Latest in the Pierre Capital Journal:
In the run-up to potential war with Syria, it may be useful to review the basic precepts of the classic teaching known as “Just War Theory.”
While this theory has been amended over the centuries, the basic criteria are clear. First, every war must have a just cause. This is usually defined as some sort of aggression, but there are exceptions. Most modern just war theorists, for instance, would agree that a state can intervene to prevent a genocide or perhaps balance a conflict in which a third party has already intervened.
War must be made by the proper authority. Essentially this means that war is made by sovereign states, not by private parties.
War must also be waged with the right intention. In the words of St. Augustine, war should restore the “tranquility of order” and not be for selfish gain.
Fourth, a just war must have a reasonable chance of success. Also, a war must be a proportional response to evil, meaning that it should not produce an evil greater than the one it fights.
Finally, war must only be a last resort. Naturally, there is always something else other than war that could be done. What we mean here is that at some point that “something else” just delays or denies the inevitable.
Just War Theory should not be looked at as a checklist, but rather as a guide to prudent statesmen and citizens as they consider the justice of an act.
In my opinion, the proposed war in Syria meets most of these tests, but fails others.
Read the whole thing.
Update: In the comments, Larry Kurtz says: "US forces rained white phosphorus on Fallujah killing and maiming children: how just is that, Professor?"
Larry's statement confuses jus ad bellum with jus in bell0, or justice of war and justice in war (see here for further discussion). These are two different concepts. The first, which I discussed in the article, considers whether it is just to enter into war. The second, which Larry's statement alludes to, is whether a war is fought justly. Conceivably, an unjust war can be fought in a just manner, or a just war fought unjustly (no one denies, for example, that American forces in WWII, a just war, sometimes acted unjustly). Regarding the direct example, the jus in bell0 concept is called "double effect." In JWT, it is wrong to target noncombatants. But, if one has a justified target one may strike it even if noncombatants are killed. It's just that the primary aim may not be to kill noncombatants. Thus we say the strike has a "double effect," one just (say, destroying a weapons factory) and the other not (killing the noncombatants who work there). Still, the weapons factory is a legitimate military target and if the aim is simply to reduce the enemy's military strength and NOT to target noncombatants the strike is just. It is unjust to target non-combatants specifically. If the white phosphorous was used against a legitimate target, it may (may!) have been just. If the aim of the attack was to kill/maim the children, it was unjust. Relevant information on the use of white phosphorous in Iraq can be found here and here.