Three years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, theologians and ethicists are assessing whether the military action was, indeed, morally justified. They're debating if a preemptive war can be a just war, and what ethical principles should guide the decision to leave Iraq.
The widely accepted moral framework for the discussion is the just war tradition -- a set of teachings that began with Saint Augustine in the 4th century and were further developed by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The tradition says in order for a war to be just: there must be a just cause; it must be declared by the proper government authority; there must be a right intention and a probability of success. War must be a last resort, and the means used should be proportional to the desired ends. link
Read the transcript to "Iraq: Just War Tradition " from Religion & Ethics Newsweekly for a consideration of the Iraq War in light of the just war tradition. Several viewpoints are clearly and concisely delineated without taking sides.
Just War theory is the attempt to distinguish between justifiable and unjustifiable uses of organized armed forces. Just War theories attempt to conceive of how the use of arms might be restrained, made more humane, and ultimately directed towards the aim of establishing lasting peace and justice.
The just-war tradition is as old as warfare itself. Early records of collective fighting indicate that some moral considerations were used by warriors. They may have involved consideration of women and children or the treatment of prisoners. Commonly they invoked considerations of honour: some acts in war have always been deemed dishonourable, whilst others have been deemed honourable. Whilst the specifics of what is honourable differ with time and place, the very fact of one moral virtue has been sufficient to infuse warfare with moral concerns. The just war theory also has a long history. While parts of the Bible hint at ethical behaviour in war and concepts of just cause, the most systematic exposition is given by Saint Thomas Aquinas. In the Summa Theologicae Aquinas presents the general outline of what becomes the just war theory. He discusses not only the justification of war, but also the kinds of activity that are permissible in war. Aquinas's thoughts become the model for later Scholastics and Jurists to expand.
The "just war theory" has received widespread acceptance both within Western culture and in the international community as a means by which a war may be determined to be justified or not.
The "Christian just war theory" (justum bellum), is a 1600-year-old attempt to answer the questions:
1- "When is it permissible to wage war?" (jus ad bellum),
2- And "What are the rules that govern just and fair conduct in war and after war, what are the limitations on the ways we wage war?" (jus in bello).
In today's world, the Just War Tradition provides moral guidance to political leaders as they consider the resort to force, and provide guidance to military planners as they plan the conduct of the war and prosecute it. And it can provide guidance for responsible Christian citizenship.