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Justice in Action: Just War Theory. Ethics Matters. The origins of just war theory. Just war theory has a long and finely-textured tradition, going back to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

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justice in action just war theory

Justice in Action:Just War Theory



(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

the origins of just war theory
The origins of just war theory

Just war theory has a long and finely-textured tradition, going back to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

The most influential theorist of just war during the last fifty years has been Michael Walzer, whose Just and Unjust Wars is the key work.

© Lawrence M. Hinman

just war theory today
Just war theory today
  • The discussion of just war theory remains a crucial topic today, including in our nation’s military academies and war colleges.
  • It is not uncommon to see military officers participating in scholarly conferences on just war theories and its challenges. (The CIA is rarely a participant.)
  • The International Society for Military Ethics (formerly JSCOPE) is a key venue for these discussions.

© Lawrence M. Hiinman


Three principal areas:

  • The just conditions for entering into a war.
      • When is it just to go to war?
  • The just conditions for conducting a war.
      • What are we permitted to do in carrying out a war and what is forbidden as unjust?
  • The just conditions of peace.
      • What are the conditions of peace that insure the just conclusion of a war?

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

part one jus ad bellum the just conditions for going to war
Part One: Jus ad bellum:The Just Conditions for Going to War

Just war theorists typically recognize six conditions that must be met before a country is morally justified in going to war:

  • Just cause
  • Right intention
  • Proper authority and public declaration
  • Last resort
  • Probability of success
  • Proportionality

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

just cause
Just cause

Just war theorists typically acknowledge two conditions under which then entry into war is justified:

  • Protection from external attack is the first and foremost—and in the eyes of some, the only--just cause of war; based on the right of self-defense.
  • Some have maintained the humanitarian intervention is also justified, where we go to war to save the lives of innocent people who are being attacked by an aggressor.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

right intention
Right intention
  • The war must be pursued for a just cause.
  • Unacceptable intentions:
    • Revenge
    • Political expansion
    • Land acquisition

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

proper authority and public declaration
Proper authority and public declaration
  • Traditionally, only nations have the authority to declare war.
  • Wars must be publicly declared, not pursued in secret.
  • Question: Can terrorist groups be said to declare war? If not, is the response to terrorism really war?

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

last resort
Last resort
  • If there are other means of achieving the same objectives, such as negotiations or economic blockades, they should be pursued exhaustively first.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

probability of success
Probability of success
  • The rationale here is clear and simple: war is a great evil, and it is wrong to cause such killing, suffering, and destruction in a futile effort.
    • Question: what about countries that feel they are resisting evil even when there is little or no chance of success? For example, small European countries being invaded by the Nazis.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  • Are the possible benefits (especially in terms of a just peace) proportional to the death, suffering, and destruction that the pursuit of the war will bring about?

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

part two jus in bello the just conditions for conducting a war
Part Two. Jus in bello:The Just Conditions for Conducting a War

Three principal conditions must commonly be met in the conduct of war:

  • Discrimination
  • Proportionality
  • No means that are evil in themselves.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  • The key requirement here is to discriminate between those who are engaged in harm (soldiers) and those who are not (civilians).
  • This has increasingly become an issue in the last fifty years when there are no clear battle lines and when one side often does not wear a uniform.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  • One should only use the amount of force that is proportional to the (just) ends being sought.
  • This raises important questions about the massive use of force in many conflicts:
    • The Nazi attack on the Spanish village of Guernica was immortalized in Pablo Picasso’s painting.
    • As the means of war became more powerful, we have had more and more examples of such excessive use of force.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

no means evil in themselves
No Means Evil in Themselves
  • Orend lists a number of means that count as evil in themselves.
    • Mass rape campaigns as an instrument of war;
    • Child soldiers;
    • Genocide or ethnic cleansing;
    • Torturing captured enemy soldiers;
    • Using weapons whose effects cannot be controlled, such as chemical or biological agents or nuclear weapons.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

part three jus post bellum creating a just peace
Part Three. Jus post bellum:Creating a Just Peace

The purpose of war is to achieve a just and lasting peace. Without such a peace, we are simply condemned to a series of repetitive wars.

The vision of a just peace ought to guide both the decision to go to war and the conduct of the war.

  • Contrast Sherman’s march through Georgia with Lincoln’s treatment of Confederate soldiers.
  • Contrast WWI and WWII and their respective peace treaties.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

five conditions of a just peace
Five Conditions of a Just Peace

There are five conditions necessary for a just peace:

  • Just cause for termination
  • Right intention
  • Public declaration and legitimate authority
  • Discrimination
  • Proportionality

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

just cause for termination
Just cause for termination
  • Orend: “a reasonable vindication of those rights whose violation grounded the resort to war in the first place.”
    • Unjust gains from aggression have been eliminated
    • Victims’ rights reinstated
    • Formal apology
    • Acceptance of reasonable punishment

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

right intention20
Right intention
  • Excludes motives such as revenge
  • Prosecution of war crimes needs to be applied to all, not just the vanquished.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

public declaration and legitimate authority
Public declaration and legitimate authority
  • This requirement is fairly straightforward and uncontroversial.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  • Differentiate between
    • Political and military leaders
    • Military and civilian populations
  • Punish the elite responsible for prosecuting the war, not the uninvolved civilians.

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  • The vanquished do not lose their rights
    • No ‘witch hunts’
  • Proportional to reasonable rights vindication

(c) Lawrence M. Hinman

war in the 20 th century
War in the 20th Century

Much of traditional just war theory rests on the assumption of:

  • A conflict between two nation state (such as a war between France and Germany)
  • Clearly drawn battle linesand fronts with uniformed armies that can be clearly identified.
war in the 21 st century
War in the 21st Century

In the 21st century, we see new paradigms for warfare emerging that no longer fit well into the traditional categories of just war theory:

  • Insurgency and counterinsurgency
  • Increasing role of CIA and other agencies instead of the military
  • Drones and robotic warfare
  • Cyber warfare
  • Economic sanctions and currency warfare