The Just War Doctrine

I am in the process of writing a white paper on terrorism… will not be an emotional rambling on the act but rather a study of what it is and how it operates…..with the hope that it will help others understand the term more.

While doing my research I got to thinking about something I learned in my conflict management classes at university…..that would be the notion of “A Just War” doctrine.

First of all….just what is a just war?

Just war theory deals with the justification of how and why wars are fought. The justification can be either theoretical or historical. The theoretical aspect is concerned with ethically justifying war and the forms that warfare may or may not take. The historical aspect, or the “just war tradition,” deals with the historical body of rules or agreements that have applied in various wars across the ages.

What are the principles of a just war?

  • A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
  • A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
  • A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient–see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with “right” intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
  • A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
  • The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
  • The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
  • The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

Source: Vincent Ferraro Resources, Mount Holyoke College International Relations Program

How does one justify war?  Another good question and the one that comes to mind most readily is the most recent War in Iraq……

A number of religious leaders including Richard Land, Bill Bright, Chuck Colson, D. James Kennedy, and Carl Herbster wrote a letter to President Bush arguing that a war against Iraq could be justified. They believe that such a war meets the tradition of “just war” theory:

  • Just cause. Saddam Hussein is a threat to freedom and has attacked his neighbors and his own people.
  • Just intent. The United States has no interest in occupation, exploitation, or the destruction of the state of Iraq.
  • Last resort. Hussein has defied UN resolutions for years.
  • Legitimate authority. Resolutions from the UN as well as the U.S. Congress strengthen the authority of this action.
  • Limited and achievable goals. The goal of war is to dismantle weapons of mass destruction.
  • Limited casualties. Unlike Hussein, we do not intend to target civilians.
  • Proportionality. The human cost of war is less than the human cost of not going to war.

All that justification was just chest thumping…if it had been Poland instead this list would not have been sent.  several parts of this letter mare lies…..intent, goals, casualties and the proportionality….all we made up to justify the invasion of a sovereign country.

To my way of thinking…the fact that someone other than the policy makers had to justify a war was in fact the very reason we should have not committed the act.

I know that was a lot of info to wade through but I offered because of an occurrence last week……

“There is no ‘just war,'” the some 80 participants of the conference state in an appeal they released Thursday morning.

“Too often the ‘just war theory’ has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war,” they continue. “Suggesting that a ‘just war’ is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict.”

“We need a new framework that is consistent with Gospel nonviolence,” say the participants, noting that Francis and his four predecessors have all spoken out against war often. “We propose that the Catholic Church develop and consider shifting to a Just Peace approach based on Gospel nonviolence.”

Source: Landmark Vatican conference rejects just war theory, asks for encyclical on nonviolence | National Catholic Reporter

Sorry but years of the study of war I can only think of a couple of times that it could be deemed “a just war”.

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