Just War Doctrine

just war doctrine

There is controversy on the doctrine of “just war.” Pacifists believe that no war is “just war” because wars can never be justified. However, those who believe that the “just war” doctrine is applicable when one is attacked, and one uses it for self-defense.

The doctrine of the just war has two major branches:

  1. justification for going to war (jus ad bellum) and
  2. justifiable acts in wartime (jus in bello).

The justification for going to war depends on the following seven criteria:

  1. War must be declared by a legitimate authority. This prohibits private individuals or political factions from declaring war.
  2. The cause must itself be just. Self-defense is considered a just cause.
  3. The intention must be just rather than expedient. The important element is the motive to wage war.
  4. Force can be used only after all other reasonable methods of resolution have failed.
  5. There must be a reasonable hope of achieving a just outcome.
  6. The outcome should bear a very close relationship to the cost. The final criterion asks whether the whole exercise is worthwhile, given the pain and suffering associated with using force.

Once war has actually begun, the doctrine of jus in bello helps determine whether actions during war are legitimate and the means are appropriate to the end being sought. One principle is that the amount of force employed must be proportional to the threat being faced.

For instance, sledgehammers should not be used to crack nuts. The other is that the use of war weapons must distinguish between combatants and non-combatants (civilians), and non-combatants are to be protected.

It is noted that the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (Germany) specified two kinds of crimes in addition to crimes against peace. These were crimes against humanity and war crimes, both of which prohibited specified actions against non-combatants.

The principles and judgments of Nuremberg were affirmed and incorporated into international law by the UN General Assembly resolution in December 1946 and in the Genocide Convention of 1948.

Furthermore, the 1949 four Geneva Conventions resulting from the Diplomatic Conference of 1949 reaffirmed and expanded the immunity of non-combatants and provided safety to those who were once combatants but who ceased to be so – prisoners of war, the sick, wounded, and shipwrecked – as well as non-combatants.

However, international laws of war and just war operate without any detailed international agreement, although military operations are run within the Geneva Conventions.

For instance, the US categorically denied treatment of prisoners of war taken from Afghanistan under the Geneva Conventions on the grounds that they were supporters of the Taliban regime and were considered “enemy combatants.”

Many of them have been rotting in the Guantanamo US Base in Cuba for more than three years without any accountability.