The Theory of Just War

Just war theory is concerned with justifying why as well as how wars are fought. Justification in this case can be historical or theoretical. The theoretical aspect deals with the justifying war ethically as well as the forms that may or may not be taken by warfare. The historical aspect also referred to as just war tradition is concerned with the historical body of rules or agreements that have applied across the ages in various ways. For example, international agreements like The Hague and Geneva conventions are historical rules with the aim of limiting particular kinds of warfare which may be referred to in prosecuting transgressors by lawyers. However, ethics have a role of examining these institutional agreements for coherence in their philosophy in addition to inquiring into whether conventions aspects ought to be transformed. Just war tradition might as well be considered by various lawyers and philosophers thoughts via the ages as well as examining both war’s ethical limits philosophical visions and if their thoughts have contributed to the convention body that have evolved to direct warfare as well as war. Just war has two major categories of principles that must be met before a nation plans to go into war with another nation. These two include, jus ad bellum meaning the justness of going to war and jus in bello meaning justness in war (Walzer 444). I will begin by examining jus ad bellum principles.

Jus ad Bellum

The first principle is just cause. For most theorists, the notion of proper authority appears to be resolved. These theorists claim that proper authority resides obviously in the states sovereign power. However, the concept of sovereignty raises an issue of plethora. To expound on this, if a government is just as most theorists would agree that the government is accountable as well as it does not rule arbitrarily, thus offering the right to declare war to the state officers is reasonable. Given these facts, it would be found more reasonable that its claim to justifiable political sovereignty disintegrates as a result of more that are removed from a just and proper form of government. In 1940 when Nazi Germany invaded France and set up the Vichy puppet regime is a historical example that can elucidate the problem. This raises the question of what allegiance the France people owe under its rule to its rules and precepts.

It is ostensibly less problematic to the possession of right of intention. The concept’s general thrust being that a nation waging a just war should be doing so for the justice cause and not for self-interest reasons or aggrandizement. If reasons for national interest are paramount or overwhelm, a just war can’t be regarded as just as well as the pretext of fighting aggression. Right intention however masks many philosophical issues. The concerns of practicalities together with its consequences are raised by the intention issue both of which should be regarded prior declaring war (Walzer 444).

Next is the principle of reasonable success. A war can only be said to be just if it is waged with a reasonable chance of succeeding. Injuries as well as deaths incurred in a hopeless cause are not justifiable morally. This principle is insufficient in itself. Just war theory asserts that reasonable likelihood of success must be present given right intention as well as just cause. The costs and benefits of a campaign that results from the principle of reasonable doubt must be calculated. The concept of weighing benefits however poses moral and practical problems. These problems are evident under some circumstances such as incase of a war it is questionable if one should go to aid if there is no chance of success conceivable. Similar and related questions may rise hence making this principle of weighing benefits to be problematic. Many nations may have overcome the likelihood of defeat in the past history. At times the fight may appear hopeless but with the presence of a charismatic leader can stir a people to fight with all their will. For example, Winston Churchill provided the British nation some of the war rhetoric finest when it was under the threat of defeat as well as invasion by Nazi Germany in the year 1940. The thrust of the reasonable success principle however emphasizes that human life as well as economic resources shouldn’t be wasted in what would be an obvious uneven match. Other forms of retaliation or defense should be employed for a nation threatened by invasion e.g. civil disobedience (Moseley 1).

The second principle of just war is proportionality. This principle for a just war dictates that the violence imposed in the war must be proportional to the suffered injury. Force that is not aimed at attaining the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered is prohibited by states. The destruction caused by the war should be minimized at all cost by ensuring that the goal is proportional to the means employed. General balance of power consideration may be invoked by minimizing the destruction. An example of application of this principle is if a country x invades a land belonging to z, then z has a just cause to reclaim the land back. However the counter attack by z should not invoke a disproportionate response according to this principle rather z should object to retrieve its land but not to exact further retribution on the aggressor’s lands or retaliate with overwhelming force to resolve a minor border dispute. Attaining assurance s may tamper with that goal that no further invasion will occur, but for z to annex as well as invade regions of x is nominally a disproportionate response, unless that is the only way for securing future reprisals guarantees. For z to achieve this and proceed to invade neutral adjacent nations on the ground that their territory would be a significant defense against other threats as well as a putative imbalance of power is even more unsustainable (Walzer 445).

Last resort is the third principle. A just war should always be waged as a last resort. Prior using force, all non-violent options must be exhausted. This principle connects with presenting a just case intimately. War unleashes powers and forces that soon get beyond the grips of the leaders as well as generals to control as it has often been recognized. In war there is too much fog which is a moral haze in which trust and truth are early causalities. War wrecks causes damage that seems to be very high for majority of economies and thus theorists have advised that war shouldn’t be accepted lightly. War isn’t like sport and once is unleashed, it cannot be stopped quickly at the whistle blow and its consequences last for generations. It is a complicated task to hold hawks at bay and the clear ease with which war disputes may be resolved particularly in the eyes of those whose military might is clearly great and victory a guarantee, presents war as an option with low cost relative to progressing political problems as well as moral or economic hardship. Yet, just war theorists’ wishes to underline the requirement to try all other solutions but in addition to bind the war justice to other principles of war (Walzer 445).

The fourth principle is right intention. The intervention should always be focused on achieving the objective which is mainly attainment of peace. Hence wars fought punish others or satisfy hatred is unjustified. This principle however requires that what is done during the war period should be necessary and should also make peace attainment easy. Gratuitous cruelty should not be seen during this time of war.

Jus in Bello

The first principle is proportionality. The principle of proportionality requires that to meet the various limited aims, just sufficient force should be employed but no more than that. The force imposed should be proportionate to the specific aim for the cause as a whole.

Discrimination is the second principle in this category. This principle does not allow direct intentional attacks on nonmilitary target as well as noncombatants. This principle is categorized into two elements. One of the elements helps us to focus as well as differentiate between what are military and what are not military targets. On the other hand, the other element helps us to know who is a combatant and who is not. Roads and bridges are targets of military attack if they contribute directly or in an important way to the military efforts. However, hospitals aren’t legitimate targets. The formulation of this distinction helps to differentiate between those who are combatant and those who are not. In this regard, those who contribute directly are combatant whilst those who contribute indirectly are noncombatant. There are obviously grey areas in the middle (Walzer 445). Although the term innocent civilians is common in similar discussions, noncombatants are the individuals are ought to be out of war instead of people who are judged as innocent civilians. The term noncombatants is used in place of innocent because all individuals are immune because it is rather obvious that anyone would support their country.

The discrimination principle also sheds some light as to why the terms combatant and noncombatant are used. This light reveals that noncombatant should not be targeted directly. Hence, individuals are not branded as legitimate targets if they have been incapacitated by injury or when they have surrendered. This principle requires that noncombatants not to be subjects for direct attack but does not require that they are not injured or killed for a war to be conducted justly (Walzer 446).


This paper has addressed briefly the theory of just war as well as providing a detail explanation of the just war principles. These principles play a major role in providing the ethical guidelines that should direct a war as well as that would ensure peace is found and sustained. The principles also help to explain why a war should be raged besides explaining how it should be conducted. Justification can occur in form of historical and theoretical aspect. According to the just war theory, for a war to be pronounced just, particular conditions must be fulfilled. These principles are divided into major categories namely jus ad bellum meaning the justness of going to war and jus in bello meaning justness in war To mention them briefly these conditions are the principles explained above as reasonable chance of success, war should be meant to redress a wrong suffered, should be waged by a legitimate authority, should be aimed at re-establishing peace, should be proportionate, and should discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. If any of the above just war principles are violated, then the war is not just. Hence for any war to be just, the warring nations should follow these principles to the letter. This would mean a more peaceful and just world in which justice is so hard to come by.