Conflict, Abroad and at Home

"That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason." Justice Robert H. Jackson's words at the Nuremberg tribunal opened Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter's case for an international legal proceeding against Osama bin Laden. The Armstrong professor of international, foreign, and comparative law spoke as one of three faculty members invited by President Lawrence H. Summers to address the initial Harvard University Forum, "A World in Conflict," held November 6 at the Harvard Club of New York. In the aftermath of September 11, said Summers in introductory remarks, the way a university contributes most "is by helping to see the larger meaning of events and helping to understand them." The forum, which included J. Bryan Hehir, then chair of the Divinity School's executive committee, and Joseph S. Nye Jr., the dean of the Kennedy School of Government, extended that work beyond the campus by engaging a largely alumni audience in lively exchanges about justice, conflicting cultures, and Americans' awareness of the wider world.

In the context of terrorism, Slaughter said, there is much talk about national criminal courts, but the language of war brings international law, the Geneva Conventions, and the Nuremberg precedent into play. Now, she said, "This horrible series of events has brought those two frameworks clashing together." National court proceedings raise issues of fairness, presentation of secret evidence, security, and grandstanding by defendants. Military courts lack traditional due-process protections. Absent an established international criminal court, Slaughter recommended some sort of international tribunal, perhaps created by the United Nations Security Council, that would facilitate extradition; allow defendants to be tried for crimes against humanity; sustain a global coalition against terrorism; and, credibly, uphold the world, as opposed to a national, system of law, as all legal systems join in condemning the universal assault being tried.

Most nations are not well prepared to discuss religion and world politics, Hehir observed. That results from the seventeenth-century origins of the modern state, when international politics, following a century of devastating religious war, were deliberately secularized. Today, he said, political-science textbooks and foreign-affairs bureaucracies are equally limited in viewing religion as a "black box," but in a world shaped and moved by "transnational actors," it becomes urgent to understand them, be they IBM or the Jesuits.

Ethical concerns do influence policy, Hehir continued, in defining morally acceptable uses of force. He outlined the thinking about "just cause" for war, and efforts to draw acceptable boundaries around "just means": war must target aggressors, not civilians; where civilians are killed despite best efforts to spare them, military leaders must assure that the casualties are not "disproportionate"--and give up targets where the risks of such damage are too high. Maintaining that standard, Hehir argued, poses a "significant test" for America going forward.

Despite many warnings, said Nye, who served as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs in the early 1990s, Americans remained heedless of the threat of terrorism. September 11 was "an enormous wake-up call," ranging from President Bush's shift from a foreign policy marked by unilateralism to coalition-building against terrorism and support for legislation on money laundering and UN dues, to emerging domestic investments in homeland defense and intelligence. These measures are helping to move the nation beyond "that terrible sense of complacency which ate away our preparedness in the 1990s."

In concluding the presentations, Summers said that during the Vietnam era, "a cleavage grew between coastal elites and patriotic values, between coastal elites and the military--and certainly Harvard was, for a long time, very much part of that." Post September 11, "when we are as close to having a conflict between fear and hope, between wrong and right, as we have had in two generations, is a time when some broader reconciliation of values may be possible and appropriate." If the shock leads to "a greater commitment to public service, a greater commitment to patriotism, a greater sense of mutual high regard between universities and the armed forces of the United States," he said, "that will be something good that has come out of the critical challenges that we face."

Read more articles by John S. Rosenberg

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