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Charities leader says preemptive strike on Iraq could destabilize globe. (News)(Cover Story).

Fr. Bryan Hehir has been a leading analyst of the doctrine of the "just war" first enunciated by St. Augustine. In Kansas City, Mo., Sept. 5 to give a talk on "The Crisis in the Middle East: A Catholic Perspective," Hehir discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. war on terrorism and plans for a possible invasion of Iraq. He said in his opinion the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan was necessary and morally justifiable, but he raised concerns about a preemptive strike on Iraq, which he said carried with it the risk of destabilizing the globe.

Now president of Catholic Charities USA, Hehir was from 1993 to 2001 professor of the Practice in Religion and Society at Harvard Divinity School and Harvard's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and dean of the Divinity School from 1999 to 2001. He is author of articles titled "The Just War Ethic Revisited" and "Military Intervention and National Sovereignty." As adviser to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Hehir was one of the principal authors of the bishops' 1983 pastoral statement on war and peace.

Since Sept. 11, it is almost impossible to talk about world politics without also talking about religion, Hehir said. From that point of view, he said current conditions present the West with a set of circumstances not seen since 1648 when the Peace of Westphalia put an end to the wars of religion in Europe that had killed approximately one-third of the population. The Westphalian order of world politics that has prevailed for the past 350 years posited that the world should be understood in terms of sovereign states pledged to nonintervention in the affairs of other sovereign states and with a clear separation of religion and state.

"What is interesting about 2001 is that these propositions have been challenged," Hehir said. The world of the last 15 to 20 years has been globalized, Hehir said. Sovereignty still exists but not as an airtight defense against outside forces.

While the notion of absolute sovereignty may need some reinterpretation--intervention may sometimes be warranted on humanitarian grounds to prevent genocide, for example--Hehir said the United States should be slow to abandon the principle of nonintervention in the affairs of other nations. He also warned of the danger of a preemptive use of force. "The preemptive use of force is a notion we've tried to discourage in world politics," said Hehir, who added that legitimizing preemptive actions turns the world away from a conservative use of force. The United States' increasingly unilateralist style of foreign policy offers cause for concern, Hehir said, because unilateralism strikes at what the United Nations stands for.

The case for invading Iraq is not totally without substance, but a serious cause for war is not the same as a casus belli, an act or event that provokes or is used to justify war, Hehir said. He went on to observe that the Middle East's possession of vast oil resources makes it inherently the object of conflict. "If you took all the Arabs and the Israelis out of the Middle East, it would still be a complicated region and a conflictual region," Hehir said.

Margot Patterson is NCR senior writer. Her email address is
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Title Annotation:Bryan Hehir
Author:Patterson, Margot
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 20, 2002
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