BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK: Politics  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
N Ireland
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 17:13 GMT
Could this be a 'just' war?
Can war with Iraq be justified? The historic "just war" theory states that war is never good but it can be a lesser evil to doing nothing. So, how does it apply to the current crisis?

Originally devised by Greek and Roman philosophers, the "just war theory" was developed by Christian theologians. With some variations, it is widely cited and applied by various religions today.

Here we outline the six steps to a just war and square them with the issues at stake.

1. The war must be for a just cause

  • eg. A pre-emptive strike - attacking an enemy to prevent an anticipated attack.
  • George Bush has consistently portrayed Saddam Hussein as a threat to the West. "The danger is already significant, and it only grows worse with time. If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today - and we do - does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger?"
  • But the UN charter appears to side against pre-emptive strikes, stating "all Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means".
    2. The war must be declared by a lawful authority
  • As an elected democracy, the US government is a lawful authority.
    Force can be used as a last resort
    Defines conditions for declaring war & limits to conduct in war
    Some Muslims claim it's similar to 'jihad' - spiritual warfare
  • But some believe that today the UN, as the highest world authority, is the only "lawful authority" with the right to sanction war. And, through its charter, it requires all members to refrain from use of force. But in practice the right to wage war remains with individual states.
  • It could also be argued that if public support is against a war, as seems to be the case in Britain, a government lacks the lawful authority to go to war.

    3. The intention behind the war must be good
  • Washington and London claim war would be waged for the right motives, finally putting right the UN resolution to strip Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.
  • They have also cited Iraq's poor reputation on human rights - something they would hope to improve on by getting rid of Saddam.
  • Critics claim these are side shows to the real issue - oil. Iraq has massive reserves of oil and, mindful that not all is well in Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producing country, the US wants a more secure supply in the Middle East.
    4. All other ways of resolving the problem should have been tried
  • It's 12 years since the UN demanded Iraq scrap its weapons of mass destruction; time enough, says Tony Blair, for Saddam to have complied.
  • The UN has passed numerous resolutions against Iraq, but Britain and the US claim it has consistently snubbed them.
  • France has been leading calls for more diplomacy. It has always opposed a draft UN resolution threatening the use of force against Iraq. It wants to see more time for the weapons inspections and French President Jacques has asserted a diplomatic solution is still possible.
    5. There must be a reasonable chance of success
  • This comes from the idea that war is a great evil, and that it is wrong to cause suffering, pain, and death with no chance of success.
  • There seems little doubt in the West that the US alone can win the war. As the world's only superpower, its military might dwarves that of Iraq.
  • There are doubts over the loyalty Saddam Hussein can expect from his army, if their backs are against the wall.
  • But some experts caution it will not be a "walk over" for the US. General Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded the US military in the first Gulf War, has said it's "not going to be an easy battle".

    6. The means used must be in proportion to the end that the war seeks to achieve
  • In other words, it would be wrong to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
  • We don't yet know the military strategies of both sides, but there are fears war with Iraq could turn nuclear, and so cost many thousands of lives. In 1991, the US warned Saddam they would respond with nuclear force if he used chemical weapons.
  • Even with conventional weapons, critics warn that hundreds of Iraqi civilians could be killed in bombing raids.

    Some of your comments so far:

    Interesting that Christian theologians can find a way to justify war? As I recall "Thou shalt not kill" didn't come with the rider "Unless they can hurt you first!"
    James B, UK

    To be honest, is any war ever sold as anything other than a "just war"? Do you think that in 1939 Hitler told Germany that invading Poland would be an evil and immoral thing to do?
    Neil Walker, UK

    The intended use of depleted uranium munitions that leave eternal air, water, and soil contamination and cause serious adverse health effects mean the concept of "proportionality" is wilfully ignored.
    Dr. Doug Rokke, US

    War can only be justified for self defence. Any pre-emptive action should only be taken when there is a clear and immediate danger. In the case of Iraq, I think this is far from proved.
    Rob, UK

    The nature of warfare has changed since the undeclared attack by our enemies on September 11th, 2001. Gone is the era of "just war" and "the rules of war" (even Adolph Hitler resisted using chemical weapons during WWII). Our enemies now must be destroyed as they have no such compunction.
    Paul G Overend , American in UK

    The conditions have not been met. We should act as if our own brother or sister will be killed in the war. With this attitude, the eventuality that all other options be exhausted becomes impossible.
    Kate Lee, UK

    Is war ever justified? And have the conditions for a "just war" with Iraq been met?

    Send us your comments:


    Your E-mail address:



    Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.

  • Key stories





    See also:

    03 Feb 03 | Politics
    Internet links:

    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

     E-mail this story to a friend

    © BBC ^^ Back to top

    News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
    South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
    Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |