Just War Theory

The tradition of "just war," which consists of a system of norms for warfare that both sides agree upon, is thought to have historically developed amongst adversaries with similar cultures. That is, we frequently discover that two opposing peoples who are at war agree, either tacitly or formally, on the boundaries of their hostilities.

Nonetheless, war customs are rarely used when adversaries are substantially at odds due to differences in race, religion, or language and view one another as "less than human."

What is the Meaning of Just War Theory?

The phrase "just war theory" refers to a collection of political and intellectual traditions that seek to curtail armed conflict. In order to limit overall losses, the just war theory has been used to define distinctions between legal and illegal acts of killing. For instance, just war theory has been used to create norms that restrict attacks that could harm civilians, which means that parties who comply with these conventions mutually agree to forego such attacks, even when they would be strategically advantageous.

The just war theory has contributed more than just constraints on what kinds of attacks are acceptable. The tradition established guidelines for defining righteous conflicts as a whole and contributed to the creation of international laws and agreements. As a result, just war theory has had a significant influence on how many people currently perceive conflicts and the justifications for them.

What is War

An armed struggle between two organised powers (states) that lasts long enough and is fierce enough is typically thought of as "war." A debate between diplomats that is only verbal, unarmed, and without casualties is not considered to be war. In the meantime, two powers are considered to be at war if their armed forces engage in bloody fighting that lasts for many engagements.

National security, secession, battling for independence, boundary conflict, etc. are just a few of the many causes of war that might occur. The fair-war theory seeks to distinguish between conflicts that are legitimate and should be fought and those that are not and should be met with international censure.

Historical Background of Just War Theory

The tenets of the fair war theory appear to have existed since the beginning of recorded warfare. Even though they did not support legally binding agreements that restrict combat, the ancient Greeks did at least suggest a connection between morality and battle in their works. The Christian and Hebrew religious traditions have been more specifically linked to the just war theory. For example, Saint Augustine created the first just war theory. Nonetheless, Saint Thomas Aquinas was arguably the most significant classical thinker connected to the just war school of thought.

St. Augustine's fair-war philosophy placed emphasis on how a love of violence can result from war. Furthermore, Augustine made a strong case for punishing individuals who commit unlawful killings. Hence, even though he was afraid of lethal violence, he believed that it was sometimes justified and even legal. St. Thomas Aquinas' books offer a more comprehensive view of just war. Aquinas tried to list not only the types of conflicts that could be just but also, more specifically, the actions that could be just during a war.

Thomas Nagel, a contemporary thinker who engages in just war theory, focuses on contemporary events that have been confounded by globalisation and significant technological advancements like the development of the atomic bomb. Notably, theorists in the modern era frequently appealed to the rules-based international order rather than, for example, divine law or the laws of God, as did Christian just war theorists frequently.

Purpose of Just War Theory

The goal of just war theory is to offer a framework for how governments should behave in possible conflict circumstances. Individuals are not covered; only states are (although an individual can use the theory to help them decide whether it is morally right to take part in a particular war). People and political organizations can use the just war theory as a useful framework for debating potential wars.

The theory aims to prevent wars rather than justify them by demonstrating that going to war is wrong in all but a few specific situations. This will encourage states to find peaceful alternatives to armed conflict.

What are Jus Ad Bellum and Jus in Bello?

Jus ad bellum describes the circumstances in which states may employ force militarily or declare war. The cornerstones of jus ad bellum are the prohibition against the use of force by states and the exceptions to it (self-defence and UN authorization for the use of force), both of which are outlined in the United Nations Charter of 1945. (See the box titled "On the Prohibition against War"). Jus in bello governs how parties to an armed war must behave. IHL, also known as "jus in bello," aims to lessen suffering in armed conflicts, particularly by providing the most protection and support to all victims of armed conflict.

Regardless of the roots of the conflict or the legitimacy of the causes being fought for, IHL applies to all parties engaged in hostilities. If this were not the case, it would be impossible to enforce the law since each side would contend that they were the victims of assault. IHL also aims to shield war victims from discrimination based on their political membership. Because of this, jus in bello must continue to exist separately from jus ad bellum.


Notwithstanding human logic regarding justice, love, and peace, going to war is never the best option. It is only a choice if all other options have failed. Armed force should only be used in three specific situations when dealing with violent situations: first, when it is a preemptive measure; second, when it is a response to an unprovoked attack; and third, when it is necessary to assist another country that is the victim of another state breaking international law.

Additionally, the just war theory does a better job of safeguarding innocent people, eliminating a more serious issue, and preserving democracy and freedom.

Frequently Asked Question

Q1. What was the first just war theory?

Ans. Christian theology serves as the foundation for the traditional just-war theory. Most people agree that Saint Augustine was the first to present a doctrine on war and justice. The Saint cited the Scriptures and believed that some conflicts were essential to right a wrong.

Q2. What is an example of a just war?

Ans. According to the just war theory, defending innocent life from harm should be the primary goal of war. War, for instance, is acceptable if genocide is taking place in a nation because it helps the victims. Essentially, for a conflict to be moral, it must be initiated for the purpose of defending oneself or another.

Q3. Is just war theory utilitarianism?

Ans. The Utilitarian War Principle (UWP), according to consequentialism, a state may only go to war if and when no other course of action will produce better outcomes.

Q4. When was just war theory created?

Ans. The idea of a just war was developed in the early Christian church; St. Augustine discussed it in the fourth century and Hugo Grotius continued to accept it in the seventeenth.

Updated on: 10-May-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started