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Just war

A just war is a war which is permissible according to a set of moral or legal rules. The rules applied may be ethical, religious, or formal (such as international law). The rules clasically cover the justification for the war (Jus Ad Bellem[?]) and the conduct of the participants in the war (Jus In Bello[?]).

Just war theory has ancient roots. Cicero discussed this idea and its applications. St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas later codified a set of rules for a just war, which today still encompass the points commonly debated.

In modern language, these rules hold that to be just, a war must meet the following criteria before the use of force:

  • War can only be waged for a just cause. Self-defense against an armed attack is one example that is considered just cause.
  • War can only be waged under legitimate authority. The sovereign power of the state is usually considered to be legitimate authority.
  • War can only be waged with the right intention. Correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain is not.
  • War can only be waged with a reasonable chance of success. It is considered unjust to meaninglessly waste human life and economic resources if defeat is unavoidable.
  • War can only be waged as a last resort. War is not just until all realistic options which were likely to right the wrong have been pursued.

Once war has begun, just war theory also directs how combatants are to act:

  • The force used must be proportional to the wrong endured.
  • The acts of war should be directed towards the inflictors of the wrong, and not towards civilians caught in circumstances they did not create.
  • Torture, either of combatants or of non-combatants is forbidden.

The doctrine of total war employed by Realpolitik would include permitting scorched earth tactics and torture amongst others.

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