Print

Religious Studies

Just War theory

Page:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Back
  2. Next

Conditions for a Just War

A Just War is one which has to be fought but is conducted according to certain conditions. These were developed by Thomas Aquinas (c1225-74) and Francisco de Vitoria (c1483-1546) and are still referred to by Christians today.

The theory is not intended to justify all wars but to prevent them by showing that going to war - except in certain limited circumstances - is wrong. The intention was to motivate states to find other ways of resolving conflicts, prevent war and to limit its effects.

The conditions of a Just War are:

  • it must be fought by a legal recognised authority, eg, a government
  • the cause of the war must be just
  • the war must be fought with the intention to establish good or correct evil
  • there must be a reasonable chance of success
  • the war must be the last resort (after all diplomatic negotiations have been tried and failed)
  • only sufficient force must be used and civilians must not be involved

Some wars can appear to meet all of these conditions. For example, World War Two (1939-1945) would appear to have been a Just War:

  • it was fought by Germany and the Allied countries who were legal authorities
  • Germany was being attacked for invading other countries
  • the intention was to correct the evil Hitler was doing for Nazi Germany
  • the Allies felt that they had a reasonable chance of success and they did win
  • all forms of negotiation with Hitler and the Third Reich had failed
  • most of the fighting was limited to the armies concerned and to harbours and munitions sites

This looks as though it was a ‘properly constituted’ Just War, but actions like the Allied bombing of Dresden, a two-day raid by almost 2,400 bombers that destroyed the city and killed perhaps 135,000 civilians to virtually no military purpose, certainly broke the final condition.

Page:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Back
  2. Next

Back to War and peace index

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.