theory is a doctrine
of military ethics of Roman philosophical and Catholic origin studied by moral theologians
and international policy makers
which holds that a conflict
can and ought to meet the criteria of philosophical
or political justice
, provided it follows certain conditions
The Just War Theory was asserted as authoritative Catholic Church teaching by the United States Catholic Bishops in their pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response
, issued in 1983. More recently, the Catechism of the Catholic Church
, in paragraph 2309, lists four strict conditions for "legitimate defence by military force":
- 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 power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
While proponents claim such views have a long tradition, critics claim the application of Just War is only relativistic, and directly contradicts more universal philosophical traditions such as the Ethic of reciprocity. Secular humanists may accept just war theory based on universal ethics without reference to Christian morality.
Just War theorists combine both a moral abhorrence towards war with a readiness to accept that war may sometimes be necessary. The criteria of the just war tradition act as an aid to determining whether resorting to arms is morally permissible. Just War are attempts to distinguish between justifiable and unjustifiable uses of organized armed forces; they attempt to conceive of how the use of arms might be restrained, made more humane, and ultimately directed towards the aim of establishing lasting peace and justice.
The idea that resorting to war can only be just under certain conditions goes back at least to Cicero. Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas and Hugo Grotius later codified a set of rules for a just war, which today still encompass the points commonly debated, with some modifications.
The Just War tradition addresses the morality of the use of force in two parts: when it is right to resort to armed force (the concern of jus ad bellum) and what is acceptable in using such force (the concern of jus in bello). In more recent years, a third category — jus post bellum — has been added, which governs the justice of war termination and peace agreements, as well as the trying of war criminals.
Criteria of Just War theory
Just War Theory has two set of criteria. The first establishing jus ad bellum
, the right to go to war; the second establishing jus in bello
, right conduct within war.
Jus ad bellum
Just cause: The reason for going to war needs to be just and cannot therefore be solely for recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong; innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life. A contemporary view of just cause was expressed in 1993 when the US Catholic Conference said: "Force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic human rights of whole populations."
Comparative justice: While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to override the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other. Some theorists such as Brian Orend
omit this term, seeing it as fertile ground for exploitation by bellicose regimes.Legitimate authority: Only duly constituted public authorities
may wage war.Right intention: Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention
, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.Probability of success: Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;Last resort: Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical. It may be clear that the other side is using negotiations as a delaying tactic and will not make meaningful concessions.Proportionality: The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms. This principle is also known as the principle of macro-proportionality, so as to distinguish it from the jus in bello
principle of proportionality.
Jus in bello
Once war has begun, just war theory also directs how combatants
are to act:
(Jus in bello
: Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of distinction. The acts of war should be directed towards enemy combatants, and not towards non-combatants
caught in circumstances they did not create. The prohibited acts include bombing civilian residential areas that include no military target and committing acts of terrorism or reprisal against ordinary civilians.Proportionality
: Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of proportionality. The force used must be proportional to the wrong endured, and to the possible good that may come. The more disproportional the number of collateral civilian deaths, the more suspect will be the sincerity of a belligerent nation's claim to justness of a war it fights.Military necessity
: Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of minimum force. An attack or action must be intended to help in the military defeat of the enemy, it must be an attack on a military objective, and the harm caused to civilians or civilian property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. This principle is meant to limit excessive and unnecessary death and destruction.
Ending a war: jus post bellum
In recent years, some theorists, such as Gary Bass
, Louis Iasiello
and Brian Orend
, have proposed a third category within Just War theory. Jus post bellum
concerns justice after a war, including peace treaties
, war crimes
trials, and war reparations
. Orend, for instance, proposes the following principles:Just cause for termination:A state may terminate a war if there has been a reasonable vindication of the rights that were violated in the first place, and if the aggressor is willing to negotiate the terms of surrender. These terms of surrender include a formal apology, compensations, war crimes trials and perhaps rehabilitation. Alternatively a state may end a war if it becomes clear that any just goals of the war cannot be reached at all or cannot be reached without using excessive force. Right intention:A state must only terminate a war under the conditions agreed upon in the above criteria. Revenge is not permitted. The victor state must also be willing to apply the same level of objectivity and investigation into any war crimes its armed forces may have committed.Public declaration and authority:The terms of peace must be made by a legitimate authority, and the terms must be accepted by a legitimate authority. Discrimination:The victor state is to differentiate between political and military leaders, and combatants and civilians. Punitive measures are to be limited to those directly responsible for the conflict. Truth and reconciliation
may sometimes be more important than punishing war crimes.Proportionality:Any terms of surrender must be proportional to the rights that were initially violated. Draconian measures, absolutionist crusades and any attempt at denying the surrendered country the right to participate in the world community are not permitted.
- Militarism - Militarism is the belief that war is not inherently bad but can be a beneficial aspect of society.
- Realism - The core proposition of realism is a skepticism as to whether moral concepts such as justice can be applied to the conduct of international affairs. Proponents of realism believe that moral concepts should never prescribe, nor circumscribe, a state's behaviour. Instead, a state should place an emphasis on state security and self-interest. One form of realism - descriptive realism - proposes that states cannot act morally, while another form - prescriptive realism - argues that the motivating factor for a state is self-interest. Just wars that violate Just Wars principles effectively constitute a branch of realism.
- Revolution and Civil War - Just War Theory states that a just war must have just authority. To the extent that this is interpreted as a legitimate government, this leaves little room for revolutionary war or civil war, in which an illegitimate entity may declare war for reasons that fit the remaining criteria of Just War Theory. This is less of a problem if the "just authority" is widely interpreted as "the will of the people" or similar. Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions side-steps this issue by stating that if one of the parties to a civil war is a High Contracting Party (in practice, the state recognised by the international community,) both Parties to the conflict are bound "as a minimum, the following [humanitarian] provisions." Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention also makes clear that the treatment of prisoners of war is binding on both parties even when captured soldiers have an "allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power."
- Nonviolent struggle - The "just war" criterion of "last resort" requires believers to look for alternative means of conflict. The methods of nonviolent action permit the waging of political struggle without resort to violence. Historical evidence and political theory can be examined to determine whether nonviolent struggle can be expected to be effective in future conflicts. If nonviolent action is determined effective, then the requirements for "just war" are not met.
- Absolutism - Absolutism holds that there are various ethical rules that are absolute. Breaking such moral rules is never legitimate and therefore is always unjustifiable.
- Pacifism - Pacifism is the belief that war of any kind is morally unacceptable and/or pragmatically not worth the cost. Pacifists extend humanitarian concern not just to enemy civilians but also to combatants, especially conscripts.
The just war tradition and the Iraq War
In the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the question of whether the invasion would be a just war was posed. Many of those on both sides of the debate framed their arguments in terms of the Just War. They came to quite different conclusions because they put different interpretations on how the just war criteria should be applied. Supporters of the war tended to accept the US position that the enforcement of UN resolutions was sufficient authority or even, as in the case of the Land Letter, that the United States as a sovereign nation could count as legitimate authority. Opponents of the war tended to interpret legitimate authority as requiring a specific Security Council resolution.
List of just war theorists
- Heindel, Max, The Rosicrucian Philosophy in Questions and Answers - Volume II (The Philosophy of War, World War I reference, ed. 1918), ISBN 0-911274-90-1 (Describing a philosophy of war and just war concepts from a Rosicrucian point of view)
- Benson, Richard, (The Just War Theory: A traditional Catholic moral view), The Tidings (2006). (Showing the Catholic view in three points, including John Paul II's position concerning war)
- Michael Walzer Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, 4th ed., (New York: Basic Books, 1977). ISBN 0-465-03707-0.
- Uwe Steinhoff, On the Ethics of War and Terrorism (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007). Covers the basics and some of the most controversial current debates.
- David Roberts MacDonald, Padre E. C. Crosse and 'the Devonshire Epitaph': The Astonishing Story of One Man at the Battle of the Somme (with Antecedents to Today's 'Just War' Dialogue), 2007 Cloverdale Books, South Bend. ISBN 978-1-929569-45-8
- Irfan Khawaja, Review of Larry May, War Crimes and Just War, in Democratiya 10, (), an extended critique of just war theory.
Michael W. Brough, John W. Lango, Harry van der Linden, eds., Rethinking the Just War Tradition (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2007). Disccusses the contemporary relevance of just war theory. Offers an annotated bibliography of current writings on just war theory.
- v. Starck, Christian (Hrsg.): Kann es heute noch gerechte Kriege geben?, Wallstein-Verlag 2008