The Relations Between War And Politics (IV)

Part I, Part II, Part III

Just war and Just war theory

One of the most disputed topics with regard to the concept of war is an idea of Just war – a war held to be founded on the principles of justice in principle caused and conducted in the name of humanity like, for instance, self-defense or protection of minority groups, etc.

That the was as a phenomenon is an inherent aspect of politics and foreign affairs are recognized even by the Antique authors like classical Greek writers, as represented mostly by Thucydides and his famous History of the Peloponnesian War. In the Antique time, the early Christians have been pacifists and, in fact, practicing abstention from the policy in general. At that time, the authorities of the almighty Roman Empire, once converted to Christianity in the 4th century A.D., in fact, have been forced to reconcile the pacifist philosophy of Jesus Christ with the demands of everyday real politics, war, and power on the ground from Britain to Egypt. A Christian philosopher and theologian St. Augustine (354−430) argued in De Civitate Dei that day-to-day acceptance of political realities was inevitable for all Christians living in the fallen world of the Roman Empire. This topic was further developed by another Christian (Roman Catholic) philosopher and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225−1274), who made a distinction between Just and Unjust war by using two groups of criteria: 1) Jus ad bellum – the justice of the cause; and 2) Jus in bello – the justice of the conduct. By definition, Jus ad bellum is a just resourse to war. It has to be based on certain principles that restrict the legitimate use of force. Jus in bello is the just conduct of war. It has to be founded on certain principles that stipulate how war should be fought.

These two elements of Just war theory – just cause and just conduct – continued later up today to dominate the debate over the concept of war. In the 20th century, just cause became narrowed to the issue of self-defense against aggression and helping the victims of aggression. Basically, the theoretical doctrine of just cause is concentrated on discrimination between combatants (soldiers) and non-combatants (civilians) and proportionality between the injustice suffered and the level of retaliation. However, the Total war, as both world wars have been, has strained, in effect, to breaking point the doctrine of Just war.

Just war theoryDuring the time of the Cold War, nuclear deterrence added an additional dimension to the debate for the reason that two opposite groups of thinkers became formed:

  1. The biggest number of political scientists and military experts of the concept of Just war have condemned nuclear war as Unjust war on several grounds: of discrimination, proportionality, no prospect of a successful outcome.
  2. However, there are Christian thinkers who considered the factor of deterrence: the threat to use nuclear weapons is morally acceptable. Some Roman Catholic clergy like the US Bishops have distinguished between 1) the mere possession of nuclear weapons, constituting a so-called existential deterrent (being acceptable); and 2) the real intention to use those weapons (being not acceptable).

In principle, the Just war theory is founded on the general idea that war can be justified and has to be understood and/or judges within the framework of fixed ethical criteria. In other words, Just war is a war in which both final purpose and conduct meet certain ethical standards, and, therefore, can be (allegedly) treated as morally justified. By such definition of Just war, it, basically, fluctuating between two theoretical extremes: 1) realism, which is understanding war through the prism of realpolitik – the pursuit of power or self-interest; and 2) pacifism, which denies the existence of any war and violence which can be morally justified.

The Just war theory is, in fact, much more a topic or ethical and/or philosophical reflection and studies, rather than fixed political doctrine. Historically, the philosophical origins of the Just war theory are going back to the Roman philosopher Cicero. However, it became first systematically developed by philosophers and theologians St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Francisco de Vitoria (1492−1546), and Hugo Grotius (1583−1645).

In the Just war theory, concerning the idea of Jus ad bellum, there are six basic principles to be respected regarding just resources to war:

  1. Last resort. It means that all sides have to try and exhaust all non-violent options (like diplomacy) before one of them decides to go to the war in order that the use of force is going to be justified. This principle is, basically, the principle of necessity.
  2. Just cause. According to this principle, the purpose of war has to be to redress a wrong that has been suffered. Therefore, this principle is usually associated with the principle of self-defense as a response to the military attack (aggression). It is historically understood as the classic justification for war.
  3. Legitimate authority. This principle is understood that the lawful war can conduct only legally constituted government (state’s authority) of a sovereign state, rather than a private individual or group (like political movement). It means that the war in principle can be conducted only between sovereign states while all other „wars“ are going, in fact, to the category of military conflicts.
  4. Right intention. It requires that any war has to be conducted on the foundations of aims that are morally acceptable rather than revenge or the desire to inflict harm. Nevertheless, those morally acceptable aims of the war may or may not be the same as the just cause.
  5. Reasonable prospect of success. Accordingly, war has not to be conducted if the cause is, basically, hopeless, in which life is expended for no purpose or real benefit (for instance, the Phyric victory).
  6. Proportionality. This last principle of Jus ad bellum requires that warfare should result in more good than evil. In other words, any response to aggression should be measured and proportionate. For example, a wholesale invasion is not a justifiable response to a border incursion. From that viewpoint, for instance, the 2001 Afghanistan War was an unjustifiable response to the 9/11 attack. Nevertheless, the principle of proportionality is understood by many experts as macro-proportionality for the sake to distinguish it from the Jus in bello

In the case of warfare, however, there are three principles to be respected concerning Jus in bello or just conduct in war:

  1. Discrimination. Accordingly, the force has to be directed only at military targets, on the very grounds that civilians (non-combatants) are innocent. The injury or death inflicted on the civilian population is, however, and therefore, acceptable only if they are the accidental and unavoidable victims of deliberate attacks on legitimate targets. This phenomenon in war is usually nowadays called to be collateral damage – unintended or incidental injury or damage caused during a military operation. In practice, nevertheless, the term is used as a cynical euphemism in order to justify war crimes (for instance, ethnic cleansing can be a euphemism for genocide).
  2. This principle in overlapping with Jus ad bellum holds that the force used must not be greater than that needed to achieve acceptable military aims, and must not be greater than the provoking cause.
  3. Humanity. It requires that any force or torture must not be directed ever against captured enemy personnel (prisoners of war), wounded, or being under control. This principle is a part of formalizing the so-called Laws of war. One of the pioneers of international law who drew up conditions for a Just war that remained influential up today was Francis Suarez (1548−1617), a Jesuit theologian and philosopher of law, and in particular international law, called the last of the great scholastics.

War crimes

After WWII, there was a growing number of significant non-state actors in IR like the OUN or various specialist agencies connected to it. Nevertheless, two key developments stimulated the growth of such organizations after WWII:

  1. The realization that to build cooperation and collective security was a much wider task than merely deterring aggressors in traditional attacks on fixed international order. It, therefore, involved finding ways of agreeing on international policy in a variety of practice areas.
  2. The increasing of the coverage of international law to include new foci, including, human rights, social justice, natural environment and regarding the warfare – war crimes.
The defendants in the dock listen to the proceedings at the International Military Tribunal trial of war criminals at Nuremberg.

The final result of such post-WWII development in IR and global politics was that the application of the OUN system took place within the context of the growth and expansion of international law which dealt as well with war crimes. As a consequence, IR became less concerned with the state’s freedoms and independence alone but becoming more interested in general welfare with regards to including those affecting various non-state actors, such as pressure groups of different kinds, not least those demanding the investigation of war crimes including ethnic cleansing and genocide.

However, since the Cold War’s two nuclear Superpowers for geopolitical reasons, often been supporters of anti-democratic regimes that notoriously violated their own citizen’s rights, like the US support of the authoritarian regime of General Pinochet (1973−1990), in Chile than the removal of such structural condition appeared favorable to a general improvement in those countries requiring the investigation of the violation of human rights in some cases of the civil wars connected with war crimes.

The phenomenon of war crimes is commonly understood as individual responsibility for violations of the internationally agreed on laws and customs of warfare. The responsibility of such kind is covering both the commission of war crimes in a direct way and ordering or facilitating of them. In principle, the rule violated must be part of the international customary law or part of an applicable treaty.

Chronologically, the first and unsuccessful attempts of the prosecution of war crimes have been after the Great War. The same problem of individual responsibility for war crimes became once again actual during and after WWII, with the declarations in 1942 and 1943 by the Allied coalition. It was, basically, the expression of the determination to prosecute and punish at least major war criminals on the opposite side but, unfortunately, not on their own as well. Another practical purpose was to establish the tribunals for such cases to take place in Nuremberg in Germany (for the Nazi German war criminals) and Tokyo in Japan (for Japanese war criminals).

The war crimes committed in WWII had been covering the so-called “crimes against humanity” as defined by the Charter of the International Military Tribunal that was established in Nuremberg like killing, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhuman acts committed against the civilian population either before or during a war. In addition, the same category of war crimes was put persecutions on political, racial, or religious foundations followed by the crime of aggression and crimes against peace like planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of a war of aggression.

War crimes are in general as well as understood in terms of all of those acts that are defined as the so-called “grave breaches” of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol 1 of 1977. Later, the acts of war crimes are defined in the 1993 Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, by the 1994 Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda followed by Article 8 of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Nevertheless, in the 1990s, it was on agenda a greater willingness by one part of states to establish the so-called “international” courts for the matter of prosecution of potentially committed war crimes with the first such tribunal established after WWII which was dealing with the cases from the territory of ex-Yugoslavia followed by the similar court for Rwanda and successful negotiation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The conflicts which followed the brutal destruction of ex-Yugoslavia have been widely referred to as European bloodiest conflicts after 1945 partly because of the severity and intensity of the actual warfare and partly because of mass ethnic cleansing on all sides. However, this war practice from the 1990s became infamous for the war crimes they have been alleged to violence. Nevertheless, the case of the Yugoslav destruction in the 1990s became officially the first military conflict after WWII formally to be judged as genocidal in character by the Western international community.


It is in a broader term used to mark a condition of the weak central government of the failed states in which a single warlord, or rival warlike militants, each lead usually by one dominant military leader. Such leaders are in control of a significant portion of the state’s territory opposing official governmental forces and, that is the most important, exerting power within that controlled territory as a private independent state. Nevertheless, in many if not the majority of cases, warlordism is a direct result of a military coup or civil war within a state, which causes a division of that territory between warring parties (for instance, the case of Bosnian Muslim extremist Naser Orić in the town of Srebrenica in 1992−1995).

Nonetheless, the practice of warlordism can as well as occur when the central authority of the state fails, where multiple warlords and their loyal militias or paramilitary party’s troops fill vacuums of power through violence and fear (for instance, Taliban units in Afghanistan since 2001 to 2021). Although warlordism is a prominent historical feature, like in ancient China or Medieval Europe, recent instances of warlordism still exist in several countries in Africa, Asia, or South American Colombia.

To be continued

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply