Just War – Can Going To War Ever Be Justified
Is going to war ever justifiable? Can criteria be identified to ensure that violence is only ever a last resort?
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A Just War satisfies six criteria:\1. Wars are just if the cause is just. Nations should be allo...
A Just War satisfies six criteria:\
1. Wars are just if the cause is just. Nations should be allowed to defend themselves from aggression, just as individuals are permitted to defend themselves against violence.
The criteria presented for Just War present several problems:\
1. Just cause is an elastic concept. Who determines what is “aggression”? Could violating a disputed border region (e.g. Ethopia-Eritrea, Pakistan-India) or imposing economic sanctions (e.g on North Korea) be aggression? And if a state is unable to defend itself, can another state intervene militarily on its behalf? These borderline cases make invoking this criterion very problematic.
The war must be lawfully declared by a lawful authority. This prevents inappropriate, terrorist-sty...
The war must be lawfully declared by a lawful authority. This prevents inappropriate, terrorist-style chaos, and ensures that other rules of war will be observed. For example, when states declare war, they generally follow specific legislative procedures; a guaranteed respect for such procedures is likely to ensure that the nation will respect other rules of war, such as the Geneva Convention.
Many nations wage war without official declaration (e.g. the USA’s involvement in Vietnam). Moreover, who is to decide which entities can and cannot issue calls to arms? Legitimate authorities have sanctioned some of the most horrific wars in history.
The intentions behind the war must be good. States have the right to use war to restore a just peac...
The intentions behind the war must be good. States have the right to use war to restore a just peace, to help the innocent, or to right a wrong. For example, the US and NATO were justified in using force in Bosnia and Kosovo. Waging war was far more ethical than standing by and permitting genocide and “ethnic cleansing”.
Reality is a lot murkier than theory. How are we to determine a state’s intent? Sometimes good intentions are bound up with bad; public justifications for war may not always represent the real reasons. And who is determine if a peace is just or a wrong has been committed? The nation initiating the war will use its own values to justify its intentions, and these values may be at odds with those of the other party to the conflict. Furthermore, the best way to protect innocent lives is by peaceful means, not by endangering them through armed conflict.
War must be a last resort. The state is justified in using war after it has tried all non-violent a...
War must be a last resort. The state is justified in using war after it has tried all non-violent alternatives. Sometimes peaceful measures – diplomacy, economic sanctions, international pressure, or condemnation from other nations – simply do not work, but they must at least be tried in order to give every chance for a peaceful resolution to a crisis.
Sometimes going to war before all alternatives are exhausted is the most moral action. For example, a nation might decide to go to war if it determines that waiting would enable to the enemy to increase its strength and to do much more damage than an early war would have inflicted. This, after all, is the bitter lesson of the failure of appeasement in the 1930s. Waiting might allow an invading state to entrench itself so that far greater force would be necessary to remove it at a later date.
The war must have a reasonable chance of success. War always involves a loss of life, but expending...
The war must have a reasonable chance of success. War always involves a loss of life, but expending life with no possibility of achieving a goal is unacceptable. Thus, if a fighting force cannot achieve its goal, however just, it should not proceed. Charging an enemy’s cannons on horseback or throwing troops at a pointless occupation are clearly not just actions.
Sometimes it is morally imperative to fight against overwhelming odds, as resistance fighters did in World War II. Also this condition may give large nations free rein to bully small ones because they could not win a war. It also may cause a country to surrender in a war it might actually win. Weak countries have won wars against powerful ones – look at the American Revolution. Finally, the point at which a war became unwinnable, and therefore unjust by this definition, is often only identifiable with hindsight – consider the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, or the American involvement in Vietnam.
The goal of the war should be proportional to the offense, and the benefits proportional to the cost...
The goal of the war should be proportional to the offense, and the benefits proportional to the costs. For example, when an attacker violates a nation’s border, a proportionate response might extend to restoring the border, not sacking the attackers’ capital. A war must prevent more suffering than it causes.
We have seen that a proportional response frequently doesn’t work. Suicide bombers continue to blow up victims in the Middle East despite the response. Why should a nation tolerate continued aggression for the sake of proportionality? And if a nation knows it is likely to be attacked, why should it wait to disarm the aggressor? Is not pre-emptive action justified to prevent the loss of innocent life? Finally, what of deterrence: a vigorous response to an aggressive act may not be strictly proportionate, but by making all potential aggressors think twice about future actions, it can be justified as saving more suffering in the long run.
What do you think?