Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Just War Theory has two sets 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.


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.

A just War is one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects or to restore what it has seized unjustly.
In modern terms just war is waged in terms of self defence or in defence of another with sufficient provocation a nation could justify strike first in self defence or defence of an innocent third party. must have the right intention.

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.


Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of proportionality. An attack cannot be launched on a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage (principle of proportionality).

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.


Ben said...


Not sure if you've heard the news. Judge Everett passed away on Friday.

Ben said...

On a note more related to your blog post.....

Looking over the criteria you list, I'm struck by how few wars in history measure up to these standards. Yet, I'm betting, the vast majority of the leaders who unleashed the dogs of war felt they were morally justified in doing so. Most of us are self-righteous or patriotic enough to think that.

I'm reminded of a "debate" of sorts in Christianity Today. David Gushee, observing the mistakes we made which led to the War in Iraq, said that maybe we should rethink Just War theory. Chuck Colson responded with his typical horror that someone would suggest changing what he views as the accumulated wisdom of the centuries. Then - to my mind - he undercut himself by insisting that he and other evangelicals believed (at least at the time) that America entered the Iraq War consistently with Jus Ad Bellum principles.

I don't know. Maybe advocating pacifism is the way to go. Not because I think a world without war is achievable before the Second Coming....or even that it's right to totally swear off war. I actually believe in the Just War Theory (probably due to the influence of my favorite theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr). BUT, if we attempt to achief pacifism, maybe we'll fall short just enough to only fight just wars.

Who knows?

kennyching said...

Hey, Ben,

Interesting thoughts. (btw, I did know about Judge Everett - God bless him).

I'd be interested just for the sake of the exercise (and b/c I haven't thought it through) to hear why you think the Iraq War was clearly not a just war.

Just for context, when I looked this up I was thinking about the guy who killed the abortion doctor as compared to a German resistance that opposed Hitler.

Food for thought.

Ben said...

Well, Tiller's killer would have a hard time meeting the "Legitimate Authority" criterion. Then again, so would those who resisted the Nazis. It seems to me that one must examine those actions under some other criteria to reach a moral judgment on those actions.

As for Iraq:

First, there's the issue of Just Cause. Iraq did not have Weapons of Mass Destruction. The evidence was not conclusive as to whether they had such weapons, and it seems to me that Just War theory requires we be pretty damn certain before we take the terrible action of war. Even if Iraq did have WMDs, one needs to weigh the likelihood that they would use them. For Saddam to use nukes against, say, Israel would've been suicidal. Saddam was certainly in no position to cooperate with Al Qaeda; the terrorist group considered him too secular and advocated his overthrow by jihadists.

Second, Right Intention. I'm not entirely sure I see the difference between that and Just Cause, but it gives me a chance to mention that I don't think WMDs were the main reason the Bush Administration went to war. After 9/11, high level officials like Cheney and Wolfowitz were advocating attacking Iraq even though there was no evidence linking Iraq to the terrorist attacks. I may be wrong, but I think some of them had been advocating attacking Iraq for years (look up the Project for a New Amerian Century). I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume this wasn't all about oil. But the long-advocated goals of many Bush Administration officials, including Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld, was to use military force to remake the Middle East into a more democratic region. Admirable end goal. Not the kind of urgent emergency envisioned by Just War theory that justifies a war. And not the justification they tried to sell to the American people.

Finally, Last Resort. I honestly would need to go back and do some research, but I remember thinking back in 2003 that the Bush Administration didn't really give diplomacy or inspections much of a chance. (I DO remember some war advocates like Fareed Zakaria saying that weapons wouldn't be found b/c Saddam would hide them...so we should use inspections as leverage for war anyway. Turns out, of course, there were no weapons of mass destruction.)

All this, of course, is a separate issue from how the war should be/should have been waged. Or what the Obama Administration should do about it now. But that's why I argue America did not enter the Iraq War in compliance with Jus Ad Bellum principles.

kennyching said...

That's interesting stuff, Ben.

I also wrote of the abortion doc killer based on lack of legitimate authority, but also noticed the same thing you did: what constitutes a "legitimate" authority? There's a judgment call there. I suppose the fact that the allied nations were at war with the Nazis might lend some authority to the German resistance.

I'm actually struck by how each of the reasons you cite against the Iraq war are debatable in varying degrees.

1 - WMDs. I heard an interview on NPR with someone (sorry, I'm going to lack specificity here) who was a head of one of the intelligence departments at the time of the Iraq invasion say he was in the meeting in which the intelligence community advised Bush there were WMDs. This director said the intelligence community blew it, but that was the advice they gave the president. Of course, that would just change the locus of blame for going to war without good cause.

2 - Good intention - I've heard the same things you've said, but when you combine that point of view with the fact that Iraq was being somewhat belligerent, again, it's debatable whether there was right intention.

3 - last resort - this to me is the most persuasive ones, b/c I distinctly remember that in 2003 there was an embargo on Iraq and Iraq had been unable to do anything agressive for a long time. The trigger was them kicking out the weapons inspectors. But, that said, there was a pretty good faith argument that based on the UN resolution that ended the 1990 Iraq War, that Iraq in 03 was in violation of this which meant the 1990 war was back on and had never ceased.

Anyway, I'm not saying that I think the Iraq War was a good example of just war, but just running through some of the thoughts I've heard on the otehr side of this issue.

Ben said...

1. Perhaps George W. Bush was told - and believed - there were WMDs. But there are still numerous documented examples of the Bush Administration (and here I speak of more than just the individual Mr. Bush) cherry-picking intelligence that fit their view and ignoring the contrary intelligence...especially in selling their case to the public. (See: Colin Powell's speech to the U.N. about so-called drones that would deliver chemical weapons. Bob Woodward reports that he at first refused to make the case on such flimsy - and, it turns out, false - evidence. But he bowed under pressure.)

2. I'm not sure how Iraq being "somewhat beligerent" affects whether America's leaders went into the war for the reasons they stated.

3. Your argument about the war being "back on and never ceased" sounds logical in the abstract. And, of course, I don't know much about international law. But come on! That simply doesn't reflect the reality on the ground. A generation of Iraqis and Americans had grown from childhood to young adulthood between the two Iraq wars. The American government chose to send a new invating army into Iraq...and they should be judged on that action, right or wrong. Saying the war was "back on" doesn't erase their moral responsibility for their choice. Nor does it indicate that they had exhausted all diplomatic options. (After all, as it turns out, the embargos and sanctions had been entirely successful in preventing Saddam from getting WMDs.)

Here's another interesting question: If the Iranian government continues a violent crackdown on protestors....would the Just War theory justify American military intervention to protect innocent civilians peacefully asserting their right? Not that I think that America's going to take that action. But should they?