Just War Theory and International Humanitarian Law
The VBC marks International Peace Day with a special program on Just War Theory.
Experts Greg Yoest, Ben Wright and Margot Hillman will present and comment upon the possibility of establishing ethical principles and criteria for determining whether the use of military force is morally justifiable. We call this effort “Just War Theory.”
Rooted in both philosophical and religious traditions, Just War Theory offers guidelines to evaluate the decision to engage in war, the conduct of war, and the aftermath of conflict. The main proponents of just war theory include ancient philosophers like Cicero and St. Augustine, as well as later thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas and Hugo Grotius.
The theory is built upon two primary components: jus ad bellum (justice in going to war) and jus in bello (justice in conducting war).
Jus ad bellum outlines the criteria that must be met for a war to be considered justifiable. These criteria include having a just cause, legitimate authority, right intention, probability of success, proportionality, and last resort. A just cause typically involves self-defense against aggression, protection of innocent lives, or the restoration of rights. Legitimate authority ensures that the decision to wage war is made by those with the proper jurisdiction and responsibility. Right intention emphasizes that the ultimate goal of war should be to reestablish peace and justice, rather than pursuing selfish interests.
Jus in bello, on the other hand, addresses the moral conduct of warfare. It prescribes principles that govern the actions of individuals during armed conflict. These principles include proportionality (ensuring the level of force used is proportional to the military objective), discrimination (distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants), and the prohibition of means that are inherently cruel or cause unnecessary suffering.
As with all theories, Just War Theory meets its test in the ever-evolving battlefields of the real world, where technology and politics rule. The rise of asymmetric warfare and the potential for collateral damage in conflicts raise questions about the proportionality of force and the ability to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants.
Additionally, the interpretation of a “just cause” has become more complex with debates over preemption and humanitarian intervention. Critics of Just War Theory argue that its principles can be selectively applied and easily manipulated.
And such concepts as “legitimate authority” and “right intention” are subjective and hard to measure.
But Just War Theory does encourage nations and leaders to reflect on the moral implications of their decisions and actions, helping to minimize the devastation caused by warfare.
Established by the United Nations in 1981, International Peace Day is a global initiative dedicated to promoting the ideals of peace and fostering awareness about the importance of conflict resolution and non-violence.
The date, September 21st, was chosen to coincide with the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly, a platform where nations convene to address global issues.
By focusing attention on the value of peace, International Peace Day contributes to a collective aspiration for a future free from violence, inequality, and injustice, and reminds us all of our shared responsibility in working towards a more peaceful and equitable world.