Notes on the Atrocities
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Thursday, April 03, 2003  

Part 2 - Just War Theory
In order to make any examination about the ethics and law surrounding war, there has to be a theoretical template. The just war theory is as good a place to begin as any—it’s been used to build the raggedy fabric of existing international law (it is the basis of the Geneva and Hague conventions), and is a theory to which the US generally subscribes.

Just war theory can be divided into three elements, roughly corresponding to before, during, and after: Jus ad bellum (the conditions that justify a war), jus in bello (conduct during war), and jus post bellum (just resolution of a war).

Jus ad bellum
The principles under which war is justified are five: that the war has a just cause; is declared by a lawful authority; arises from honorable intention; has a reasonable chance of success; and be proportional to the means used. A sixth principle, that war is a last resort, is also occasionally included.

The conditions are straightforward. Just law theory is a system of ethics, not ajudicable law, and so the qualification is reasonableness. An honorable intention, for example, would be to repel a nation that has invaded its neighbor, not to seize its natural resources.

In each condition there is a certain amount of gray area. In the case of the invasion of Iraq, the murkiest of these is clearly just cause. In general, the theory dismisses aggression as a just cause, though aggressive action taken to avoid attack is permissible. Whether pre-emption violates this condition is the 64,000 dollar question (and one I’ll address more in the next blog).

Jus in Bello
The conduct during a just war is determined by proportionality and discrimination. That is, the force applied in war is proportional to the outcome desired and discriminate—it doesn’t target innocents nor employ methods placing innocents in great danger. Proportionality for jus in bello is distinguished from that of just cause because it requires “tempering the extent and violence of warfare to minimize destruction and casualties.”

Jus post Bellum
This is a more recent topic of just war theory, and its emphasis is in trying to ensure that wars are fought only for clearly-defined reasons. “Its over-all aim is to try and ensure that wars are begun only for a very narrow set of truly defensible reasons, that when wars break out they are fought in a responsibly controlled and targeted manner, and that the parties to the dispute bring their war to an end in a speedy and responsible fashion that respects the requirements of justice.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

Again, many of the same conditions are applied—cause, intention, legitimate authority, discrimination, and proportionality—but they apply to the resolution of war and conditions of the defeated country.

Further reading: BBC’s exploration of the just war.

posted by Jeff | 11:12 AM |
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