upper room daily devotions

Thursday, December 10, 2009

About "Just War" and "Just Peace"

Ever since the president accepted his Nobel Peace Prize today, commentators have been going crazy discussing it. In it, President Obama laid out a very standard argument for "just war" and attendant "just peace."

He did not, as commentators continue to argue, "robustly" defend war or present himself as a "warrior president," at least in my opinion. By this, I mean that he did not present an argument for war per se. Rather, facing a world with aggression already in it and aggressors active in it, President Obama is turning to a very specific argument about when and how to fight back and what resolution looks like. He relied upon descriptions of just war from both international law and his own faith tradition.

In both international law and in theology, just war theory maintains that wars can only be fought under specific conditions.

In international law, the one declaring war, i.e. the head of state must be able to substantiate the six following conditions:

Jus ad bellum
1. A just cause
2. Right intention
3. That s/he has the proper authority to declare war and make a public declaration of it
4. That it is a last resort
5. There is a probability of success
6. Proportionality

Once these have been met, certain rules must be followed while engaging in war for it to remain just - jus in bello. This includes:

1. Obeying international laws on weapons prohibitions
2. Using discrimination and allowing non-combatant immunity - i.e. only kill other soldiers or those who intend to harm you
3. Proportionality
4. Benevolent quarantine of prisoners
5. No Means Mala in Se, which means there can be no means used to wage war that are "evil in and of themselves," e.g. rape.
6. No reprisals.

And last, there must be a just termination to the war.

Jus post bellum
1. Proportionality and Publicity
2. Rights Vindication
3. Discrimination
4. Punishment #1 - Leaders should be prosecuted for violating rights.
5. Punishment #2 - Soldiers should be prosecuted for violating rights.
6. Compensation
7. Rehabilitation

This theory of just war originated with the League of Nations, but just war and just peace are concepts with ancient histories, even if they, as concepts, were not fleshed out to such an extent as this more recent incarnation of the just war theory.

President Obama looked not only to international law, but to his own faith tradition to inform his understanding of both just war and just peace. His understanding of both just war and just peace echo biblical justice and are rooted in Christian history. Saint Augustine wrote about just war as did many other theologians since him.

And yet, just war continues to be debated.Can there ever be such a thing as a just war? For more:

Just War Theory from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
St. Augustine on war from "Summa
A pacifist on just war theory.
on just war.
The Red Cross on just war.
The president's acceptance speech.

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