The (Catholic?) Blair Doctrine

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair entered the Catholic Church in 2007, several months after leaving office and apparently many years after beginning a serious journey toward Her.  In reading accounts of his conversion I came across an interesting event during his tenure as PM that might have indicated, even back in 1999, that his Catholic formation regarding use of force was well underway.

In April 1999 Blair had been invited to speak at the Economic Club of Chicago’s annual meeting, where he presented what became known as the “Blair Doctrine” of international community building including guidelines for warranted military intervention.  At the time the Kosovo War was raging and NATO had begun airstrikes to drive Yugoslav forces out of Kosovo; the year before the United States and Britain had conducted airstrikes against Iraq in response to Saddam Hussein’s lack of coordination with UN arms inspectors, and the U.S. had sent cruise missiles into Afghanistan and Sudan in retaliation for the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.  If, how, and why intervention should occur was a naturally hot topic that has only gotten hotter a decade and a half on.

At the 1999 Economic Club of Chicago meeting Blair articulated the conditions for intervention with five questions Catholics should find familiar.

“First, are we sure of our case?… armed force is sometimes the only way of dealing with dictators.

Second, have we exhausted all diplomatic options?…

Third, on the basis of a practical assessment of the situation are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake?…

Fourth, are we prepared for the long term?…

Finally, do we have national interests involved?”

Prime Minister Tony Blair, Economic Club of Chicago, April 22, 1999

Our Catechism presents a summary of the so-called “just war” doctrine thus:

“The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy.  At one and the same time:

the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

there must be serious prospects of success;

the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgement of those who have responsibility for the common good.”

CCC par. 2309

I’ve read a lot of skeptical commentary about Blair’s conversion, questioning his intentions, his sincerity and his orthodoxy.  Some, perhaps most, of the criticism has legitimate foundations.  Nonetheless I find the Blair Doctrine to be consistent with my understanding of “just war;” and in fact I’ve begun considering it in the confounding context of ISIS and their asymmetric tactics.

How does one attack an evil enemy that has no “dictator” at its head and is embedded in an otherwise (at least partially) innocent population?  Is it necessary for the Church to revise or clarify the just war doctrine for Christianity’s modern day adversaries?

(NOTE:  an interesting recent BBC interview with Blair in which he discusses the ISIS problem, and in which his 1999 Economic Club speech is cited including the quotation above, can be found here.  In addition, PBS has published a complete transcript of the EC speech here.)

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