Someone said to me recently that Just War is not a subject that comes out with clear-cut answers. I would say that war is a sticky matter. I would also say that it is hard to make definitive statements regarding the wars fought in the last decade, because obviously, you and I do not have all the information. I would argue, however, that the Just War Theory is very clear-cut, though complex, and that it should be obvious to every Catholic, as it is obvious to every libertarian, that the War on Terror is anything but just.
There are many facets of the theory. However, just one discrepancy with the tenets renders any war unjust. Let’s run through some of the criteria needed to go to war. These have nothing to do with fighting the war itself, they are just criteria that if met, give proper authority to go to war.
There must be a just cause for going to war. Revenge is not a just cause. Taking land is not a just cause. Building or maintaining economies or political systems is not a just cause. Having a hunch that the enemy may have the capabilities to somehow possibly develop something that resembles the beginnings of a weapon that they then just may use on us sometime in the near or not so near future is not a just cause. Self-defense is a just cause. Genocide is a just cause.
The war must be declared by a just authority. Dictators cannot justly declare war, even if the dictator’s formal title is “President.” How can a war be deemed just if the means of declaring the war were unjust? The Constitution clearly delegates the power of declaring war to Congress.
Success must be probable. This one is pretty self-explanatory on one level, but we can dig a little deeper to see why it’s more complicated than it may seem. There must be the probability of success, but this means that the success must be specifically defined. If there is no definition of success, than how can that success be probable? In order to have success, there must be a clear definition of success.
The war must be the last resort. Force should only be used as a last option after all peaceful and reasonable options have been exhausted. In other words, do everything in your power to keep the peace, and only go to war if it is absolutely necessary.
The force used must be proportional to the expected evil. It would not be just to drop a bomb on a small civilian uprising that is armed with knives and pistols, obviously.
War is complicated. The just war theory is complicated as well. The criteria are strict because war is a monstrosity that should be avoided at all viable cost. But because there are so many tenets that must be met, it should be clear to us when a government is acting unjustly.
War may be necessary sometimes. C.S. Lewis said, “If war is ever lawful, then peace is sometimes sinful.” Unfortunately, we are at war now, when we had never gotten to that point where war was just, lawful, declared by the proper authority, and a last resort.