Friday, June 09, 2006

Just War Theory

Just War Theory

  • Just war theory was first collated by St. Thomas Aquinas, but pioneered by the classical Greek philosophers, Aristotle, Cicero and Augustine.
  • Just war theory is the middle ground between 3 other war theories: realism, pacifism and militarism.
  • Realism is a stance adopted by most governments and states; simply that governments should go to war when it is in their best interests to do so. It is a largely amoral stance and does not concern itself with the more personal, human side of warfare.
  • Pacifism is a prevalent view in modern times, with many famous faces to it’s name, such as Martin Luther King, Mohandas Ghandi and even Jesus Christ himself.
    • I do not like pacifism much; its doctrine states that all violence is wrong, even if it involves defending the weak and helpless.
    • Edmund Burke once said that for evil to prevail, all is needed is for good men to do nothing.


  • Militarism is a form of political bloodlust, where atrocities occur on grand scales! The wholesale massacre of the Jews in Germany and Indians during the British conquest were militaristic acts.
    • Hallmarks of militarism involve the blind faith of the populace, a hierarchical system where obedience and violence are rewarded, as well as the suppression of emotion.


  • Just war theory accepts that, while pacifism and peace are a preferable state, there are more morally acceptable methods of waging war.
  • It is a pseudo-religious doctrine, not unlike the Muslim “Jihad”, meaning “struggle”. However, it would be wrong to say that a Jihad is a “holy war”, similar to those justified by the Christian “Just War”, as a Jihad can be more of an internal struggle than an external one.


  • There are three states of just war:
    • Jus ad bellum”, the only reasons adequate for starting war, including these set by Aquinas:
      • Just Cause – where force should be used to rectify a grave public evil.
        • St. Augustine categorised “just cause” into 3 subsets:
        • Defending against an external attack.
        • Recapturing things taken.
        • Punishing people who have done wrong.
      • Legitimate Authority – only the correct authorities have the power to enter a state of war.
      • Right Intention – a war must be considered “just” or “virtuous”, after a sense, so war can be used to rectify a wrong, but not for material gain.
    • These were later added to, to include:
      • Comparative Justice – where what damage you are dealt, try and deal back (or preferably deal back less).
      • Probability of Success – war should only be waged if you think you’re gonna win! It’s not about the taking part, it’s about the kicking of the ass.
      • Last Resort – war should only be resorted to when all viable peaceful alternatives have been exhausted.


  • There is also “jus in bello”, or during war conduct:
    • Discrimination – acts of war should be conducted towards participants, not civilians.
    • Proportionality – violence against the opposition must be proportional to the wrong done, however, rather contradictingly, there is also:
    • Minimum force – where aggression is kept to a minimum.


  • The third part of a complete just war was formulated fairly recently by theorists such as Gary Bass and Brian Orend. They are:
    • Just cause for termination – you’d better have a jolly good reason to stop!
    • Right intention – just like before, one should not stop for material gain, but only if the wrong has been righted.
    • Right authority – the war must be ended by a legitimate authority
    • Discrimination
    • Proportionality

Some Challenges

  • 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 not a problem if the "just authority" is interpeted more widely such as "the will of the people" or similar. Certain types of civil war are specifically mentioned in Article 1. Paragraph 4 of the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, as covered by the international provisions of the Geneva Conventions namely those ... in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes ..., this gives those fighting against such states the same status under international law and "just authority" as a legitimate government.


  • "Just" Wars that violate Just Wars principles. Many ideologies agree with the tradition that war should be fought only if done for a just cause but reject most if not all of the other criteria of the tradition. The Marxist tradition can be seen as part of this category. For Marxists the only criteria is whether a war is "progressive" (ie just within their terms) and it is irrelevant how costly the war may be. Husayn bin Ali is celebrated for his pursuit of his "just" claim to the caliphate despite the fact his rebellion was doomed to failure. However Husayn's rebellion was an unjust war by the criteria of the Just War tradition because it violated the principle that there must be a reasonable chance of success.


  • Absolutism - Absolutism holds that there are various ethical rules that are, as the name implies, absolute. Breaking such moral rules is never legitimate and therefore is always unjustifiable. The philosopher Thomas Nagel is a well known supporter of this view, having defended it in his essay War and Massacre.


In a state of Total War it is almost impossible to distinguish between civilian and combatant! Total war, for reference, is one in which a country devotes all of its resources to wiping out another country. Saucy.

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