On Just War Theory

My specialty or specialization is in U.S. Foreign Policy. And in turn, an analysis and observation of U.S. Foreign Policy post-9/11 revolves around a legal doctrine or theory known as the “Just War Doctrine” or “Just War Theory.” Thus, aside from serving as a theory that describes and explains how and why wars are justified, the “Just War Theory” is also a legal doctrine that has established the ethics, rules, and principles for a justified war which have been derived from a range of philosophical and religious sources over time. And in turn, these ethics, rules, and principles shape the foundations for modern international laws and legal conventions which govern war and warfare such as the Geneva and Hague Conventions.

            In essence, there are two types of wars. For one, there is an “Aggressive War,” which is hegemonic in nature and aims to impose domination over others. On the other hand, there is a “Justified War,” which aims to ward off hegemony and the imposition of domination. It is important to note that punishing an individual or a set of individuals for corruption or wrongdoings is not a just cause for war. Neither is anger or rage, as in the case of Bush 43 and the Iraq War which began in 2003. Force is justified when an aggression or a massive violation of human rights have occurred against one’s own population. Confucius defined a “Justified War” as one which ends successfully, whereas an “Aggressive War” and an illegal war ends in failure, as in the case of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars of the 21st century.

            Moreover, a population’s opposition to an unjust war being carried out by their government justifies the overthrow of that government. The population has to deem the government’s wars as justified and legitimate. Also, the main condition for a just war is self-defense against a clear and obvious aggressor and attacker, and the response to an attack or aggression has to conform to the principle of proportionality. Proof is needed to show that an enemy is about to attack in order to justify a “preventative war.”

            In turn, there are three basic principles for a “Just War Doctrine” or “Just War Theory.” For one, there is jus ad bellum, which dictates when it is justified to use force. Second, there is the principle of jus in bello, which dictates how force is supposed to be applied. Finally, there is jus post bellum, which covers issues such as war termination, peace treaties, post-settlement reconstruction, the prosecution of war criminals, war reparations, and truth and reconciliation, given that all wars eventually come to an end. Some theorists have argued that truth and reconciliation in a society is perhaps more important than the prosecution of the war criminals themselves.

            War is also a last resort in a conflict or dispute, and it is only justified when all legal and diplomatic efforts to end a conflict or dispute have been exhausted. But what is perhaps most pertinent to the “Just War Doctrine” or “Just War Theory” as it pertains to U.S. Foreign Policy in the 21st century is the issue of regime change. When can one ever justify or legitimize the dismantling and overthrow of another government? The answer is that one cannot justify or legitimize the dismantling and overthrow of another government in a willy-nilly manner, because the primary function of a government first and foremost is to provide social order to a society. And the dismantling and removal of a government that provides social order leads to a crime and injustice that is worse than government corruption, namely, anarchy and chaos.

            Thus, as mentioned in previous blog posts, four particular conditions have to be met in order to justify or legitimize the dismantling and overthrow of a government. First of all, one must be engaged in a defensive war with another government. Second, there must be a distinction between combatants and non-combatants. Third, the use of force must be proportional to the force used by the other side. Finally, the loss of credibility and legitimacy of a government is an issue that must be determined by the subjects of a government, in line with the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a country found in the canon of international law. Therefore, determining whether a government can be overthrown is purely an internal matter within a country when that government is not engaged in an aggressive war.

            Saint Augustine of Hippo argued that a wise leader and a wise society would be delivered from all wars. Thus, the question is why the United States was not delivered from wars in the 21st century, and whether the “Just War Doctrine” or “Just War Theory” was applied in the Afghanistan and Middle East wars of the 21st century. Considering all the aforementioned facts and points, one can argue with a high degree of confidence that the “Just War Doctrine” or “Just War Theory” was not applied by the United States in its wars in the 21st century, which in turn warrants accountability as to why these wars happened. Anything short of accountability and transparency may lead to calamity.

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