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“The just war tradition is the only tenable theoretical basis for discussion of war in moral terms.”


The just war tradition provides a useful way of assessing the morality of the war against terror. By contrast, neither realism nor pacifism provides satisfying perspectives because they are unable to interrogate the legitimacy of the reason for war and they fail to provide meaningful moral constraints on its conduct. For example, any war for a realist that furthers the national interest or protects security of its citizens is just as long as its statesmen address prudential questions before choosing to go to war. The US intervening in Iraq as a direct response to the events of September 11 could be seen as strong realist ideals at play. Pacifism on the other hand is not a good reasoning as well. Deontological pacifism states that any kind of loss of life is immoral and the war cannot be morally justified. Consequentialist pacifism does justify war in a few cases but the rules are so stringent that hardly any war can be morally justiciable. Hence the just war theory is the only tenable theoretical basis for discussion of war in moral terms. It gives us six maxims to adhere to for justifying war:

[1] The avenging of a wrong previously committed

[2] The restoration of goods unjustly seized

[3] Responding to the violation of natural law

[4] The punishment of wrong doers

[5] The defense of polity and the people within it

[6] The prevention of injustice 


The topic in due consideration at the moment is war against terror. To claim that a war against terror is justified, then, we should first of all be sure that there is a just cause by balancing the contemporary context with these six moral ideas. The just war theory focuses its approach on the reason for war and the conduct within the war. This states that after there is a justifiable reason the conduct within the war must also be justifiable as only then is peace a long-term possibility after the war as that is the end objective. These are called ‘jus ad bellum’ and ’jus in bello’. Terrorists target the state and hence all people that benefit from it. Therefore non-combatants are often victims and the protection of these people makes for justifiable reason for war on terror. These could be in the following three circumstances:

[1] Where the victims of terror attacks are citizens of the state launching the military campaign.

[2] Where the appropriate global authority authorizes collective action on behalf of the world community.

[3] Where the killing is so great that it amounts to supreme emergency


But we must also acknowledge that non-combatants are a casualty in war and even though they mustn’t be targeted we must assume that there will be loss of their population as a direct result of war. So the theory justifies they’re death as well.

The next part of the theory focuses on the ethic of political responsibility in just war. It says we should take guidelines written by international law seriously as the propositions and maxims of the just war theory must be carefully examines with respect to the contemporary war. Wars must also be proportionate. For example If the US and its allies avoid the use of weapons of mass destruction and the direct targeting of civilians in its war it would be proportionate damage. But war as seen is always disproportionate. War also in the bigger picture is always unjust so it must be perceived as separate wars instead of one big war.

War can also be declared prior to a wrongdoing. The just tradition allows for the possibility of pre-emptive war, but the criteria that must be fulfilled are strikingly similar to those laid down by international law. The threat must be imminent and the non-combatants must be threatened for it to be just though.

In conclusion hence, there is only the just war theory and its maxims that comes closest to justifying the implications of war on a moral basis. They also provide a guideline for war to take place.

Consequences weighting of the options

Reason decision-making process

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Written By Ameya Singh

Founder Young Bhartiya

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