Course Notes for Edexcel students – Brian Orend on Just War Theory

From the syllabus.

 a) The contribution of at least one religion to issues of war and peace, including the teaching of sacred text(s), the Just War Theory, including principles jus ad bellum, jus in bello and jus post bellum, reasons for and influences on the development of the theory, examples of wars, including contemporary conflicts that may be evaluated against the theory, special issues arising from nuclear war.

 b) Concepts of pacifism, including absolute, relative/selective and nuclear pacifism, the role of pacifist movements and pressure groups. The success of the Just War Theory as a theory and in practice, the practicality of pacifism in its different forms, perceived advantages of war such as technological development, relevance of religious contributions, success of named wars in achieving their goal.

With reference to the ideas of Augustine and Aquinas.

For my money, this is the best introduction to this subject in the field. MIchael Walzer’s book Just and Unjust Wars is usually cited as the one to get but Orend’s writing is – in my estimation – much clearer and also challenges some of the received wisdom when it comes to this topic.

For example, Augustine is often cited as the originator of Just War Theory. But Orend comments ‘Church father Augustine (354 – 430 CE) is often credited with inventing just war theory all by himself [my italics]. This is a huge exaggeration which downplays the Greco-Roman contribution, which….is substantial. Indeed. Augustine wasn’t even the first Christian thinker to consider the justice of war.’

Orend also emphasises the fact that the theory is a secular concept., ‘a way of thinking about war’s rightness or wrongness without appealing to God or scripture’. It is easy to lose sight of this point, given that Christians have made substantial contributions to its development along the way. The purpose of this post is therefore to summarise Orend’s account of the evolution of the theory. Here, then, are some of the highlights.

NOTE: the actual rules of Just War theory highlighted below in bold type will be more systematically described, explained and evaluated in a separate post that should be studied in conjunction with this one until the relevant terminology and conditions are properly learned.

According to Orend, it was Aristotle (384-322 BCE) who first coined the term ‘just war’ in contrast to the older idea of a ‘holy war’, a war mandated by divine sanction. Aristotle thought that it was morally right to go to war to prevent your own community from being attacked and enslaved. So what we have here is a statement of one of the most obvious just causes for war.

To this early just cause condition, the Roman statesman Cicero (106 – 43 BCE) added the conditions of right authority and public declaration. Orend remarks that Cicero reflected deeply on war and therefore ‘probably deserves credit for co-founding just war theory with Augustine and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Aristotle.’ So the theory, in its origins, may be better regarded as ‘a synthesis of Greco-Roman and Christian values’.

In the case of Cicero, the ‘authority’ in this case was the Senate, who could vote for war if initial attempts at diplomacy failed (a period of a month was allocated for this purpose, which can be regarded as somewhat resembling the later condition of resorting to war only as a last resort). Following on from such a vote, a party would be despatched to the enemy, a public declaration of the commencement of hostilities read aloud, and a sharpened javelin thrown into enemy soil.

Public declaration can more generally be seen as complementing right authority. It is reasonable that the citizens of the targeted territory know in advance what is about to transpire. It is also important that one’s own citizens are informed of their government’s intentions so that they are aware of the decision that has been made on their behalf. This helps to make a government accountable to its citizens and allows them to evaluate the conduct of the war at every point.

Cicero also commented on the actual conduct of battle, arguing repeatedly for soldiers to be restrained in battle and that surrendering soldiers on the opposing side should be protected rather than slaughtered.

Moving on, according to Orend, Augustine (354-430 CE) was not even the first Christian thinker to make a contribution to Just War Theory. For example, Augustine’s mentor Ambrose (340 to 397 CE) fleshed out Cicero’s comments about jus in bello by emphasising that soldiers should exhibit the virtues of courage, prudence, justice and moderation whilst fighting. Ambrose also asserted that wars approved of by God were essentially just, thus blurring the line between just and holy wars. This conflation eventually was eventually to provide justification for the Pope-sanctioned Crusades against Islam between approximately 1100 and 1300 CE.

However, Augustine did make an original and crucial contribution to Just War theory in both the spheres of jus ad bellum and jus in bello when it came to right intention. Right intention needs to be carefully distinguished from Just Cause so as not to confuse the two. Here, the intention must be to use force to protect innocent ordinary citizens from aggressive attack (the jus ad bellum component). The psychological motivation for battlefield conduct should thus be that of love for and duty towards those citizens. Contrastingly, acting out of bloodlust or a desire for revenge would be examples of violence inflicted on an enemy with wrong intention (the jus in bello element). Here, Augustine was striving to bring Just War conduct more into conformity with the Christian message of love and non-violence at a time when Christianity had become the official faith of the Roman Empire and armed force was sometimes required to deal with external threats.

Next up is Aquinas (1225 -1274 CE). By the time he was writing. a more settled tradition of Just War thinking had been established, including separate and developed categories of jus ad bellum and jus in bello. Aquinas added proportionality to each category. War should be an appropriate and balanced response to the provocation that had prompted the declaration and this appropriateness should be extended onto the battlefield and excess avoided. For example, an aggressive war launched to forcibly convert non-Christians was something that he deemed unacceptable.

Among other contributors to Just War theory, Orend also highlights Francisco de Vitoria (1492 – 1546 CE). Vitoria is notable for rejecting the concept of holy war and insisting on the secularism of the theory, extending the rights of jus ad bellum to non-Christian communities. most notably a right not to be attacked and enslaved. Self-defence and defence of others (in the form of armed humanitarian intervention) were identified as the only just causes for going to war and in such instances an attack must already have taken place. Pre-empting a possible attack that might take place in the future by initiating conflict was something that he did not find acceptable. Unsurprisingly, Vitoria insisted that a decision to start a war must be based on firm and reliable evidence and that the ruler making such a decision must invite counsel from learned and wise men, well-grounded in just war thinking before doing so. This was because rulers might otherwise declare war on the basis of rash and hawkish sentiment.

Grotius (1583 -1645) should also be recognized for adding the criterion of probability of success to the jus ad bellum conditions: one should only go to war if there is a reasonable chance of winning.

Lastly, Orend says of Kant (1724-1804) that he is someone that ‘we can all but completely credit…for inventing jus post bellum‘ (justice after war). In a paragraph immediately preceding this conclusion, Orend states that ‘More than any other thinker before him, Kant reflected intensively on the justice of peace treaties, of forcing regime change in a defeated society, of post-war reconstruction, and of what might be needed for longer-term peace between nations. In particular, Kant favoured widespread internal regime change in the direction of rights realization, and thought some international policies – like diplomatic engagement, cultural linkages, and free trade – would help bring this about. Pro-rights societies, he predicted, would eventually band together to form a prosperous, peaceful federation of free nations. Their success, in turn, would spur other nations to change internally so as to join the club, and a kind of peaceful “cosmopolitan federation” would grow and grow.’