Detailed Course Notes on War and Peace for students of the Edexcel syllabus

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.



In terms of Divine Command Ethics, the New Testament seems to favour Pacifism – the view that violence is always wrong. Passages which suggest  that Jesus was possibly a pacifist are ::

‘If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also ‘ (Matthew 5:39) ; ‘Love your enemies ‘(Matthew 5:44);’Blessed are the peacemakers ‘ (Matthew 5:9); ‘ all who live by the sword will die by the sword.’ (Matthew 26:52).

BUT: 1) Christians who support Just War Theory argue that Jesus was referring to the behaviour of individuals not nations and that a different sort of morality is required for international conflict.

        2) Christians who believe in Liberation Theology feel that Christians have a duty to fight against unjust governments and leaders and are inspired to do so by the teaching in Luke 4v18 to ‘…set free the oppressed’.

        3) Christians who support the idea of Christian Realism believe that Jesus was teaching about how people should ideally behave in the future when God’s kingdom has finally been established and violence will no longer be needed. In the struggle to establish that kingdom Christians may need to use force.

        4) There are some other New Testament passages about Jesus (apart from Luke 4v18) which could be used to support violence and which suggest that Jesus may not have been a pacifist after all. For example, in John’s gospel Jesus uses a whip to drive out the moneychangers and dealers in sacrificial animals from the sacred Temple in Jerusalem. He also told his disciples that he ‘…came not to bring peace but a sword’ (Matt 10v34).

Just War Theory

The roots of this theory go back to Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine and Aquinas (who developed most of the major principles) though the theory has been commented on and developed by other Christian philosophers.

Principles of jus ad bellum (just recourse to war)

  • Last resort – all non-violent options must have been tried before force can be justified.
  • Just cause – the purpose of war is to put right a wrong that has been suffered and is frequently associated with acting in self-defence in response to an unprovoked military attack.
  • Legitimate authority – this is usually interpreted to mean that a war can only be started by a lawful government or sovereign state (perhaps in modern times the United Nations). Note: this seems to rule out civil war (which supporters of Liberation Theology may feel is acceptable).
  • Right intention – war must be fought on the basis of aims that are morally acceptable (which may or may not be the same as the just cause) rather than revenge or the desire to inflict harm.
  • Reasonable prospect of success – War should not be fought for a hopeless cause with little or no chance of victory.
  • Proportionality – any response should be measured in response to the attack e.g. a wholesale invasion may not be a justifiable response to a border incursion.

Principles of jus in bello (just conduct in war)Discrimination – force must be directed at military targets only, on the grounds that civilians or non-combatants are innocent. Civilian casualities are only acceptable if they are an accidental or unavoidable consequence of a deliberate attack on a legitimate target.

  • Proportionality – Overlapping with jus ad bellum, this principle holds that the force used must not be greater than that needed to achieve an acceptable military outcome.
  • Humanity/Discrimination – force must not be directed against enemy personnel if they are captured, wounded or under control (prisoners of war) and only the armed forces of the enemy should be targeted in zones of conflict.

Principles of jus post bellum (just conduct after the war)

This is a neglected aspect of Just War theory and refers to the restoration of peace and justice after the war. This could be brought about by – for example –  making sure that the citizens of the defeated country have access to clean water, food and electricity, and are allowed to vote for a new government and enjoy a free press, something known as Rights Vindication. People may therefore need educating about Human Rights and the police force of the country should be well-trained and free from corruption.

The principles of Proportionality and Discrimination should then be observed through a peace settlement that is measured and reasonable. Discrimination is also necessary when it comes to identifying those who prosecuted the war in the first place on the defeated side. In other words, ordinary citizens should not be punished for the crimes of their own government. Punishment is therefore another jus post bellum principle: if the losing nation have committed acts that violate basic human rights (e.g. genocide, rape), then those who were responsible should be held accountable. The Nuremberg Trials are one example of this principle in operation. Compensation should also be paid by the losers to the victors but this burden should not necessarily fall on the general population (who may not all have participated in the violence or the war itself) nor should it be excessively punitive, as this may prevent the defeated country from getting back on its feet and it could obstruct the principle of Rights Vindication from doing its work with respect to the creation of a more open society. If the citizens are resentful, they may not embrace the freedoms they are now allowed to enjoy. Instead, the compensation might be paid by the losing government and/or the armed forces. Note that the Treaty of Versailles that was imposed on Germany after World War One was so excessively punitive that it is considered to have helped to nurture a level of resentment which eventually resulted in the rise of Fascism and Hitler coming to power.

Liberation Theology

This theology has been especially popular in Latin America. Some Christians have taken a non-violent approach to the oppression of ordinary people by corrupt and brutal governments and military dictatorships (e.g. Archbishop Oscar Romero (1917 – 1980) in El Salvador) but others have been prepared to use violence (e.g. Father Camilo Torres (1929-1966) in Columbia, who argued that a violent revolution against injustice was ‘obligatory’ i.e. something that Christians must do.

Christian Realism
This is a view promoted by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). Niebuhr was influenced by Augustine’s theology of Original Sin and argued that human beings were too immoral and sinful to be rational and keep to principles like those outlined by Aquinas. He also thought that countries were even worse than individuals in their moral behaviour. Because of this Niebuhr thought that war was inevitable and he was opposed to both Natural Law and Just War Theory. He felt that in order to bring about the peaceful Kingdom of God that Jesus preached about, violence was a necessary evil. This is very different from both the classical Christian just war tradition and Christian pacifism which both insist that Christians ought not do evil so that good may come.

Christian Pacifism
Following Jesus’ pacifist outlook, many modern Christians believe that violence of any kind is wrong, especially in an age where nuclear or biochemical weapons might be used e.g. the Quakers and Christian supporters of CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament).
Pacifists have been criticised, however, for enjoying the benefits of soldiers fighting on their behalf and for not being willing to fight in self-defence.
Note: you do not have to be religious to be a pacifist. As an atheist, you could just believe that human life is sacred because it is the only one we are going to have.

The Invasion of Iraq 2003 – a Just War?

Although allegedly fought to get rid of an evil dictator (Saddam Hussein) who was allegedly developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) the head of the UN Inspection Team tasked with finding the weapons said that war was declared before he had a chance to complete the inspection process. And no WMD’s were found. So the war does not seem to have been fought as a Last Resort.  Although the invasion was carried out by a coalition of governments (including the US and UK) it did not have the approval of the UN and therefore could be said to have broken the principle of Legitimate Authority. Critics of the war claimed that it had really been fought to secure Iraqi oil wealth, which means that the principles of Just Cause and Right intention were not observed. As Saddam Hussein had not attacked any of the countries who invaded Iraq, the principle of Proportionality was not maintained. And as far as jus in bello is concerned, there were many, many civilian casualities so the Discrimination does not seem to have taken place. And many Iraqi prisoners were found to have been subsequently mistreated and tortured by US soldiers so that the principle of Humanity was not upheld.

·         There is a concern that Realism (see the first bullet point on the right) might allow for acts of genocide, rape, torture, and the possible use of biochemical or nuclear weapons in order to win a war. The Just War principles at least prevent these kinds of excesses from taking place.
It allows those who declare and fight the war to be accountable to their citizens, so that they could be tried for war crimes if need be afterwards.
·         Just War theory could be said to be in tune with the reasons why the United Nations sometimes approves military action e.g. to defend innocent civilians or minorities from possible genocide.
·         Just War Theory has clear cut boundaries as to what is and is not morally acceptable, unlike Realism and Christian Realism.
·         It tries to protect the innocent victims of warfare.
·         The culture, traditions and laws of any defeated nation are respected.
·         It encourages those fighting the war to think about the moral consequences of their actions.
·         It places moral integrity above the pursuit of naked power.
It maintains the central importance of the dignity of each human being.

this theory has been criticised by believers in Realism/Realpolitik. Realists claim that policy in wartime and battlefield actions cannot or should not be guided by ideals and morals. This is because countries act to serve their own self-interests and will therefore ruthlessly exploit any weaknesses shown by an enemy. So the principle of going to war as a Last resort might mean that the enemy is allowed too much time to get stronger. For example, it could be argued that had the invasion of Iraq not taken place in 2003, Saddam Hussein could have gone on to develop weapons of mass destruction even if he was not already in possession of them .
·         Just War theorists disagree about which of the conditions for Jus ad Bellum is the most important. Should just cause take priority? Or is fighting as a Last resort to be preferred.
·         It is not clear what should happen if fighting for a just cause eventually means that unjust methods have to be used to fight for the cause e.g. the use of nuclear weapons if you are in danger of losing the war to an enemy that is undoubtedly evil who would massacre and enslave your own citizens if they won.
·         It is also unclear as to whether just cause should include the possibility of a pre-emptive attack as a form of self-defence. An example of this might be Israel bombing Iranian nuclear reactors to prevent them from being used to enrich weapons grade uranium.
·         It could be argued that there has never been a war in which the rules for a just war have been followed. For example, WW2 is thought of as being a justifiable war but civilians in the German city of Dresden
were firebombed simply to terrorise them and atomic bombs were eventually dropped on Hiroshima
and Nagasaki