The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Just war

"Just war" is a term to characterise a war as being permissible according to a set of moral or legal rules. The rules applied may be ethical, religious, or formal (such as international law). The rules classically cover the justification for the war (Jus Ad Bellum) and the conduct of the participants in the war (Jus In Bello).

Just war theory has ancient roots. Cicero discussed this idea and its applications. Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas later codified a set of rules for a just war, which today still encompass the points commonly debated, with some modifications.

In modern language, these rules hold that to be just, a war must meet the following criteria before the use of force:(Jus Ad Bellum)

  • War can only be waged for a just cause, such as self-defense against an armed attack.
  • War can only be waged under legitimate authority. The sovereign power of the state is usually considered to be legitimate authority. This means that citizens at their own will cannot attack another country without the permission of the sovereign.
  • War can only be waged with the right intention. Correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain is not. Thus a war that would normally be just for all other reasons would be made unjust by a bad intention.
  • War can only be waged with a reasonable chance of success. It is considered unjust to meaninglessly waste human life and economic resources if defeat is unavoidable.
  • War can only be waged as a last resort. War is not just until all realistic options which were likely to right the wrong have been pursued.

Once war has begun, just war theory also directs how combatants are to act:(Jus In Bello)

  • The acts of war should be directed towards the inflictors of the wrong, and not towards civilians caught in circumstances they did not create. Some theologians believe that this rule forbids weapons of mass destruction of any kind, for any reason (such as the use of an atomic bomb).
  • Torture, of combatants or of non-combatants, is forbidden.
  • Prisoners of war must be treated respectfully.
  • Some, such as former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, argue that the force used must be proportional to the wrong endured, and to the possible good that may come. Others argue that force should be total and immediate, as to make the conflict as short as possible (See Powell doctrine).
  • Many throughout history have considered conscription an unjust means, e.g.
"It is debasing human dignity to force men to give up their life, or to inflict death against their will, or without conviction as to the justice of their action." -- Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi in the Manifesto Against Conscription and the Military System [1]

Just War Theorists

See also

External links

  • Theories of A Just War
  • A Critique of the Just War Theory
  • Resources on Just War Theory
  • "Whether it is always sinful to wage war?" , from the Summa Theologica
  • "" , a free and non-profit internet teaching and research guide to just war theory.
  • The just war doctine and its application in current international law


  • A New Way

Last updated: 02-08-2005 11:45:00
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55