Pedro Gerson '13 on Felipe Calderon and Mexico's War on Drugs

A Moral Perspective on the War on Drugs
Pedro Gerson
Latin America(n) Matters
December 2, 2012

As the sun sets on Felipe Calderon’s presidency the articles assessing the successes and the failures of his term began to appear. Some articles praised his handle of healthcare issues, some his willingness to engage with the public in debate, some criticized him for failing to end a telecommunications oligopoly and others for seeing poverty levels go up. Myriads of opinions surfaced and yet all the writers, inevitably, spilled ink dissecting the “War on Drugs.” This issue has become central to any discussion of what Calderon did right and what Peña Nieto must do as the new incumbent. A lot is said, but the conversation remains disperse. People talk past each other, not only because they are not listening but also because they do not clearly establish what it is they are talking about. A way to avoid this wonky dissonance is through the perspective of a normative framework. I believe that a framework can help us have a we a more constructive dialogue. I therefore set out to analyze the moral justification of the War on Drugs based on the “Just War Theory.” At the outset I must admit that even an analysis of the issue through established objective principles, is not objective. The application of the principles serve as a tool to discuss the issue in a more productive manner, they do not however erase the unavoidability of subjectivity.

 The reason to use “Just War Theory” is that most of its principles became the foundation for international conflict jurisprudence – the Geneva Convention and the U.N. Charter are codifications of many of the principles, for example. “Just War Theory” is a branch of moral philosophy that has, until recently, found little to no philosophical opposition. The doctrine dates to the Roman Empire, but was not a sophisticated and thought out philosophy until the 16th and 17th centuries. It establishes a set of objective moral principles to assess the validity of a war. Although this theory is mainly centered on the notion of international conflict, I believe that the principles are uncontroversial enough to use them to analyze a domestic struggle.

The theory distinguishes between the justification for war itself (jus ad bellum) and the justified conduct in war (jus in bello). Here we will focus on the former of the two. In simplest terms, there are six principles to justify a war: just cause, legitimate authority, right intention, necessity or last resort, proportionality and reasonable hope of success. “Just cause” is the most important principle. It establishes that a state may only launch a war for the right reasons. These often include an external attack, the protection of the innocent, or the correction of a wrongdoing which remains uncorrected. “Legitimate authority” refers to the legitimacy of the governing body that commences the conflict. “Right intention” refers to the idea that a State can only fight a war for the sake of its just cause. This principle establishes as immoral a conflict that has ulterior motives, such as a land grab, revenge or ethnic cleansing, for example. “Last resort” is the idea that the State has extinguished all other possible venues for conflict resolution. “Proportionality” refers to a sort of cost-benefit analysis, where if it seems the goods that will result from it will outweigh the evils, then the war is justified. Finally, there is a requirement that there be a measurable impact on the situation at hand, meaning that there’s a probability that the State will win.