America and ‘Just War’ Theory

There are approximately 750 US military bases spread throughout  80 countries worldwide. For reference, France, the UK, and Russia have about 30 foreign bases combined. The US has been involved in 24 military interventions* in the last 50 years. Military bases deter enemies and reassure friends, yet underlying these justifications is a condoned threat of war. 

At the twenty-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks, Congresswoman Barbara Lee recounted the thought process behind her decision to vote against granting then-President Bush expansive powers to use military might in retaliation for the attacks. Part of her deliberation included contemplating the theory of just war.

Originating with classical Greek and Roman philosophers, such as Plato and Cicero, and furthered by Christian theologians, such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, just war theory reconciles the belief that taking human life is wrong with the reality that protecting life and defending important values may require the use of force and violence. Preemptive Love’s work centers on stopping the spread of war, reducing the risk of war, and changing the ideas that lead to war in places such as Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, where long and violent wars have been fought. 

Just war theory specifies the conditions by which to judge if going to war is just and the conditions for how the war should be fought. The theory does not justify war. Instead, it tries to prevent war by showing that except for in limited circumstances, going to war is wrong, and governments should find other means to solve problems. If there is no other way to solve a conflict, a just war is permissible, but it is still considered evil.

For a war to be just:
•it must be for a just cause, 
•it must be declared lawfully by lawful authority,
•all other ways of resolving the problem must have been tried and failed,  
•there must be a reasonable chance for success, 
•the means used must be in proportion to the end the war seeks to achieve. Just causes include self-defense and humanitarian intervention.

The guidelines for how a just war should be fought include the following: 
•innocent people and civilians should not be harmed, 
•only appropriate force, with regard to the type of force and the how much force, should be used, 
•internationally agreed conventions (think the Geneva and Hague conventions) regarding war must be obeyed. 

Just war theory includes a code of humanity to distinguish between military targets and civilians, and the basic human rights of civilians, refugees, surrenderers, and detainees must be respected. The distinction between combatants and civilians is complicated by the use of drone strikes and nuclear weapons because there is disproportionate collateral damage, resulting in too many civilian deaths. In the case of drone strikes, the US military has a pattern of failing to detect the presence of civilians before an airstrike happens and the misidentification of targets. 

Modern theorists have expanded just war theory to include guidelines for just conduct in the aftermath of war. These guidelines call for the immediate cessation of war after the goals for which the war was waged have been achieved, fair and just trials for war criminals, and the reconstruction of post-war society by the winning side. 

The overwhelming destruction in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan is a testament to how just war theory has not been upheld during US-led military interventions in the twenty-first century.  Millions of civilians have been killed, cities such as Mosul have not been fully rebuilt, and war criminals have not been tried in just courts.

War is evil even when it is just, since during-war actions and post-war actions often violate just standards, wars should not be fought to solve conflicts. 

*The following is a list of US wars over the last 50 years. Wars that started and concluded before 1970, such as the Korean DMZ Conflict (1966 – 1969) were not included whereas conflicts that started before 1970 but concluded after 1970, such as the Laotian Civil War (1953 – 1975) were included.

  1. Laotian Civil War, 1953 – 1975
  2. Cambodian Civil War, 1967 – 1975
  3. Intervention in Lebanon, 1982 – 1984
  4. Invasion of Grenada, 1983
  5. Bombing of Libya, 1986
  6. Tanker War (Persian Gulf), 1987 – 1988
  7. US Invasion of Panama, 1989 – 1990
  8. The Gulf War (Iraq), 1990 – 1991
  9. Iraqi No-Fly Enforcement Operations, 1991 – 2003
  10. Intervention in the Somali Civil War, 1992 – 1995
  11. The Bosnian War, 1992 – 1995
  12. Intervention in Haiti, 1992 – 1995
  13. The Kosovo War, 1998 – 1888
  14. The Afghanistan War, 2001 – 2021
  15. American Intervention in Yemen, 2002 – present
  16. The Iraq War, 2003 – 2011
  17. The American Intervention in the War in North-West Pakistan, 2004 – 2018
  18. The Second US Intervention in the Somali Civil War, 2007 – present
  19. Operation Ocean Shield (Horn of Africa), 2009 – 2016
  20. International Intervention in Libya, 2011
  21. Operation Observant Compass (Uganda/Congo/CAR), 2011 – 2017
  22. American-led intervention in Iraq, 2014 – 2021
  23. American-led intervention in Syria, 2014 – present
  24. American Intervention in Libya, 2015 – 2019