Just War Theory JUST WAR THEORY One of the perennial realities of human existence is war. From the earliest recorded events of human history all the way through to modern times, human communities have engaged in armed conflict as a method of dispute resolution. While war has been a constant part of the human experience, there has also been a tendency within virtually all human civilisations to limit the extent of war and the methods by which warfare may be conducted.(1) In Western civilisation, this limitation on warfare has taken shape as an effort to limit both the determination of when war is appropriate and the means used in battle.(2) Within the Western moral, legal, and political arena, the connected questions of when war is appropriate and what means are acceptable in warfare has been the subject of a great deal of examination. The basic theory which has arisen within Western culture to evaluate the legitimacy of military action is called just war theory.(3) The just war theory has received widespread acceptance both within Western culture and in the international community as a means by which a war may be determined to be justified or not.(4) Just war theory, which has both religious and secular proponents, is perhaps the most universally recognised moral theory by which the use of force may be evaluated. II. A GENERAL OVERVIEW OF JUST WAR THEORY A.
BACKGROUND ON JUST WAR THEORY Just war theory has a varied and diverse background.(5) The just war tradition includes the contributions of philosophers and theologians dating back to Roman times. As James Tuner Johnson has pointed out, Just war is an historical tradition formed by experience and reflection, including much that is neither specifically theological (or even religious), nor philosophical. It has been strongly influenced by international law, the traditions of chivalry, and soldierly practices derived from the experience of many battles.(6) Just war theory as a method of evaluating military actions has been recognised historically by thinkers as varied as Cicero, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Grotius, and Daniel Webster. It is a theory which has been used by Christians and non-Christians alike to determine whether or not the decision to go to war and the means used to prosecute that war are just.
It is crucial to keep this varied and complex pedigree of the just war tradition in mind when dealing with just war theory, otherwise it becomes possible to restrict the breadth and diversity of the tradition,(7) which could in turn lead to a serious misapplication of the theory in a particular circumstance. Understanding, then, that the theory of just war is one in which many sources mingle over the course of centuries, it is helpful to make a brief overview of those sources before delving into the main task of explaining just war theory. B. MAIN SOURCES OF JUST WAR THEORY 1. The Religious Sources of Just War Theory Many of the key thinkers who have expounded on just war theory through the centuries have identified themselves with the Christian faith, both in its Catholic and Protestant varieties. Just war theory has also gained a general acceptance among Christian theologians, philosophers, and jurists as a method of passing judgement on the morality or immorality of a particular conflict.(8) The general Christian conception of just war theory forms the core of secular just war theory and as such has had a tremendous influence on the secular conception of the just war.(9) Early Christian approaches to war were largely pacifistic in nature, due to a focus in the early Church to the notion that Christians were distinct from the rest of society.(10) However, with the growing Christianization of the Roman Empire, and the increasing political and social influence of the Christian Church, Christian theologians during the fourth and fifth centuries began to develop justifications for the use of force which would eventually take shape over time as just war theory.(11) The first major Christian theologian to address himself to the task of determining the circumstances under which war is legitimate was St.
Augustine of Hippo.(12) Augustine held that [t]he natural order, which is suited to the peace of moral things, requires that the authority and deliberation for undertaking war be under the control of a leader.(13) For Augustine, war is a permissible part of the life of a nation, and the power of prosecuting a war was part of the natural powers of a monarch, ordained to uphold peace.(14) War, far from being something which Christians should shun, is part of the life of a nation, ordained by natural law, a law which according to the New Testament is ordained by God. Augustine’s conception of the just war did not create a carte blanche for bloodshed.(15) In formulating his ideas on war, St. Augustine was careful to state the purposes for which war may be fought, and the procedural means which must be satisfied in order for a war to be just. For it makes a great difference, he wrote, by which causes and under which authorities men undertake the wars that must be waged.(16) For Augustine, for a war to be just, it must be fought for the right reasons, and it must be waged under rightful authority.(17) Augustine held that the only reason which justified war was the desire for peace. Peace is not sought in order to provide war, but war is waged in order to attain peace.(18) Augustine criticises other motives for war, such as the desire for harming, the cruelty of revenge, the restless and implacable mind, the savageness of revolting, the lust for dominating, and similar things,(19) and refers to them as things which are justly blamed in wars.(20) In fighting a war, the goal must be to do that which is necessary to obtain peace; let necessity slay the warring foe, not your will.(21) Augustine also includes under the subject of necessity the just treatment of prisoners and conquered peoples, making it clear that mercy should be shown to the vanquished, particularly if they are no longer a threat to peace.(22) Besides right intention, St. Augustine also held that it was necessary for a war to be waged under lawful authority.(23) The purpose of the war-making powers of the state is to ensure peace, which in turn helps to foster the common-good of those in society.(24) Augustine recognised that it was necessary for the authority and decision to undertake war to be made by a recognised leader.(25) In addition, the soldiers who serve under the leader must serve the peace and common-good of society.(26) Warfare which is declared by unlawful authority therefore fails to meet this criteria, as does warfare which is not directed toward peace and the common good.
The second major Christian thinker to deal with the issue of war is St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).(27) Aquinas based himself upon St. Augustine’s view of war, elaborating on the teachings of the bishop of Hippo.(28) In explicating his theory regarding the justness of a war, Aquinas focused on defining the right to make war and the importance of the intent which stands behind the decision to go to war.(29) In his attempt to formulate a simple rule which would give guidance on these issues, Aquinas argued that a war is justified when three basic, necessary conditions were met: 1. the war was prosecuted by a lawful authority with the power to wage war;(30) 2. The war was undertaken with just cause;(31) and 3. the war was undertaken with the right intention, that is, to achieve some good or to avoid some evil.(32) Together with St.
Augustine, Aquinas’ views on the justification of war form the basic core of just war theory, and it is from their concepts that the theory of just war is adapted and expanded by later thinkers. 2. Secular Sources of Just War Theory The secular sources for just war theory span a considerable length of time. They include such philosophers as the ancient Roman Cicero and the Dutch Protestant Hugo Grotius. In addition, modern decrees on justifiable warfare, such as the commission to the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal and the United Nations Charter also act to flush out the modern conception of just war theory.
Cicero, the great Roman orator, jurist, and philosopher was one of the first to deal with the questions of justifiable war. Cicero held that the use of force was justifiable only when the war was declared by an appropriate governmental authority acting within specific limits.(33) For Cicero, the ability to wage war rested with the state, and the state alone, and could be lawfully waged only after an official demand for satisfaction has been submitted or warning has been given and a formal declaration made.(34) In addition, Cicero also proposed the existence of a universal norm for human behaviour which transcended the laws of individual nations and governed their relations with each other. (35) Cicero’s belief in this universal norm was grounded in his view that there was a humani generis societas, a society of mankind [sic] rather than of states.(36) This view of a universal standard of behaviour for nation-states which exists outside of promulgated law would have a profound impact on later just war theorists, particularly on Hugo Grotius. Grotius was a 16th century Dutch Protestant who is sometimes referred to as the father of international law.(37) Grotius, who lived in the aftermath of the brutal Thirty-Years War in Europe, wrote extensively on the right of nations to use force in self-defence in his book Jure Belli ac Pacis (On the Rights of War and Peace), which was published in 1625.(38) It was largely Grotius who secularised just war theory,(39) making the theory more acceptable for the age of the Enlightenment. For Grotius, a war is just if three basic criteria were met: 1) the danger faced by the nation is immediate; 2) the force used is necessary to adequately defend the nation’s interests; and 3) the use of force is proportionate to the threatened danger.(40) Grotius grounded his agreement with Cicero’s notion of the need for a declaration of war in the natural law, and also argued that the purpose of just war theory is to provide succour and protection for the sick and wounded in war, combatants and civilians alike.(41) A result of this view is the notion that just war theory exists externally of any recognised legal system, that it is a part of the law of nations which is followed by all civilised nations.(42) For Grotius, it is not necessary to prove just war theory by consulting with any of the established laws of the nations of Europe, or their customs.(43) Rather, those laws are known through the universal medium of the natural law, a law which transcends nations and their own particular legal codes, a law which is binding on all human societies in their interactions with each other.(44) After Grotius, just war theory underwent relatively few modifications until the nineteenth century.
During the first century of it’s existence, the United States’ government came to acknowledge the legitimacy of just war theory. In 1842, the U.S. Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, acknowledged the legitimacy of …