Home > Legitimacy, Morality, Principles of War, Strategy > The Question of Legitimacy

The Question of Legitimacy

An article on strategic legitimacy by retired Marine LTC Robert J. Weimann was posted yesterday on Small Wars Journal.  It addresses the issue of legitimacy, which is included as a new Principle of War in the new JP 3-0.  The author offers the following abbreviated excerpt of the definition of legitimacy:

…Legitimacy … The purpose of legitimacy is to develop and maintain the will necessary to attain the national strategic end state…Legitimacy is based on the legality, morality, and rightness of the actions undertaken. Legitimacy is frequently a decisive element. Interested audiences may include the foreign nations, civil populations in the operational area, and the participating forces.

Here is the big problem with legitimacy; it is a subjective judgement.  It is the domain of the population, not the military or government.  Legitimacy is clearly something we need to be attuned to, however, I think we still don’t get it.  We tend to confuse legitimacy with justification, but these two terms are not interchangeable.  A justifiable action is not necessarily a legitimate one.  Justification is largely a legal issue, whereas legitimacy is a moral issue.

The new definition of legitimacy as a Principle of War uses the terms legality, morality, and rightness – legality is clearly incorrect.  This dynamic was at play during the run up to Iraq.  The administrations push to war was an exercise in building justification, culminating in Colin Powell’s briefing and the UN.

Justification does not equal legitimacy.  Of the two, legitimacy is the most important.  But as long as we think of it as a justification/legal principle, we are doomed to fail.

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