The Just War Theory

From Academic Kids


What is "the just war"?

The just war is an international law doctrine that postulates that a war can be just only if it satisfies a set of moral or legal rules. Though in origin a Catholic doctrine, Francisco de Vitoria based his arguments on reason and so put the tradition on a more universal basis. [1] ( The rules applied may be ethical, religious, or formal (such as international law). The rules classically cover the justification for the war (Jus ad Bellum) and the conduct of the participants in the war (Jus in Bello).

Just war theory has ancient roots. The so-called Song of Deborah in the 5th chapter of the Hebrew Bible's Book of Judges discusses late bronze age conceptions of what distinguishes a "just" holy war. Cicero discussed this idea and its applications. Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas and Hugo Grotius later codified a set of rules for a just war, which today still encompass the points commonly debated, with some modifications.

When is a war just by the criteria of The Just War?

In modern language, these rules hold that to be just, a war must meet the following criteria before the use of force:
(Jus ad Bellum)

  • Just Cause: force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression, self defense, massive violation of the basic 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;
  • Legitimate Authority: only duly constituted public authorities may use deadly force or 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 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;
  • Proportionality: the overall destruction expected from the use of force must be outweighed by the good to be achieved.[2] (
  • Last Resort: force may be used only after all peaceful alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted.

Christian Just War Theory

Saint Augustine may have been the first to detail Christian Just War Theory. His description was essentially identical to the criteria listed above, and was influential in how the theory has been explained since his time.

Some Christians have also made the example of Deuteronomy 20:8 to be a fundamental precondition for a Just War. This verse allows anyone in the military to go home before any battle without punishment if they do not desire to fight the particular battle. This belief makes the use of a military draft to be automatic proof that the war for which it is used would be unjust. It is additionally contrary to the modern military system of enlistments defined in years or tours of duty because these do not allow soldiers to individually decide the rightness of each battle.

What about when a "just war" has started?

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 discrimination. The acts of war should be directed towards the inflictors of the wrong, and not towards civilians 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. Some theologians believe that this rule forbids weapons of mass destruction of any kind, for any reason (such as the use of an atomic bomb).
  • Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of proportionality. The force used must be proportional to the wrong endured, and to the possible good that may come. The more disproportional the number of collateral civilian deaths, the more suspect will be the sincerity of a belligerent nation's claim to justness of a war it initiated.
  • Torture, of combatants or of non-combatants, is forbidden.
  • Prisoners of war must be treated respectfully.
  • Many throughout history have considered conscription an unjust means, e.g.
"It is debasing human dignity to force men to give up their life, or to inflict death against their will, or without conviction as to the justice of their action." -- Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi in the Manifesto Against Conscription and the Military System [3] (

The condition of proportionality is often misunderstood. A quote from Ambrosius may well clarify it. Taking an example of a traveler coming to the aid of a fellow traveler who has been attacked by a robber he says "At the same time, the Christian should use no more force than necessary to subdue the attacker, for that person too is someone for whom Christ died. Charity thus justifies the resort to force in defense, not in self but of the other; yet at the same time it limits the force that can be used against the evildoer to what is necessary to end the evil."[4] ( Hence minimum force is used here in the ethical sense of minimum harm. It is not in conflict with the Powell doctrine of overwhelming force. If overwhelming force in the military sense produces less harm then it can be seen as minimum force in the ethical sense used by Just War theorists.

Just war theorists

See also

External links



fr:Doctrine de la guerre juste


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