Friday, June 29, 2007

Just War?

The most authoritative and up-to-date expression of just war doctrine is found in paragraph 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It says:

"The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous
consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous
conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good. "

When Is War Justified?
The moral theory of the "just-war" or "limited-war" doctrine begins with the presumption which binds all Christians:
We should do no harm to our neighbors. Just-war teaching has evolved as an effort to prevent war. Only if war cannot be rationally avoided does the teaching then seek to restrict and reduce its horrors. It does this by establishing a set of rigorous conditions which must be met if the decision to go to war is to be morally permissible. Such a decision, especially today, requires extraordinarily strong reasons for overriding the presumption in favor of peace and against war. The conditions for a just war are as follows:

  • 1) Just Cause. War is permissible only to confront "a real and certain danger," i.e., to protect innocent life, to preserve conditions necessary for decent human existence and to secure basic human rights.

Traditionally 3 reasons constitute just cause

  1. Protecting people from an unjust attack
  2. Restoring rights that have been unjustly taken away
  3. Defending or restoring a just political order

Wars should NEVER be undertaken to increase a county's wealth, to expand its possession, or to insure its access to natural resources. Just War teaching strongly illustrates the fact that throughout human history many wars have been fought without just cause.

  • 2) Competent Authority. War must be declared by those with responsibility for public order, not by private groups or individuals.

Many philosophers and theologins argue the very notion of who exactly counts as competent authority.

  • 3) Comparative Justice. In essence: Which side is sufficiently "right" in a dispute, and are the values at stake critical enough to override the presumption against war? Do the rights and values involved justify killing? Given techniques of propaganda and the ease with which nations and individuals either assume or delude themselves into believing that God or right is clearly on their side, the test of comparative justice may be extremely difficult to apply.

There may well be greater justice on one side of a dispute, but there is never absolute justice.

  • 4) Right Intention. War can be legitimately intended only for the reasons set forth above as a just cause.

The old expression "the end justifies the means" is wrong here as in most any application of that cliche. Even if an act results in good consequences, if it is first born from an unworthy intention it cannot be judged good.

  • 5) Last Resort. For resort to war to be justified, all peaceful alternatives must have been exhausted.

This effectively puts the brakes on our human tendancy to use violence as our first response to threat or injury.

  • 6) Probability of Success. This is a difficult criterion to apply, but its purpose is to prevent irrational resort to force or hopeless resistance when the outcome of either will clearly be disproportionate or futile.

Sometimes the suffering that may be inflicted on the weaker country by going to war is so great that it is better to endure an unjust situation than to atempt to overcome it violently.

  • 7) Proportionality. This means that the damage to be inflicted and the costs incurred by war must be proportionate to the good expected by taking up arms.
  • If there is just cause to go to war, the war cannot be justified if the evil caused by it(for example: the number of deaths, the extent of destruction, environmental devatation) significantly outweigh whatever good might be granted.
  • 8) Proportionate and Discrimination, should be understood. This is meant to insure justice in the waging of war (jus in bello).

Because of the destructive capability of modern technological warfare, the principle of proportionality (and that of discrimination) takes on special significance. Today it becomes increasingly difficult to make a decision to use any kind of armed force, however limited initially in intention and in the destructive power of the weapons employed, without facing at least the possibility of escalation to broader, or even total, war and to the use of weapons of horrendous destructive potential.


1) Catechism of the Catholic Church
2) Dr. Paul J.Wadell's What Does the Catholic Church Teach About Just War?
Dr. Wadell is a native of Louisville, Ky., is associate professor of Religious Studies at St. Norbert College. He received his doctorate in theology from the University of Notre Dame in 1985.

3) Catholic Update's condensation of The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response, the U.S. Bishops' 1983 historic pastoral on war and peace.

No comments:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin