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Christian Just War Theory

Written By: By The Liberty Brothers (John C. and Lee G. Deming)  |  Posted: Saturday, October 1st, 2011

             Christians are taught to be inherently anti-war; however, there are cases where war might be justified, and the Christian Just War Theory (CJWT) attempts to define both those cases for which war is justified, and what parameters should be set for our actions during the conflict. In effect, the CJWT provides a framework for us when determining the morality of a particular war-making decision.
            The concept of CJWT is not new. In fact, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) first described the parameters for determining if a warlike action is warranted. In most cases, when people begin to apply CJWT they are attempting to determine justice before the war (jus ad bellum).  However, CJWT also guides our actions while actively engaged in war (jus in bello). This is a critical distinction because our justification for war does not justify immoral actions (e.g., torture, targeting civilians, killing the unarmed or those attempting to surrender).  In effect, Christians are not permitted to put their Christian beliefs on hold while at war. They must always be mindful of their actions before, during, and after the conflict.
            It is always true that CJWT assumes that war is entered into only as a last resort. However, if all of the following criteria are met, then warlike action will be justified:
            1) Just Cause - The aggressor's damage must be long-lasting, grave, and certain. 2) Last Resort - All other means of stopping the aggression have been ineffective or impractical. 3) There must be serious prospects of success. 4) Proportionality - The warlike actions and arms must not produce evils and disorders more grave than the evil to be eliminated.  An additional criterion is that of legitimate authority - the decision-makers must be those who legitimately represent the people of the nation deciding whether war is morally justified. In the United States, this authority rests with Congress and not with the President.
            We can evaluate our actions in Afghanistan using CJWT. We initially entered into a "war" in Afghanistan because the ruling authority in Afghanistan had harbored and protected Bin Laden's al Qaeda.  The mission had two purposes in the days and weeks after 911--to punish the Taliban and to capture Osama Bin Laden.
            It is irrelevent where the 911 attackers were from.  The fact that they were mostly from Saudi Arabia doesn't really matter.  They could have been from anywhere and our response would probably have been the same. But did the invasion fall within the parameters of the Just War Theory?
            We think the 911 attacks qualify under the first principle--the attacks were certainly grave; al Qaeda certainly made it clear that they would continue their attacks on America when the opportunity presented itself, and the effects also were long-lasting and certain.  The second principle was undoubtedly met.  It could be argued that the Taliban was not given enough time to hand over Osama Bin Laden, but the United States gave them the opportunity.  The third principle is unquestionably met; the United States against the Taliban was decidedly no contest.  The fourth principle is the most problematic in our view.  Was our response proportional to the harm that al Qaeda perpetrated?  Had the United States given the Taliban a reasonable deadline for making Osama Bin Laden available and then launched an invasion and captured him, then the answer would have been yes.  In our view, this outcome would have qualified as the correct response under the Christian Just War Theory.
            If we look at the proportionality of our response, we have initiated wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen to respond to al Qaeda threats. Is this a proportional response? The more we bomb these countries, and kill innocents in the process, the more we radicalize various groups and create hatred for the U.S. Doesn't this produce evils and disorders more dangerous than the current al Qaeda threat? After all, if we systematically targeted al Qaeda operatives instead of nations (and governments), wouldn't our response be more proportional?  This would be particularly true if we could guarantee no collateral damage.  If the reader believes that expecting no collateral damage is unrealistic, see the note on proportionality.
            CJWT also requires serious prospects for success. One can hardly question whether or not our response allowed bin Laden to remain in place longer than necessary. He was initially in Tora Bora, and was allowed to escape into Pakistan, perhaps because of our focus on Iraq and some miscalculations on the ground there. If we would have initiated a proportional response against al Qaeda members right after 9/11, we most likely would have brought bin Laden to justice quickly. The October 2001 bill proposed by Representative Paul aimed to do just that. He authored legislation that would list al Qaeda members as air pirates, and would issue letters of marque and reprisal (a Constitutional position). Using his approach, the al Qaeda operatives would be directly targeted. Notice the difference in the responses. Our chosen response was to bomb Afghanistan and target the Taliban, invade Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein and install a "democratic" government, conduct drone strikes in Pakistan and other countries, etc. Our chosen response lost sight of the just cause for initiating military action. Representative Paul's didn't.
            Most people would agree that we had just cause in defending ourselves against the 911 attacks and similar attacks in the future. However, it seems as though none of the policies adopted after 911 followed the principles outlined in Christian Just War Theory. We have been taken to war with a rally cry of patriotism, and of nation-building, but neither the Bush nor Obama administrations have addressed the ramifications of ignoring CJWT. When CJWT is not followed, additional ramifications and unintended consequences always arise. We can see that in the number of individuals now supporting radical Islam in the countries we've been bombing. We can see that in the ease with which we begin bombing countries that present us with no imminent threat and have no connection whatsoever to our national security interests.  Most frightening of all is the willingness of both political parties to take the U.S. into war after war, spending American blood and treasure--someone else's--while wrapping themselves in the flag of patriotism or humanitarianism. If this is the moral compass we want the rest of the world to follow, count us out. The compass we should be following is our Biblical compass, and Christian Just War Theory provides sound advice to all who entertain the idea of both initiating and conducting a war.
            Another important consideration is that America deserves and apparently desperately needs an established, recognizable,  and agreed upon set of standards of responses to the actions of other countries.  It is certainly not enough, for obvious reasons, to leave that decision in the hands of one person.  The Framers certainly didn't think that was a good idea and wrote that power into the hands of the people through their elective representatives in Congress, not the President.  Taking action constitutionally provides some wisdom and caution by appealing to a majority of Congress for authorization.  The Constitutional tools are there and should have been followed by our current and previous Presidents.
            The idea of Christianity is really very simple. In our reading of the Bible, Jesus would not accept war under any other circumstances than described in the Just War Theory and perhaps not even then.  In the case of the American invasion of post-911 Afghanistan, we should ask ourselves the question, "what would Jesus have done?"  The answer should be clear to any Christian.

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