Just war theory

"Just war" redirects here. For the 1969 science fiction novel, see Just War (Doctor Who).

Just War theory (jus bellum iustum) is a doctrine, also referred to as a tradition, of military ethics studied by theologians, ethicists, policy makers, and military leaders. The purpose of the doctrine is to ensure war is morally justifiable through a series of criteria, all of which must be met for a war to be considered just. The criteria are split into two groups: ‘the right to go to war’ (jus ad bellum) and "right conduct in war" (jus in bello). The first concerns the morality of going to war and the second with moral conduct within war.[1] Recently there have been calls for the inclusion of a third category of Just War theory—jus post bellum—dealing with the morality of post-war settlement and reconstruction.

Just War theory postulates that war, while terrible, is not always the worst option. There may be responsibilities so important, atrocities that can be prevented or outcomes so undesirable they justify war.[2]

Opponents to Just War theory indicate that there has never been a single political philosopher in all of history that has actually argued that war poses any real benefit to either party. In a large number of cases, philosophers state that individuals need not be of guilty conscience if required to fight. A few nobilify the virtues of the soldiers while decrying spite for war itself. A few, such as Rousseau, argue for insurrection against oppressive rule.

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. The just war tradition also considers the thoughts of various philosophers and lawyers through the ages and examine both their philosophical visions of war's ethical limits and whether their thoughts have contributed to the body of conventions that have evolved to guide war and warfare.[3]



The Indian epic, the Mahabharata, offers one of the first written discussions of a "just war". In it, one of five ruling brothers asks if the suffering caused by war can ever be justified, and then a long discussion ensues between the siblings, establishing criteria like proportionality (chariots cannot attack cavalry, only other chariots, no attacking people in distress), just means (no poisoned or barbed arrows), just cause (no attacking out of rage), and fair treatment of captives and the wounded.[4] The war in Mahabharata is preceded by context that develops the "just cause" for the war including last minute efforts to reconcile differences to avoid war. At the beginning of the war, there is the discussion of "just conduct" appropriate to the context of war. In ancient Rome, a "just cause" for war might include the necessity of repelling an invasion, or retaliation for pillaging or a breach of treaty.[5] War was always potentially nefas, ("wrong, forbidden") and risked religious pollution and divine disfavor.[6] A Just War (bellum iustum) thus required a ritualized declaration by the fetial priests.[7] More broadly, conventions of war and treaty-making were part of the ius gentium, the "law of nations", the customary moral obligations regarded as innate and universal to human beings.[8] The quintessential explanation of Just War theory in the ancient world is found in Cicero's De Officiis, Book 1, sections 1.11.33–1.13.41

Christian theory of the Just War begins with Augustine of Hippo[9] and Thomas Aquinas.[10]

Saint Augustine

Augustine of Hippo himself did not approve of war. He claimed that, while individuals should not resort immediately to violence, God has given the sword to government for good reason (based upon Romans 13:4). In Contra Faustum Manichaeum book 22 sections 69-76, Augustine argues that Christians as part of government need not be ashamed to protect peace and punish wickedness when forced to do so by a government. Augustine asserted that this was a personal, philosophical stance:

"What is here required is not a bodily action, but an inward disposition. The sacred seat of virtue is the heart."[11]

Nonetheless, he asserted, peacefulness in the face of a grave wrong that could only be stopped by violence would be a sin. Defense of one's self or others could be a necessity, especially when authorized by a legitimate authority:

"They who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill.'"[12]

While not breaking down the conditions necessary for war to be just, Augustine nonetheless originated the very phrase itself in his work The City of God:

"But, say they, the wise man will wage Just Wars. As if he would not all the rather lament the necessity of just wars, if he remembers that he is a man; for if they were not just he would not wage them, and would therefore be delivered from all wars."[13]

For the individual Christian under the rule of a government engaged in an immoral war, Augustine admonished that Christians, "by divine edict, have no choice but to subject themselves to their political masters and [should] seek to ensure that they execute their war-fighting duty as justly as possible."[14]

Thomas Aquinas

Nine hundred years later, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) laid out the conditions under which a war could be justified (Combining the theological principles of faith with the philosophical principles of reason, he ranked among the most influential thinkers of medieval Scholasticism):[15]

Thomas Aquinas said that it would always be sinful to wage war, because punishment is not inflicted except for sin. Nothing except sin is contrary to an act of virtue, but war is contrary to peace. Therefore, war is always a sin.[18]

In the Summa Theologica, Thomas proceeded to distinguish between philosophy and theology, and between reason and revelation, though he emphasized that these did not contradict each other. Both are fountains of knowledge; both come from God.[19]

School of Salamanca

The School of Salamanca expanded on Thomistic understanding of natural law and just war. It stated that war is one of the worst evils suffered by mankind. The School's adherents reasoned that war should be a last resort, and only then, when necessary to prevent an even greater evil. Diplomatic resolution is always preferable, even for the more powerful party, before a war is started. Examples of "just war" are:

A war is not legitimate or illegitimate simply based on its original motivation: it must comply with a series of additional requirements:

Under this doctrine expansionist wars, wars of pillage, wars to convert infidels or pagans, and wars for glory are all inherently unjust.

Just War Doctrine

The just war doctrine of the Catholic Church—sometimes mistaken as a "just war theory"[20][21]—found in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2309, lists four strict conditions for "legitimate defense by military force":[22]

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church elaborates on the Just War Doctrine in paragraphs 500 to 501:[23]

If this responsibility justifies the possession of sufficient means to exercise this right to defence, States still have the obligation to do everything possible "to ensure that the conditions of peace exist, not only within their own territory but throughout the world". It is important to remember that "it is one thing to wage a war of self-defence; it is quite another to seek to impose domination on another nation. The possession of war potential does not justify the use of force for political or military objectives. Nor does the mere fact that war has unfortunately broken out mean that all is fair between the warring parties".
The Charter of the United Nations intends to preserve future generations from war with a prohibition against force to resolve disputes between States. Like most philosophy, it permits legitimate defence and measures to maintain peace. In every case, the charter requires that self-defence must respect the traditional limits of necessity and proportionality.
Therefore, engaging in a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions. International legitimacy for the use of armed force, on the basis of rigorous assessment and with well-founded motivations, can only be given by the decision of a competent body that identifies specific situations as threats to peace and authorizes an intrusion into the sphere of autonomy usually reserved to a State.

Formally described Just War

The first work dedicated specifically to it was De bellis justis of Stanisław of Skarbimierz (1360-1431), who justified war by the Kingdom of Poland with Teutonic Knights. Francisco de Vitoria criticized the conquest of America by the Kingdom of Spain on the basis of just war theory. With Alberico Gentili and Hugo Grotius just war theory was replaced by international law theory, codified as a set of rules, which today still encompass the points commonly debated, with some modifications.[24] The importance of the theory of just war faded with the revival of classical republicanism beginning with works of Thomas Hobbes.

Although the criticism can be made that the application of just war theory is relativistic, one of the fundamental bases of the tradition is the Ethic of Reciprocity, particularly when it comes to in bello considerations of deportment during battle. If one set of combatants promise to treat their enemies with a modicum of restraint and respect, then the hope is that other sets of combatants will do similarly in reciprocation, (a concept not unrelated to the considerations of Game Theory).

Just war theorists combine 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 theories 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".[25]

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).[26] 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 prosecution of war criminals.

Anarcho-capitalist scholar Murray Rothbard stated: "a just war exists when a people tries to ward off the threat of coercive domination by another people, or to overthrow an already-existing domination. A war is unjust, on the other hand, when a people try to impose domination on another people, or try to retain an already existing coercive rule over them."[27]

Jonathan Riley-Smith writes,

The consensus among Christians on the use of violence has changed radically since the crusades were fought. The just war theory prevailing for most of the last two centuries — that violence is an evil that can, in certain situations, be condoned as the lesser of evils — is relatively young. Although it has inherited some elements (the criteria of legitimate authority, just cause, right intention) from the older war theory that first evolved around A.D. 400, it has rejected two premises that underpinned all medieval just wars, including crusades: first, that violence could be employed on behalf of Christ's intentions for mankind and could even be directly authorized by him; and second, that it was a morally neutral force that drew whatever ethical coloring it had from the intentions of the perpetrators.[28]

Criteria of Just War theory

Just War Theory has two sets of criteria, the first establishing jus ad bellum (the right to go to war), and the second establishing jus in bello (right conduct within war).[29]

Jus ad bellum

Main article: 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 overcome 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.
Competent authority
Only duly constituted public authorities may wage war. "A just war must be initiated by a political authority within a political system that allows distinctions of justice. Dictatorships (e.g. Hitler's Regime) or deceptive military actions (e.g. the 1968 US bombing of Cambodia) are typically considered as violations of this criterion. The importance of this condition is key. Plainly, we cannot have a genuine process of judging a just war within a system that represses the process of genuine justice. A just war must be initiated by a political authority within a political system that allows distinctions of justice".[30]
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.
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.

In modern terms, just war is waged in terms of self-defense, or in defense of another (with sufficient evidence).

Jus in bello

Once war has begun, just war theory (Jus in bello) also directs how combatants are to act or should act:

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 legitimate military targets, committing acts of terrorism and reprisal against civilians, and attacking neutral targets (e.g., the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor). Moreover, combatants are not permitted to attack enemy combatants who have surrendered or who have been captured or who are injured and not presenting an immediate lethal threat or who are parachuting from disabled aircraft (except airborne forces) or who are shipwrecked.
Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of proportionality. Combatants must make sure that the harm caused to civilians or civilian property is not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated by an attack on a legitimate military objective. This principle is meant to discern the correct balance between the restriction imposed by a corrective measure and the severity of the nature of the prohibited act.
Military necessity
Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of military necessity. An attack or action must be intended to help in the defeat of the enemy; it must be an attack on a legitimate 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.
Fair treatment of prisoners of war
Enemy combatants who surrendered or who are captured no longer pose a threat. It is therefore wrong to torture them or otherwise mistreat them.
No means malum in se
Combatants may not use weapons or other methods of warfare that are considered evil, such as mass rape, forcing enemy combatants to fight against their own side or using weapons whose effects cannot be controlled (e.g., nuclear/biological weapons).

Official positions

World War I

In April 1917, two weeks after the United States Congress declared war on Germany, Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore, the de facto head of the U.S. Catholic church, issued a letter that all Catholics were to support the war.[31] The Episcopal bishop of New York, William Manning said the following:

Our Lord Jesus Christ does not stand for peace at any price...Every true American would rather see this land face war than see her flag lowered in dishonor...I wish to say that, not only from the standpoint of a citizen, but from the standpoint of a minister of religion...I believe there is nothing that would be of such great practical benefit to us as universal military training for the men of our land.
If by Pacifism is meant the teaching that the use of force is never justifiable, then, however well meant, it is mistaken, and it is hurtful to the life of our country. And the Pacifism which takes the position that because war is evil, therefore all who engage in war, whether for offense or defense, are equally blameworthy, and to be condemned, is not only unreasonable, it is inexcusably unjust.[32]

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, reconstruction, war crimes trials, and war reparations. [22] — jus post bellum — has been added to deal with fact that some hostile actions may take place outside a traditional battlefield. Jus pos bellum governs the justice of war termination and peace agreements, as well as the prosecution of war criminals, and publicly labeled terrorists. This idea has largely been added to help decide what to do if there are prisoners that have been taken during battle. It is, through government labeling and public opinion, that people use jus post bellum to justify the pursuit of labeled terrorist for the safety of the government's state in a modern context. The actual fault lies with the aggressor, so by being the aggressor they forfeit their rights for honorable treatment by their actions. This is the theory used to justify the actions taken by anyone fighting in a war to treat prisoners outside of war.[33] (talk) 22:06, 27 October 2016 (UTC) Actions after a conflict can be warranted by actions observed during war, meaning that there can be justification to meet violence with violence even after war. Orend, who was one of the theorist mentioned earlier, 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.
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.
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.

Alternative theories

There are many theories that correlate with the Just War Theory doctrine, which include:

A "just war" – if there could be such a thing – would not require conscription. Volunteers would be plentiful.

Ben Salmon, An Open Letter to President Wilson (October 14, 1919)

List of just war theorists

These theorists either approve of war as retaliation, or of war as a last resort.

Theorists Stating Retaliation is Justified

These theorists do not approve of war, but provide arguments for justifying retaliation when another starts war.

See also


  1. Guthrie, Charles; Quinlan, Michael (26 Sep 2007). "III: The Structure of the Tradition". Just War: The Just War Tradition: Ethics in Modern Warfare. United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. pp. 11–15. ISBN 978-0747595571.
  2. Guthrie, Charles; Quinlan, Michael (26 Sep 2007). "III: The Structure of the Tradition". Just War: The Just War Tradition: Ethics in Modern Warfare. United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. pp. 11–15. ISBN 978-0747595571.
  3. "Just War Theory | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy". www.iep.utm.edu. Retrieved 2016-10-30.
  4. "Just War in Comparative Perspective". Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  5. Livy 9.1.10; Cicero, Divinatio in Caecilium 63; De provinciis consularibus 4; Ad Atticum VII 14, 3; IX 19, 1; Pro rege Deiotauro 13; De officiis I 36; Philippicae XI 37; XIII 35; De re publica II 31; III 35; Isidore of Seville, Origines XVIII 1, 2; Modestinus, Libro I regolarum = Digesta I 3, 40; E. Badian, Roman Imperialism in the Late Republic (Ithaca 1968, 2nd ed.), p.11.
  6. William Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic (London 1925), pp. 33ff.; M. Kaser, Das altroemische Ius (Goettingen 1949), pp. 22ff; P. Catalano, Linee del sistema sovrannazionale romano (Torino 1965), pp. 14ff.; W. V. Harris, War and imperialism in Republican Rome, 327-70 B.C. (Oxford 1979), pp. 161 ff.
  7. Livy 1.32; 31.8.3; 36.3.9
  8. Cicero, De officiis 3.17.69; Marcia L. Colish, The Stoic Tradition from Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages (Brill, 1980), p. 150.
  9. Christians and War: Augustine of Hippo and the "Just War theory" Archived November 28, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. Christians and War: Thomas Aquinas refines the "Just War" Theory Archived July 10, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. Robert L. Holmes. "A Time For War?". ChristianityToday.com. Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  12. "City of God". Archived from the original on 25 July 2013. Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  13. "City of God". Archived from the original on 25 July 2013.
  14. 1 2 Augustine: Political and Social Philosophy, §3-c "War and Peace - The Just War"
  15. Super User. "Catholic Education Resource Center". Catholic Education Resource Center. Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  16. Justo L. Gonzalez (1984). The Story of Christianity. HarperSanFrancisco.
  17. The greatest work of Thomas was the Summa, and it is the fullest presentation of his views. The Summa consists of three parts. Part I treats of God, who is the "first cause, himself uncaused" (primum movens immobile) and as such existent only in act (actu), that is pure actuality without potentiality and, therefore, without corporeality. The second part of the Summa (consisting of two parts, namely, prima secundae and secundae, secunda) follows this complex of ideas. Its theme is man's striving after the highest end, which is the blessedness of the visio beata. Here Thomas develops his system of ethics, which has its root in Aristotle. The way which leads to God is Christ: and Christ is the theme of part III. It can not be asserted that the incarnation was absolutely necessary, "since God in his omnipotent power could have repaired human nature in many other ways": but it was the most suitable way both for the purpose of instruction and of satisfaction.
  18. "Summa Theologica". dhspriory.org. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  19. "Thomas Aquinas". Christian History | Learn the History of Christianity & the Church. Retrieved 2016-11-23.
  20. "The Day - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  21. "Lakeland Ledger - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  22. "CCC Search Result - Paragraph # 2309". Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  23. "Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church". Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  24. Gutman R, Rieff D. Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company; 1999
  25. "JustWarTheory.com". JustWarTheory.com. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  26. "Home > Publications >". Eppc.org. 1998-09-01. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  27. This article is based on the talk given by the late Murray N. Rothbard at the Mises Institute’s Costs of War conference in Atlanta, May 1994. It was published in the book of the same name. The audio file of this talk can be found at mises.org:
  28. Smith, Jonathan R. "Rethinking the Crusades". Catholic Education Resource Center.
  29. Childress, James F. (1978). "Just-War Theories: The Bases, Interrelations, Priorities, and Functions of Their Criteria". Theological Studies. 39: 427–45.
  30. "Just War Theory". Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  31. John Dear (February 23, 2010). "Ben Salmon and the Army of Peace". National Catholic Reporter.
  32. C. T. Bridgeman (1962). A History of the Parish of Trinity Church in the City of New York: The rectorship of Dr. William Thomas Manning 1908 to 1921. p. 256.
  33. Brooks, Thom (October 2012). Studies in Moral philosophy: Just War Theory. Brill. p. 187. ISBN 978-9004228504.
  34. Sharp, Gene, "Beyond just war and pacifism: nonviolent struggle toward justice, freedom and peace" Ecumenical Review, April, 1996.
  35. Staff of the Catholic Peace Fellowship (2007). "The Life and Witness of Ben Salmon". Sign of Peace. 6.1 (Spring 2007).
  36. "'Just War Theory'" vs. American Self-Defence, by Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein
  37. Baba, Meher (1995). Discourses. Myrtle Beach: Sheriar Press. pp. 68, 70. ISBN 978-1880619094.
  38. http://worldview.carnegiecouncil.org/archive/worldview/1976/07/2722.html/_res/id=sa_File1/v19_i007-008_a011.pdf
  39. https://www.law.georgetown.edu/faculty/luban-david-j.cfm
  40. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/06/books/review/Manji-t.html?_r=0
  41. https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/intrel/people/index.php/njr3.html
  42. https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=zMXi6uYAAAAJ&hl=en
  43. 1 2 https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=sEv8ff0AAAAJ&hl=en&oi=ao
  44. http://www.faculty.uci.edu/profile.cfm?faculty_id=5355
  45. https://www.ethicsandinternationalaffairs.org/bios/cian-odriscoll/
  46. https://scholar.google.lt/scholar?q=James+Pattison&btnG=&hl=lt&as_sdt=0%2C5

Further reading

External links

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Just war theory
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/26/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.