Reflections of a Broken Man

On Just War: Part I – Starting Points by StephenMac

**Currently listening to: This is a Low – Blur… I so love the Glastonbury version of this…**

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, so I thought I might return to my roots… I overheard a 4th year convo on Just War, and remembered that this is what brought me to college in the first place. Two years on, we’ll see if anything has changed much.

What is Just War Theory?

Just War Theory in short is a normative (what should be) and prescriptive (what should be done) approach to the study of conflict. It is a moral approach (not legalistic, as will be argued later) that makes judgements on what should be and what should be done on the basis of what is right and what is wrong. Quite simply, it is a framework for the moral fighting of war. It is not really a theory in the literal sense, rather, it is a practical framework: a set of principles that provide governments and individual soldiers alike a moral and ethical structure for the waging and limitation of war (O’Donovan** – Just War Revisited, p. 6).

Why is it needed?

This moral framework seeks to limit war. It begins with a pessimistic view of human nature, and therefore assumes that war will happen. As such, just war theory as Jean Bethke Elshtain describes it, is a “tragic necessity“. The state of affairs of Micah 4:3 is eschatological, and so we need to find a way to limit war.

There are two approaches to war in political science: Realism argues that if war is the natural state of affairs, then war should be fought without any restraint to ensure victory (prudence). Pacifism argues that war is inherently immoral, and therefore should not be fought at all. There is a problem: realism’s ‘amorality’ fails to allow for restraint, while pacifism’s extreme morality fails to provide any way forward for the moral conduct of war. Realism therefore descends into immorality, while pacifism risks “inadvertently conceding a free hand to those who support the war to execute it free of moral restraints” (BellamyIs the War on Terror Just?, p. 281). Just War Theory attempts to straddle the two, realising the need to conduct war, while demanding that there be moral limits.

A Moral Framework?

There are a couple of principles that are necessary to provide a foundation for a moral Just War Theory (as opposed to a legalistic one):

The first principle is the importance and worth of the individual. Just War insists on the limiting of violence and suffering. Why? Because the individual has worth, and that their suffering is undesirable if not completely wrong. In this regard, accounts of war in terms of prudence (realism) do not sufficiently explain why there is such an emphasis on limiting war’s effects. Where does the individual gain his worth from, and why is life respected? The Christian worldview provides such a perspective: individuals, men and women, are created in the image of God. It is a description of the way that God made humanity, in the likeness of his character. Anything that harms that creation, like suffering and death, therefore tarnishes the image of God, and is therefore inherently evil (wrong).

Similarly, the importance of the individual means that any account of political science must portray, even in part, the agency of individuals in the international realm. In this way, accounts of war that focus purely on the state neglect the role of the individual. From the outset, just war theory has placed the individual in a position of responsibility, be it the leaders (the prince or the prime minister) or the soldier. The responsibility and accountability of the individual is an assumption that remains at the heart of just war theory, and underpins many of the principles that it espouses. Why is this so? Amongst other things, theologian John Stott explains that God created humanity with the ability to be rational and moral (Stott – Issues Facing Christians Today, p. 62). How else would they be able to both understand and respond to God’s commands? The implication is that if humanity is both rational and moral, then it is also responsible and accountable. Humans are free to make decisions as they will, and as such, are subject to moral praise and blame. While “the Fall” (the break in the perfect relationship with God and the corruption of sin upon the world) may diminish humanity’s capacity to be perfectly moral or rational, this does not mean that it is not responsible or accountable. Responsibility and accountability may be diminished, but not completely denied. Rather, it is in the context of the Fall that Elshtain makes the comment that war is “tragically necessary” – in a world that is corrupted by sin, the oft-quoted idea of ‘beating swords into plowshares’ is eschatological and not of this age, and conflict is something that will continue to be.