Just War

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Just War

As widely used, a term referring to any war between states that meets generally accepted international criteria of justification. The concept of just war invokes both political and theological ideology, as it promotes a peaceful resolution and coexistence between states, and the use of force or the invocation of armed conflict only under certain circumstances. It is not the same as, but is often confused with, the term jihad or "holy war," a Muslim religious justification for war.

The principle of a just war emerged early in the development of scholarly writings on International Law. Under this view, a just war was a means of national Self-Help whereby a state attempted to enforce rights actually or allegedly based on international law. State practice from the eighteenth to the early part of the twentieth century generally rejected this distinction, however, as war became a legally permissible national policy to alter the existing rights of states, irrespective of the actual merits of the controversy.

Following World War I, diplomatic negotiations resulted in the General Treaty for the Renunciation of War, more commonly known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact, signed in 1928. The signatory nations renounced war as a means to resolve international disputes promising instead to use peaceful methods.

The aims of the Kellogg-Briand Pact were adopted in the Charter of the United Nations in 1945. Under the charter, the use or threat of force as an instrument of national policy was condemned, but nations were permitted to use force in individual or collective Self-Defense against an aggressor. The General Assembly of the United Nations has further defined aggression as armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence of another state, regardless of the reasons for the use of force. The Security Council is empowered to review the use of force, and therefore, to determine whether the relevant circumstances justify branding one nation as the aggressor and in violation of charter obligations. Under the modern view, a just war is one waged consistent with the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the Charter of the United Nations.

What has complicated the concept of just war in contemporary international relations is the emergence of "asymmetrical warfare." The term refers to conflict with parties or entities (such as international terrorist groups) who are neither officially connected with, nor owe allegiance to, any particular public authority or state. While these individuals or groups may be dependent upon clandestine assistance from states willing to help them secretly, they are not publicly responsible to them. Since contemplation of just war requires public authorities to act in their official capacities for the common good, that objective is frustrated by the lack of a discernible, clearly identifiable enemy state against which to act. As a result, the international community has attempted to unite in a common effort to declare war against Terrorism in general as "just."

Further readings

Johnson, James Turner. 2002. "Jihad and Just War." First Things 124.

Novak, Michael. 2003. "Asymmetrical Warfare & Just War." National Review online. Text of public lecture given on February 10 in Rome. Available online at <www.nationalreview.com/novak/novak021003.asp> (accessed August 13, 2003).

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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