Just War Theory

What is Just War Theory? Created by the Greeks, systematized by the Romans, integrated into Christian ideas, used, abused and dodged by modern politicians, Just War Theory is an idea that distinguishes between justified and unjustified warfare. It is divided into two parts: Causes for warfare and carrying on war. Of course, warfare itself comes into the definition -- warfare distinguished from individual (criminal) violence, from group (guerilla or terrorist) hostilities, revolution etc.

        While Just War Theory is more than just an interesting way to sort out wars, it has usually been used to justify wars, rather than its real reason to exist: to limit warfare. It can reduce the number of battles in a war, reduce the bloodshed in individual battles, even eliminate entire wars before they start. Without rational limits on war, the only alternative is destruction by aggressive nations, for there were and are, historically, aggressive nations threatening the peace, in most places, most of the time. Pure emotion cannot be relied upon to provide acceptable answers to questions of war and peace. Religion has not filled the gap very well. No substitute has arisen to replace Just War Theory -- not politics, scholarship, isolation, surrender, economics, etc.

         What complicates matters is that Just War Theory can be a slippery fish. In all wars, in all history, Just War Theory can justify both sides. There are always justifications. So the question is: which side presents the better justification. Answers to that question require thoughtful distinctions, clear evidence, unbiased reasoning, and honest conclusions. This process also requires a set of criteria that defines justifiable warfare, and one does exist, although not all agree with all parts. Seldom has any nation gone to war with all the evidence in the open, before the public. Seldom have arguments about warfare been unbiased. So given these problems of complex arguments and limited tools, it still is all humanity has ever had.

         While the ancient Greeks came up with this rational approach to warfare, it was also the Greeks who articulated the alternative:  Thucydides, in the Melian Dialogue, penned the idea, if not the phrase, "Might makes right."  The Classical Age contributed both sides of the circuit: positive and negative.


    A. Defense against Unjust Invader; Aggression may qualify

    B. Protection of family & home from direct harm

    C. Recovery people and/or goods unjustly taken

    D. Protection of rights, liberties, gov't from encroachment

    E. Defense of Allies who have been unjustly attacked, etc.

    A. Motive: "Peace is our Profession" vs selfish gain, power

    B. Peace or Defense, not hatred or expansion, as goal

    C. Less just intentions are often mixed: clearly distinguish

    D. Perfect intent is unnecessary; justifiability is

    A. Legitimate Gov't or leader ONLY can make the declaration

    B. The Authority must also be Legally Competent to do so

    C. Recognized International organization (U.N.) may qualify

    A. War must be fought to victory ASAP

    B. It is Unjust to fight if defeat is clearly the outcome

    C. Suicide is Not just (Few or No exceptions)

    A. Every reasonable means to settle must first be tried

    B. War must be the only means, after diplomacy etc. failed
    C. Pre-Emptive Strikes assume much, but can qualify if...

    A. Civilians should be immune from attack systematically

    B. Wanton Violence or unfair Brutality must be avoided

    C. Prisoners taken must be treated well & honorably

    D. Property & Resources should not be unduly harmed

        1. Non-War-Related resources should be left intact

2. Life-Sustaining resources must be left intact

    A. The Good of the Outcome must exceed the Harm endured
    B. Means should not be Overly violent, e.g., Nuke Jaywalkers

    A. Acts of War not to violate accepted Conventions (Geneva)

    B. Acts of War not to violate International Law

    C. Proper Third Parties (e.g., U.N.) may adjudicate claim

    D.  Suicide is Not just (Few or No exceptions)

    A. War must be fought to victory ASAP

    B. It is Unjust to fight if defeat is clearly the outcome


Source: http://people.westminstercollege.edu/faculty/mmarkowski/mmpage.html