21 April 2016, The Tablet

There is still a case for a just war


Just war theory has never been more necessary in international affairs, at precisely the moment when some people are questioning its relevance. It is the moral anchor for the international law of armed conflict, without which the law is left to the mercy of the most powerful states to interpret in whatever way suits them. Several recent cases demonstrate what happens when just war criteria are laid to one side, especially the rules about proportionality and the prospect of success. Without a moral basis, international law is too easily manipulated, perversely interpreted or ignored.

A conference at the Vatican, jointly sponsored by Pax Christi and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has called for just war theory to be reformed in the light of modern circumstances. Some participants would have liked it to be so tightened up as to make war almost inconceivable. That may not be the best approach. Reform needs to take account of the state of international law and of political realities. Just war theory was not devised to banish war entirely, but to make it less likely. That is the more achievable aim.

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User Comments (2)

Comment by: jamesalister
Posted: 23/04/2016 11:34:03
Contingent Pacifism must be linked specifically to UN endorsed and enacted intervention to prevent conflict and de-escalate conflict. All interventions without specific UN legal endorsement must be declared illegal with participating parties being subject to ICC prosecution.
War ‘s internal dynamics tend to escalation and inevitably condones suspension of moral behavioural norms. Therefore the UN must in cases of conflict, particularly internal State conflicts be able to legally suspend State sovereignty and enact early UN peacemaking and peacekeeping intervention with a rapid reaction force to de-escalate.
A structural reform of the UN , particularly the Security Council, must involve States such as India which has consistently contributed competent military forces to UN peacekeeping over many years.The Western powers are not as philanthropic as they pretend. Where the West has “interests” it readily finds resources both military and financial. At present the Western powers are content to let ill-equiped and ill-trained soldiers undertake regional missions where the West has either no direct interest or is self-deterred from “boots – on-the ground”.
The western powers must cease their undermining of the UN as was demonstrated by the use of British Intelligence agencies in New York of Signal intelligence (SIGINT) in the run up to the Iraq war in a desperate attempt to gain leverage to browbeat UN member states into supporting a war resolution
Comment by: Eli McCarthy
Posted: 22/04/2016 18:56:43
Thanks for your attention to this. As a participant in the conference, I'd like to share some thoughts.

By avoiding any attention to Jesus Christ and the Gospels, this distorts our moral analysis and any "moral anchor." The call of the conference is for a shift by the Catholic Church toward deeper nonviolence and to not use the just war theory. Yet, just war norms will remain in international law for now. The Catholic Church's moral voice and impact will be enhanced in part by providing a vision that transcends just war. Part of a new moral anchor could be a just peace approach with specific action guiding criteria, virtues, and practice norms which are consistent with Gospel nonviolence. (Ex. http://tinyurl.com/n4ovhj4)

By giving little attention to deepening nonviolence, the article illustrates our statement's point about how maintaining the presence of just war theory, often undermines energy, development, imagination, and will to commit to nonviolent practices.

History has shown that just war theory is normally used to legitimate and thus perpetuate war more so than limit. After 1700 years, it is time for a new approach, which is more effective, practical, and faithful if we are to reach the "achievable aim" to have less war. Yet, as Catholics, we were called by Vatican II "to strain every muscle to outlaw war." (Pastoral Constitution, 1965, par. 81.) Without that clear goal then our attempts for less war and more just peace will be significantly truncated.