Essay: Explain and evaluate a ‘theory of the just war’

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  • Explain and evaluate a ‘theory of the just war’
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A theory of the just war is explained normatively, seen by Vittoria (Begby et al (2006b), one of the few who came up with a theory, along with modernists today including Frowe (2011). Their theory is devised as a guide, whether we should go to war or not along with conditions which need to be considered, what should we do and not do during a war if it is inevitable, and finally what further action should be taken after. To evaluate this theory, one must look at the assumptions made towards it, for example, actors which theorists leave out and the time gap between traditional theorists and modernists. Most importantly, there can be no definitive theory of the just war, because every single person has a different interpretation of this theory, given its normativity. However, the theory gives a rough display of how we should proceed in times of tension and conflict, crucially the aim of a just war: ‘peace and security of the commonwealth’ (Begby et al, 2006b, Page 310). Overall, this theory is suitable to use but cannot ever be seen as a natural guide since it’s normatively theorised.

To answer the question, the essay is comprised of 3 sections.

The starting section covers jus ad bellum, the conditions debating whether an action is justifiably acceptable to cause a war (Frowe (2011), Page 50).

Firstly, Vittola discusses one of the just causes of war, most importantly, is when harm is inflicted but he does mention the harm does not lead to war, it depends on the extent or proportionality, another condition to jus ad bellum (Begby et al (2006b), Page 314). Frowe, however, argues the idea of “just cause” based on “Sovereignty” which refers to the protection of political and territorial rights, along with human rights. In contemporary view, this view is more complicated to answer, given the rise of globalisation. Similarly, it is difficult to measure proportionality, particularly in war, because not only that there is an epistemic problem in calculating, but again today’s world has developed (Frowe (2011), Page 54-6).

Furthermore, Vittola argues war is necessary, not only for defensive purposes, ‘since it is lawful to resist force with force,’ but also to fight against the unjust, an offensive war, nations which are not punished for acting unjustly towards its own people or have unjustly taken land from the home nation (Begby et al (2006b), Page 310&313); to “teach its enemies a lesson,” but mainly to achieve the aim of war. This validates Aristotle’s argument: ‘there must be war for the sake of peace (Aristotle (1996), Page 187). However, Frowe argues “self-defence” has a plurality of descriptions, seen in Chapter 1, showing that self-defence cannot always justify one’s actions. Even more problematic, is the case of self-defence in war, where two conflicting views are established: The Collectivists, a whole new theory and the Individualists, the continuation of the domestic theory of self-defence (Frowe (2011), Page 9& 29-34). More importantly, Frowe refutes Vittola’s view on vengeance because firstly it empowers the punisher’s authority, but also today’s world prevents this action between countries through legal bodies like the UN, since we have modernised into a relatively peaceful society (Frowe (2011), Page 80-1). Most importantly, Frowe further refutes Vittola through his claim that ‘right intention cannot be used as an excuse to wage war in response to anticipated wrong,’ suggesting we cannot just harm another just because they have done something unjust. Other factors need to be considered, for example, Proportionality.

Thirdly, Vittola argues that war should be avoided (Begby et al (2006b), Page 332) and that we should proceed circumstances diplomatically. This is supported by the “last resort” stance in Frowe, where war should not be permitted unless all measures to seek diplomacy fails (Frowe (2011), Page 62). This means war shouldn’t be declared until one party has no choice but to declare war, in order to protect its territory and rights, the aim of war. However, we can also argue that the war can never be the last resort, given there is always a way to try to avoid it, like sanctions or appeasement, showing Vittola’s theory is flawed.

Fourthly, Vittola questions upon whose authority can demand a declaration of war, where he implies any commonwealth can go to war, but more importantly, “the prince” where he has “the natural order” according to Augustine, and all authority is given to him. This is further supported by Aristotle’s Politics ((1996), Page 28): ‘a king is the natural superior of his subjects.’ However, he does later emphasise to put all faith in the prince is wrong and has consequences; a thorough examination of the cause of war is required along with the willingness to negotiate rival party (Begby et al (2006b), Page 312& 318). This is supported by the actions of Hitler are deemed unjustly. Also, in today’s world, wars are no longer fought only by states but also non-state actors like Al-Queda and ISIS, showing Vittola’s normative claim on authority is outdated. This is further supported by Frowe’s claim that the leader needs to represent the people’s interests, under legitimate authority, which links on to the fourth condition: Public declaration of war. Agreed with many, there must be an official announcement on a declaration of war (Frowe (2011), Page 59-60&63).

Finally, the most controversial condition is that wars should have a reasonable chance of success. As Vittola reiterated, the aim of war is to establish peace and security; securing the public good. If this can’t be achieved, Frowe argues it would be better to surrender to the enemy. This can be justified because the costs of war would have been bigger (Frowe (2011), Page 56-7).

Consequently, jus ad bellum comprises several conditions but most importantly: just cause and proportionality. This gives people a guide whether it’s lawful to enter a war or not. However, this is only one part of the theory of the just war. Nevertheless, it can be seen above that jus ad bellum can be debated throughout, showing that there is no definitive theory of a just war, as it is normatively theorised.

The second section begins deciphering jus in bello or what actions can we classify as permissible in just wars (Begby et al (2006b), Page 323).

First, it is never just to intentionally kill innocent people in wars, supported by Vittola’s first proposition. This is widely accepted as ‘all people have a right not to be killed’ and if a soldier does, they have violated that right and lost their right. This is further supported by “non-combatant immunity” (Frowe (2011), Page 151), which leads to the question of combatant qualification mentioned later in the essay. This is corroborated by the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, ending the Second World War, where millions were intently killed, just to secure the aim of war. However, sometimes civilians are accidentally killed through wars to achieve their goal of peace and security. This is supported by Vittola, who implies proportionality again to justify action: ‘care must be taken where evil doesn’t outweigh the possible benefits (Begby et al (2006b), Page 325).’ This is further supported by Frowe who explains it is lawful to unintentionally kill, whenever the combatant has full knowledge of his actions and seeks to complete his aim, but it would come at a cost. However, this does not hide the fact the unintended still killed innocent people, showing immorality in their actions. Thus, it depends again on proportionality as Thomson argues (Frowe (2011), Page 141).

This leads to question of what qualifies to be a combatant, and whether it is lawful to kill each other as combatants. Combatants are people who are involved directly or indirectly with the war and it is lawful to kill ‘to shelter the innocent from harm…punish evildoers (Begby et al (2006b), Page 290).However, as mentioned above civilian cannot be harmed, showing combatants as the only legitimate targets, another condition of jus in bello, as ‘we may not use the sword against those who have not harmed us (Begby et al (2006b), Page 314).’ In addition, Frowe suggested combatants must be identified as combatants, to avoid the presence of guerrilla warfare which can end up in a higher death count, for example, the

Vietnam War. Moreover, he argued they must be part of the army, bear arms and apply to the rules of jus in bello. (Frowe (2011), Page 101-3). This suggests Frowe seeks a fair, just war between two participants avoiding non-combatant deaths, but wouldn’t this lead to higher death rate for combatants, as both sides have relatively equal chance to win since both use similar tactics? Nevertheless, arguably Frowe will argue that combatant can lawfully kill each other, showing this is just, which is also supported by Vittola, who states: ‘it is lawful to draw the sword and use it against malefactors (Begby et al (2006b), Page 309).’

In addition, Vittola expresses the extent of military tactics used, but never reaches a conclusion whether it’s lawful or not to proceed these actions, as he constantly found a middle ground, where it can be lawful to do such things but never always (Begby et al (2006b), Page 326-31). This is supported by Frowe, who measures the legitimate tactics according to proportionality and military necessity. It depends on the magnitude of how much damage done to one another, in order to judge the actions after a war. For example, one cannot simply nuke the terrorist groups throughout the middle-east, because it is not only proportional, it will damage the whole population, an unintended consequence. More importantly, the soldiers must have the right intention in what they are going to achieve, sacrificing the costs to their actions. For example: if soldiers want to execute all prisoners of war, they must do it for the right intention and for a just cause, proportional to the harm done to them. This is supported by Vittola: ‘not always lawful to execute all combatants…we must take account… scale of the injury inflicted by the enemy.’ This is further supported by Frowe approach, which is a lot more moral than Vittola’s view but implies the same agendas: ‘can’t be punished simply for fighting.’ This means one cannot simply punish another because they have been a combatant. They must be treated as humanely as possible. However, the situation is escalated if killing them can lead to peace and security, within the interests of all parties.

Overall, jus in bello suggests in wars, harm can only be used against combatants, never against the innocent. But in the end, the aim is to establish peace and security within the commonwealth. As Vittola’s conclusion: ‘the pursuit of justice for which he fights and the defence of his homeland’ is what nations should be fighting for in wars (Begby et al (2006b), Page 332). Thus, although today’s world has developed, we can see not much different from the modernist accounts on warfare and the traditionists, giving another section of the theory of the just war. Nevertheless, we can still conclude that there cannot be one definitive theory of the just war theory because of its normativity.

Finally, jus post bellum suggests that the actions we should take after a war (Frowe (2010), Page 208).

Firstly, Vittola argues after a war, it is the responsibility of the leader to judge what to do with the enemy (Begby et al (2006b), Page 332).. Again, proportionality is emphasised. For example, the Versailles treaty imposed after the First World War is questionably too harsh, as it was not all Germany’s fault for the war. This is supported by Frowe, who expresses two views in jus post bellum: Minimalism and Maximalism, which are very differing views. Minimalists suggest a more lenient approach while maximalist, supporting the above example, provides a harsher approach, punishing the enemy both economically and politically (Frowe (2010), Page 208). At the last instance, however, the aim of war is to establish peace security, so whatever needs to be done can be morally justified, if it follows the rules of jus ad bellum.

In conclusion, just war theory is very contestable and can argue in different ways. However, the establishment of a just peace is crucial, making all war type situation to have different ways of approaching (Frowe (2010), Page 227). Nevertheless, the just war theory comprises of jus ad bellum, jus in bello and jus post bellum, and it can be either morally controversial or justifiable depending on the proportionality of the circumstance. Therefore, there cannot be one definitive theory of the just war but only a theoretical guide to show how wars should be fought, showing normativity in its account, which answers the question to what a just war theory is.

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