We may be at the early stages of the Third World War. This war, whether it deserves the description "world" or not, may last for Thirty Years or One Hundred Years - capitals remind us that some wars in history have lasted for a long time. The UK looks like it will vote this week to join Russia and France as European countries bombing Daesh. What is the right course of action in such an awful situation as Daesh's thuggery against local citizens of its 'caliphate' and against citizens of selected other countries?
I am also doing some thinking about war in relation to my study leave project. I am thinking about three forms of war: Holy War (with particular reference to YHWH commanding Israel to cleanse Canaan of opposing tribes), Just War (with particular reference to a theory or theories that in some limited circumstances war may be conducted justly, e.g. as a defensive, protective measure) and Merciful War (on which, to be honest, I am ignorant of what may have been previously written; but my idea is that in some (rare) circumstances, war might be conducted in order to save people from a terrible end, including saving people with whom one nation (or set of nations) has no predetermined obligation to help via treaty.
In my (limited) understanding of what is going on in the minds of national leaders either currently conducting or considering conducting war against Daesh, some elements of all three kinds of war may be involved (albeit no Western leader is going to own up to engaging in "Holy War")! That is, Holy War: there is an element of cleansing the world of terrible evil in the rationale behind going to war with Daesh; Just War: another motivation is a mixture of proportionate response to Daesh's terrorism as well as defensive and protective measures in which destruction of the Daesh command could severely inhibit its ability to organise terrorism in the West; Merciful War: unless Daesh is stopped now, even more people, particularly women, children and homosexuals, will be caught up in its evil use and abuse of people deemed to be either some kind of subservient creature or unfit for Daesh's vision of God's society on earth.
As a matter of fact, the Russian Orthodox Church has declared the Russian role in the war on Daesh a Holy War (against terrorism). [Though see comment by Andrei below re what exactly has been said].
But the last few days, as I read around the internet traps, the role of Turkey is complicating calculations of the kind that (say) theologians might be interested in making about war in these circumstances. Has it been buying oil from Daesh and thus funding it activities? Why did Turkey shoot down the Russian jet? I cannot now find the article I read recently, but one calculation is this: Turkey wants Assad ousted and wants to prevent the continuation of a fledgling Kurdish state but Russia's involvement is an attempt to save Assad and its fight against Daesh implicitly supports the fledgling Kurdish state so shooting down the jet was a signal of Turkey's displeasure with Russia's role. OK so there is speculative calculation here but it does seem worthwhile asking the question, before unleashing further bombs, what kind of damage would be done to Daesh if Turkey was brought onto the same side, without prevarication, as Russia, France and other Western allies.
So long as Turkey is an ambiguous role player - I dare not honour them with the word "ally" - is further participation in the war by Britain going to achieve much?
On paper I think I can line up arguments for war against Daesh being holy, just and merciful. In practice the politics of the Middle East is very complicated and war achieving the opposite of intended outcomes is a real possibility. What is a theologically-minded Christian to do?
POSTSCRIPT: It is a bit of a long read, but this 2009 article by Rene Girard is pertinent to the madness of the age in which we live.
POSTPOSTSCRIPT: The Economist sets out the case for and against here.