“How many divisions has he got?” The Holy See’s soft power on the US Wars in Iraq, 1991 & 2003

  • Luke Cahill

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


It is unsurprising that the Holy See, as a religious actor, opposed both 1991 and 2003 Iraq Wars. However, a contradiction exists as to why it did so. In 1991 it predicated its opposition on not all the just war criteria being met. This was despite UN Security Council support and the war been seen as just. For the 2003 war, Holy See opposition was based principally on the lack of a Security Council resolution. From this, its presumed moral status can be questioned through
its seemingly total rejection of the moral use of force. Using Nye’s concept of soft power and Arnold Wolfers’ possession (security or territory) and milieu (shaping the environment in which states operate) goals, this thesis will argue that the Holy See’s milieu goals were too weak to overcome US possession goals. As expected the Holy See emphasised milieu goals while the US stressed possession goals. However, these delineations became blurred. The United States sought to merge milieu and possession goals. It wished to be seen as benevolent, in addition to its seeking possession goals. The Holy See also wished to advance its possession goals. It sought to protect Iraqi Chaldean
Catholics, as well as Christians in the wider Middle East, through vocal opposition. The Holy See hoped that this opposition would separate the US-led coalitions’ actions from the indigenous Christians in the region in the eyes of non-Christians. Thus, seeking to avoid a regional backlash against Christians.
The central hypothesis of this thesis tests how the Holy See attempted to use soft power to attract the United States to its policies. It will be maintained that the divisions between US Catholics weakened Holy See attraction on the US government. Consequently, the pope had more divisions than he would care to admit. Central to domestic factors were cultural differences. US political culture was fundamentally Protestant and had a binary worldview, making the use of force more likely. Other domestic factors were Catholicism’s divided nature,
institutional and polling aspects which benefited both presidents. Concurrently, its special international status made it harder to relate to the United States and weakened its soft power. However, Holy See opposition was also predicated on the advancement of its possession goals. This thesis helps understand Holy See foreign policy through the lens of milieu and possession goals. Its neutrality and theology made it apply an impossibly high just war theory standard. It also has wider implications for the study of soft power to the study of International Relations.
Date of Award19 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorBrett Edwards (Supervisor) & Scott Thomas (Supervisor)

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