Just War Theory: A Reappraisal - Ed. by Mark Evans (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2005)

Over the centuries, the outbreak of most wars has been followed by the invocation of the ‘just war theory’, whereby ethical justifications have been advanced and debated. Under those circumstances, the justification of the theory necessarily bore moral connotations. Contemporary realities are, however, different. States no longer remain the motive causes of warfare, and neither does morality serve as the sole fulcrum of decision-making. In this context, a compilation like Mark Evan’s ‘Just War Theory: A Reappraisal’, is a pertinent piece of work, for it attempts to revisit elements of the theory and their implications on the conduct of war.

The collection of writings in the book finds two strains running consistently through its narrative:
One, there is an implicit case made for the continued relevance of the just war theory within disciplines of theology, ethics, politics and sociology among others, and

Two, it identifies specific areas wherein the theory needs to be appraised in appreciation of present realities.

The book begins with an introduction to the earliest expositions of the theory that traces its roots to the works of Thomas Aquinas, the heydays of the theory, when it functioned as an explicit warrior code of conduct in battle, to its discredit post the failure of the Crusades and the eventual supplementation of the specific religious character of the theory with a putatively ‘universalsable international law’ based upon the precepts of natural law. While establishing the historical legacy (and longevity) of the theory, the moral overbear of the tradition is also hinted at. Hugo Grotius’ seminal work, The Laws of War and Peace’s contribution to the formulation of the Westphalian enterprise and the subsequent inclusion of the ideas of ‘protection of sovereignty’, nationalism, national interest etc. in the Just War discourse are enumerated. Further, the introduction of the human rights discourse as another important element of justification in the theory’s tradition is taken note of. The introductory chapter, perhaps serves its purpose the best when it introduces the basic elements of the theory sifted through its age-old discourse. While Evans’ attempts to identify the ‘appropriate time to apply the theory’, do not perhaps commend themselves to an objective interpretation, the introduction performs another very useful service when it offers possible means the theory may consider to adapt and remain more relevant.

The first chapter --- one of the three assigned to discussions on the first element i.e. jus ad bellum --- deals with what is the single most important reason for the reinvigoration of just war theorizing, viz. the ‘pre-emptive defence’ claim of the Bush administration --- perhaps the most discussed invocation of just cause. The case made by the Bush administration is subjected to incisive theoretical critique, in this chapter. Neta Crawford identifies the four ‘legitimate’ conditions under which preemption may be justified and checks the case of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 against each of these causes separately, only to find the arguments made for the war to fall short on each of the counts. Significantly, the author points out to the overlooking of the essential distinctions between an imminent and an immanent threat by the Bush administration, that chose to work on the Clausewitzian assumption of pure theory where maximizing efforts and the push to extremes is a possibility, while completely neglecting Clausewitz’s caveat that in the real world, efforts in war are necessarily limited by the realities of politics, resources and will and there would therefore exist a moderating force on the capabilities of any enemy. It ignores the just war requirement of last resort. The manipulation of the self-defence argument that led to the preemptive and preventive war doctrines and their own individual problematic, is further considered in this chapter, to ‘deconstruct’ the official theorizing surrounding the most controversial war of our times.

Chapter 2 introduces the element of humanitarian interventions that stem from the justification of punitive action. It is a dimension that has managed to generate some form of consensus --- however minimal --- in the just war discourse. Anthony Lang, attempts to consider a possible change in the normative structure of the international system, which tends to offer cogent arguments in favour of intervention made as a punitive measure against humanitarian violations. By studying the separate cases of Afghanistan and Iraq, the author posits that while the dictates of the just war tradition may have been articulated to serve an a priori reasoning, the precepts of international law have in fact, been violated. This distinction drawn by Lang becomes significant in view of the fact that much of international law finds its genesis in the understanding of natural law, which in turn is also one of the claimed cardinal pillars of the just war tradition --- as pointed out in the tracing of the theory’s history.

In Chapter 3, Evans invokes the importance of the civil society in formulating the parameters of the morality that may necessitate the just war tradition. While drawing a connect between the sovereignty of states and their implicit support to the commonly agreed upon normative ideas of the global civil society, importantly, the author also makes a case for the restructuring of institutions that may be bestowed with the power to decide the legitimacy of wars. Perhaps the most pertinent exposition in this chapter is the author’s negation of the accusation of cultural imperialism leveled against the proponents of the democratic bias in the just war theory. Evans contends that the democratic bias frames the conception of just peace in jus post bellum, and is by that logic, not parochial.

Chapter 4 moves the narrative into the realm of conduct of and during war.The question of proportionality follows. The concept of proportionality is considered as objectively as its nature demands. Crucially, Kateri Carmola considers proportionality as a question of simple military tactics and thereby disjoins the inherent connection between the justice of war itself and the justice of means employed. The problematic of proportionality, despite the author’s attempts at objectively checking the scales of war, its participants and its impacts in recent conflicts, continues to appear a very complex system of value judgements.It is a concern that gets reflected further in Chapter 6, where the question of Supreme Emergency Exemption is considered. The cardinal non-violable precept of non-combatant immunity stands nullified by this exemption, and Brian Orend employs the interface of views between Winston Churchill, John Rawls and Michael Walzer in relation to the British response to Nazi Germany to discuss this phenomenon.

Chapter 5 considers the intractable relation between war and its impact on children, and subsequently, questions the very possibility of a war being just. It is Helen Brocklehurst’s attempt to appraise the just war theory, which by keeping the impact on children out of its theorizing, seems to have inadvertently equated their status and hence, role as comparable to adults. However, it would be pertinent to point out that impact of a just war that follows the final element of reconciliation and rehabilitation, on a generation of children who may have been suffering under a non-ideal system of governance, is perhaps a noteworthy point in this debate too.

The final two chapters are concerned with the third element of jus post bellum.Patrick Hayden evokes the ideal of human security and juxtaposes it with the realist claim of the state to exclusive decision making on the question war. He suggests that the principle of security referent is altered from being a citizen of just a sovereign state to being a member of ‘a transcendent human community with common global goals.’ Importantly, the article identifies the role of the just war theory in assuring the basic human right to peace and the demands of human security, through its cause, conduct and reconciliation/rehabilitation. Andrew Rigby, in the final chapter employs the concepts of reconciliation and forgiveness as means that may successfully facilitate the return of a just peace post the war.The importance of prioritizing a justice for the sake of peace instead of retributive justice, is the critical suggestion left by Rigby’s work. He further introduces the concept of a peace that is ‘just enough’. It is an implicit recognition of status quo immediately post the cessation of hostilities --- a state of affairs not necessarily ideal, but acceptable nevertheless.

In conclusion, Mark Evans attempts to defend the just War theory against the critiques it faces, and successfully elucidates the continued relevance of this antiquated theory. Evans contends that as a non-ideal theory, it would be incorrect to expect any ‘logically incontestable and irresistible conclusion. He argues very ably that just because the definition of what counts as ‘war’ may be contentious, it is no reason to discard the just war theory altogether.

It would perhaps have been worthwhile to consider the question of pacifism; not conceptual pacifism, but experiential – an instance of which could be found in the Japanese constitution, which being grounded in a history of tragedy, sees all war as being unjust. However, the book does covers much of the Just War discourse and offers a very comprehensive understanding of the theory and its attendant dynamics. Given the numerous conflicting emotions the topic evokes, any literature on the just war theory may find itself suffering from too many differing viewpoints agreeing to disagree. It is to his credit, however, that Evans has put together a collection of writings, that between them, offer a systematic and cogent understanding of this much discussed theory, and therein lies the value of Just War Theory: a Reappraisal.

Cauvery Ganapathy