'JUST WAR' tradition

What it is: A code of rules that states must follow if a war is to be considered a 'just' war. It has been accepted as a sound moral basis for war by the Roman Catholic and other Christian churches. In its present form the principles are as follows:

Requirements before embarking on war: 1. The war must be fought for a just cause. 2. The decision to go to war must be made with a just and right intention. 3. The decision to go to war must be made by a legitimate authority. 4. There must be a formal declaration of war. 5. There must be reasonable hope of success. 6. The decision to go to war must be a last resort. 7. The 'good' results of the war must be proportionally greater than the harm done by it. Requirements while waging war: 8. Civilians and other non-combatants must never be attacked or killed. 9. Weapons and other destructive methods used must not exceed the minimum needed to achieve the war's aim.


 And now in the interest of balance

What it means:
1. 'A just cause'. The only 'just causes' accepted by the United Nations are (a) self-defence against aggression and (b) action agreed by the UN Security Council to deal with what the UNSC sees as a 'threat to peace'. (Such action might include 'humanitarian intervention'.)
2. 'Right intention'. The 'just cause' must be the real - and openly stated - reason for war, and not a mask for other motives.
3. The 'legitimate authority' must be one sanctioned by the community or state it represents, and also recognised by other communities or states. This usually means a government, elected or not.
4. 'Formal declaration'. These are rare in modern times. The nearest to a declaration is often a statement along the lines of 'We shall take extreme measures if you do (or fail to do) ....' or some other kind of public ultimatum, which could be a Resolution passed by the UN Security Council.
5. 'Reasonable hope of success'. However 'just' the cause is thought to be, there must be no war if its aim cannot or might not be achieved. 'Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.'
6. 'Last resort'. The decision to go to war must only be taken when and if all peaceful ways of achieving the intended aim have been exhausted.
7. 'Good' results. The intended aim must be achieved by improving the situation, not making matters worse.
8. Protection of civilians. Fighting should be directed only at the armed forces of the opponent.
9. Minimum force. Like the requirement for 'success', this is a question of ends and means. The inevitable harm done by the weapons and tactics of war must be less great than the 'good' result the war is meant to achieve.

Think about it: The idea of a 'just war' is complicated and has been debated for over a thousand years. Here are just a few of the questions it raises:
1. 'A just cause'. If life is the fundamental human right, then taking the life of an aggressor is as great an abuse as the aggressor's. Because a person violates a human right doesn't mean that person's rights are cancelled out (though that might be some people's emotional response). Killing killers is a form of punishment for which there is no legal backing (except in the few places that still have a death penalty). Most societies rely on impartial systems of law and retribution. There is no supranational system of justice that makes eye-for-an-eye punishment killing legal.
2. 'Right intention'. The array of reasons given for, say, the attack in Iraq in 2003, show that war seldom has a single motive. Many motives for going to war may not even be made public. The stated intention is likely to be one that the government thinks will receive most support from the armed forces, the arms industry and the people. (The Second World War is often defended on the grounds that it overthrew the brutal Nazi regime. People forget that the 'just cause' for Britain was a treaty obligation to defend Poland, which Germany had invaded. Most people fought the war with no idea of what the regime was doing under cover of the war.)
3. 'Legitimate authority' and
4. 'formal declaration'. These are simply conditions to be met. They don't in themselves make any military action 'just'.
5. 'Reasonable hope of success'. This, too, doesn't automatically make military action morally right.
6. 'Last resort'. If there were no armies, and no profit-seeking arms trade providing equipment for them, a great many other ways of solving disputes would be devised and tried out. War is really a very unimaginative way of tackling complex conflicts (some of which exist because the weapons of war exist). What about the nonviolent strategies that have been tried already - such as the Danes' subtle subversion of the rule of the German occupying force in the Second World War? Inventive ways of defusing anger and resentment are being used all round the world in local communities every day - they can work well on a larger scale too.
7. 'Good results'. There is no reliable way of forecasting what the actual outcome of war will be, or of planning for every possible result. At the very least, war always creates the reasons for future war and armed conflict. What may look like 'improvements' today may lead to unexpected conflicts of another kind tomorrow. Violence breeds violence.
8. Protection of civilians. We now know only too well that civilians are not protected in war. Since 1939 millions more civilians than armed forces have been killed in war, and millions more still have had their lives disrupted and destroyed by it. Some civilian deaths may be referred to as 'regrettable' and 'unintended' or simply described as 'collateral damage', but that does not make them 'just' or in any way excusable. 'Military' and 'civilian' targets can be one and the same, and often are.
9. Minimum force. Think of 1945: the firebombing of Dresden and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These killings of ordinary individuals were carried out in the full knowledge that civilians would die. In war, rules and humanity and responsibility for human rights are abandoned in the interests of winning at all costs.

Some people believe that wars will only stop when we give up the armies and equipment to make them. Some continue to say that 'we have no choice' but to fight aggressors or other nations or groups that appear to pose a threat. But almost no-one claims that war is a 'good' thing (possibly not even the weapons manufacturers). So what about working on practical ways to change things so that aggression and wars are less likely to arise? Which means tackling poverty, oppression, inequality and all the other conditions of world society that aren't 'just'. In short, preventing wars long before they might begin.