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The solution of using moral and legislative means to produce ethical solutions has been used by many to solve civic conflicts over the course of history. During the early thirteenth century, a man by the name of St. Thomas Aquinas created what is now known as just war theory: the framework behind almost all theories of intervention and war. The theory sets out to determine the conditions under which one should wage war (jus ad bellum), how it should be waged (jus In bello), and the justice of what happens after war (jus post bellum). The mix of deontological and moral reasoning creates a set of criteria that is generally accepted among peoples considering waging war or engaging in an intervention. Before completely analyzing the effects of just war theory on a political landscape it’s first necessary to understand what just war theory is truly affecting. Humanitarian intervention happens when a country denounces human rights abuses and militarily intervenes to prevent their extension. The question that remains after denouncing human rights violations is a question of when to implement large scale interventions (the other option being to suffer the consequences of non-intervention). These are still some of the most important global policy questions that currently face us. Additionally, to truly measure the success of just war theory implementation we must understand what is war, what are the causes of war, and is war morally justifiable?
At surface level there are two main sets of belief systems among the just war theory follower base. One is traditionalism and the other is revisionism. Traditionalists choose to focus on creating a moral foundation based on practical international legislation while revisionists believe that legislation lacks deeper moral complexity and that we should instead focus on solely moral beliefs and judge the ethical applications of just war theory on a case by case basis. Upon closer inspection, revisionists question the morals of establishments and also advocate for an expansion of reasons for intervention and declaration for war. Revisionists believe that the best thing combatants fighting for the wrong causes can do is to stop fighting for that cause completely. On the contrary traditionalists believe, mostly for pragmatic reasons, that there is no real reason for change in our current establishments (no necessity for significant reform in the status quo).
Within the revisionist and traditionalist sects of just war theory there are drastically different ways that people approach the definition of war. The first group of individuals, institutionalists, believe that philosophers’ primary objective should be to identify what the institutions regulating war should be. This means creating morally justifiable rules to implement and then enforcing them by informing individuals and groups that these rules are what is “morally justifiable”. On the other hand, the interactional approach dictates that we should get rid of institutions all-together and instead focus on what’s morally justifiable for those groups and individuals first. Instead of starting with establishing institutions, the interactional approach focuses on the interactions with individuals and groups.
Generally, indirect consequentialists and people who believe in social contract theory side with the institutional approach more so than the interactional approach. The reason for this lies in their ideologies themselves. Social contract theorists believe that hypothetical contract theory specifies their terms of interaction in war for their citizens through the institutions, while indirect consequentialists think that the institutions will have a greater long term impact (consequence) and create significantly better results than the alternative solution. Using hypothetical and historical instances we can clinically conduct trials to isolate variables and test the tentative explanations in practice.
The second divide within Revisionists and Traditionalists, is Reductivists and Non-Reductivists. Reductivists believe that killing during the time period of war should be justified in the same manner that killing outside of war is due to the nature of the similar result (the end of a human life). Non-Reductivists believe that the circumstances in which war is held permit exceptions to be made in regards to murder during a period of war. The sum of these ideologies was combined to create a set of principles under which it is ethical to wage war (jus ad bellum). Those principles are as follows: just cause, legitimate authority, reasonable prospects of success, right intention, last resort, and proportionality. Just cause means that the group or institution engaging in an act of war is to avert possible damage and legitimate authority is a rule that says the group engaging in war needs to have legitimate authority to do so. Also, a reasonable prospect of success means that the war should be likely to achieve its goals, the right intention ensures that there is no ulterior motive present when an establishment enforces their ideals. Proportionality is based on utilitarianism and says that the good must outweigh the bad done by the war or intervention, and finally the last resort rule ensures that there are no other reasonable alternatives that have been exhausted prior to the military engagement.
Aside from the circumstances in which it’s appropriate to wage war or stage an intervention, jus in bello are the deontological criteria regarding how to wage the war or stage the intervention after you’ve met the criteria to pursue that course of action. The set of rules are as follows:
While the aims of jus in bello aim to prevent non-combatant casualties, you cannot completely abolish civilian casualties because some soldiers and generals believe that in war “anything goes”. While this is a somewhat valid opinion to hold, just war theory, specifically jus in bello states that any action deemed excessive (for example killing civilians without provocation or excessive force outside of what is commanded of them) is considered unacceptable and warrants a trial (according to the theory, of course, international then national law sets precedent). Specifically, jus in bello deems that killing civilians is akin to murder in a regular situation. This means that the people who perform unjust actions are responsible even if it was given by a superior. Essentially, even if the superior ordered the unjust act, they didn’t commit it and as such shouldn’t be punished for it. Those criteria serve as a general guideline for morally permissible conduct in war, and while there isn’t an initiative to make those rules into law, initiatives to enforce the policy in places of political power have been continued from their original inceptions.
After deciphering when it is accepted to engage in war or intervention and discussing moral action within a warlike setting, I think that it’s equally important to talk about jus post bellum, or justice after war. Jus post bellum is currently a theoretical concept and while ideas continue to be discussed, it’s not technically included in traditional ideas of just war theory. The first time that jus ad bellum and jus in bello were discussed was in a Christian context (as the ideas of just war theory are mainly rooted in Christian theological beliefs), and after researching various modern Christian scholars there were some with ideas surrounding jus post bellum that stood out. Michael Schuck published an article in Christian Century Magazine that said the 3 characteristics of jus post bellum should be repentance, honorable surrender, and restoration (if the end goal of war is to restore peace or end conflict in a certain region in a religious context).
More detailed principles were developed later by people like Brian Orend who wrote ‘jus post bellum’, the Journal of Social Philosophy and was a catalyst in the introduction of jus post bellum to the debate stage. His seven principles of jus post bellum outline a way to de-escalate conflict in an appropriate manner:
Similarly, another prominent writer and veteran Louis V. Iaseillo believes that there should be a different set of criteria for justice after war:
While all of this sounds like a great idea, the actual implementation of jus ad bellum, jus in bello, as well as possibly jus post bellum is seen as a complete fantasy by political realists. Skeptics say that if you take a look at the use of war justification throughout history it’s evident that causes that were morally permissible are not in the current state of affairs (for example the crusades). The hypocrisy within the ever changing definition of “just” is arguably the major flaw within this entire system of just war, and yet if we only judge the effectiveness of the theory on the literal definition of the word “just” over time then we completely neglect the possible implications of its implementation. By skeptic’s logic, should everything that hasn’t worked empirically not be implemented due to the possible ramifications? Of course we may regret decisions 500 years from now, but the short term positive surely outweighs. As we look forward in the development of jus post bellum and war theory in general it’s important to maintain a mix of perspectives as well as moral and literal interpretations on the debate stage. While some historical instances don’t discuss just war theory in a positive manner, its current use (or use of similar frameworks) continues to effect global policy, and the widespread effect of these ethical decisions don’t only affect singular nations but (quite literally) the entire planet.
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