying a rebellion. Someone, somehow, must ultimately become a focal point for it, gaining a following and thereby gaining the authority to speak and negotiate on behalf of “the people.” In a situation where revolution or resistance of some kind seems the only remaining option, satisfying the “competent authority” criterion must be taken into account. 

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Some follow-ups on previous posts.

Syria. A suicide bombing killed the top al Qaeda emissary in Syria. The emissary had propsed to protect religious minorities in Syria, and to give up plans for an Islamic Caliphate stretching across all the Muslim nations in the Near East and North Africa. Bad as Assad is, at least he protected non-Muslim religious minorities. At least one rebel faction is worse than Assad. The rebels thus fail the Just War criterion of Comparative Justice. They are worse than the government against which they are rebelling.

Ukraine. Yulia Tymoshenko, the candidate for President who was defeated by Yanukovych, was released from prison. However, her popularity appears to be even lower than when she was Prime Minister. It is not clear if she will again run for office. The Parliament appears to be stepping up to its Constitutional duties, calling off the police and allowing the protester to camp in the Maidan square without trouble. This implies continuity of government, rather than an overthrow of the government. The situation in Ukraine has thus reverted to politics rather than revolution, at least temporarily.

Venezuela. Massive protests continue, with the government organizing counter-protests and allegedly provoking violence among the protesters. However, one disconcerting sign is the reported widespread use by the protesters of a T-shirt bearing the message, “The one who gets tired loses.” Yes, the message is, they don’t plan to quit, but it says nothing about their goals. A goal to get rid of Maduro isn’t enough. From the Just War standpoint, a justifiable revolution requires a positive goal. What do they want to put in place of Maduro’s government? So far their leaders have not said.

Ukraine, Venezuela, and “Right Intention.”

February 23, 2014

The current anti-government protests in Ukraine and Venezuela raise an important issue from the Just War standpoint. Given that the protesters satisfy “Just Cause,” what next? Another Just War criterion, “Right Intention,” becomes important. Failing to satisfy that criterion would mean the protests are unjustified.

“Right Intention” is usually phrased in negative terms. The intention of rebels must not be to replace one tyrant with another tyrant, or to replace one corrupt government with another corrupt government. The intention must not be loot, revenge, or anything of the sort. However, negative intentions are not enough. Almost by definition, “right intention” demands that there be a positive intention.

As of this writing, Viktor Yanukovych, President of Ukraine, has left the capital of Kiev, but insists he is still President. The Parliament has set a near date for elections, May 25. That gives two months for opposition candidates to campaign. However, still amounts to temporizing. Neither the leaders of the protests, nor the leaders in Parliament, have given any hint of what their intentions are for after the elections. At this point we cannot judge the rightness of their intentions because they have not expressed any intentions except “Yanukovych must go.” That is at best a negative intention. Without a positive intention, the Just War criteria for justifiable revolt are not met.

The situation in Venezuela is even less clear. Mr. Maduro, elected President last year by a narrow margin, has expelled foreign reporters and American diplomats. He accuses the United States of fomenting the protests, and demands negotiations with the United States. Mr. Lopez, at least nominal leader of the protests, has simply urged his followers to “take to the streets.” He apparently has not made any statements about the goals of the protests. “Maduro must go” would not be a “right intention,” because it is a negative intention. The protesters and their leaders need to make clear some positive intentions for what comes after Maduro. Finally, it should be mentioned that Maduro is demanding negotiations with the United States over the protests. It’s not clear what might be the purpose of such negotiations. Maduro’s fight is with the Venezuelan people, not with the United States.    We have an interest in seeing the people of Venezuela have a government that respects their rights, but beyond that we are not involved.