How can war be justified according to Christian standards?

Live from God's peace - ensure just peace

A memorandum of the EKD Council, 2007

3.2 "Law-preserving violence" instead of "just war"

  1. Law is designed to be enforceable. From the perspective of a law-based peace order, borderline situations cannot be ruled out in which the question of an (if not required, at least) permitted use of force and the ethical criteria for it arise. The problem has been considered in ethics and legal philosophy since antiquity within the framework of the "doctrine of just war", which is also received in Christianity. The "just war" must be fundamentally differentiated from the "holy war". While the motive of the holy war includes the option of organized collective violence against the "infidels" with religious authorization and motivation, the teachings of the "just war" were of a political-ethical nature: they contained general criteria of practical reason by which to examine whether the use of military force can be morally justified in a given situation. Last but not least, the Reformation distinction between God's spiritual and worldly governance (regimentum) has contributed to clearly delimiting the use of force, which may be justifiable for the sake of maintaining worldly coexistence, from a "holy war" waged for religious and ideological reasons and thus also to reject any religious war and any use of military force with ideological objectives.
  2. Even those who do not take the position of unconditional pacifism (i.e. are prepared to forego the use of potentially killing force in every conceivable situation), but rather assume a priority option for nonviolence, will, if they are faced with the question in an extreme emergency of the use of force, always ask critical questions such as this: Is there a sufficient reason for this? Are those who resort to violence sufficiently legitimized to do so? Are you pursuing a responsible goal? Don't they answer an evil that has occurred with an even greater one? Is there any chance of success? Is proportionality maintained? Are innocent people spared? These are precisely the test criteria that are traditionally also used in the teachings of just war - distributed among the questions about the right to war (ius ad bellum: causa iusta, legitima potestas, recta intentio, ultima ratio, Proportionality of the consequences) and after the lawful conduct of the war (ius in bello: Proportionality of the means, principle of differentiation) - were used. These test criteria were originally aimed at disciplining, not for promoting willingness to go to war. There are fundamental objections not to criteria of this kind as such, but to the traditional framework theories of just war into which they were inserted. Because the theories of the bellum iustum arise from political context conditions in which there was no legally institutionalized authority for transnational law enforcement, nor was there any general outlawing of war.
  3. The doctrines of "just war" developed in the interpretation horizon of traditional natural law could understand justified warfare in the asymmetrical model of the relationship between judge and criminal, that is, as an act of just punishing a lawbreaker and restoring peace, because they recognize generally binding material standards of justice in the Frame of Corpus Christianum presuppose. Even the Reformation reacted to the breakdown of such a homogeneous conception of the common good: Luther strictly limited the possible reasons for war to self-defense in the event of an actual attack. And the much controversial Article XVI of the Augsburg Confession of 1530, if the wording is strictly observed, does not contain any doctrine of a "just war," rather it allows participation in it lawful Warfare as a consequence of Christian responsibility for the world, as long as it is not opposed by the conscience bound to God's Word: First, it states that it is Christians allowed (»liceat«), that is, in principle "without sin" it is possible for them to exercise public office within the framework of a legitimate order. The lawful use of military force (»iure bellare, militare«) Named as an example among others for the optional participation in the legal order of a community. Second, it is said that Christians are commanded to obey public officials and laws when and to the extent that it "may be done without sin" in individual cases. [13]
  4. The classic, as intergovernmental law (ius inter gentes) understood international law of modern times had the question of a pre-judicial material standard of justice for the ius ad bellum initially rejected as undecidable. The free right to wage war was now seen as a prominent feature of the unrestricted equal state sovereignty, so that in principle a "just war on both sides" (bellum iustum ab utraque parte) became conceivable. Modern international law, on the other hand, has converted the war prohibition program (developed between the two world wars) into a general prohibition of violence (Article 2, paragraph 4 of the UN Charter) and the normative rules governing the conduct of war (ius in bello) consistently legalized in humanitarian international law. There are only two exceptions to the general prohibition of the use of military force within the framework of the collective security system provided for by the UN Charter: on the one hand, the authority of the Security Council, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to adopt non-military sanctions as well as military coercive measures; on the other hand, there is the case of the right of self-defense to which an individual state or a group of states is entitled in the event of an armed attack - but only as a provisional, subsidiary emergency right as long as the Security Council has not itself taken measures to restore peace (Article 51 of the UN Charter). The states only have the right to self-defense as self-defense or emergency aid; It is precisely the analogy to domestic self-defense or emergency aid that does not abolish the fundamental criminal character of interstate violence, but underlines it.
  5. Modern international law has abolished the concept of just war. As part of the model of just peace, the doctrine of bellum iustum no more space. However, it does not follow from this that the moral test criteria that are included in the bellum-iustum- Lessons were included. Because they are based on standards that not only claim to be valid in the event of war, but that (based on the basic idea of ​​individual self-defense or emergency aid) can also be related to police law, the domestic exercise of the right of resistance and a legitimate struggle for liberation. You lie general criteria of an ethics of law-preserving violence which - regardless of the respective application context - can be formulated as follows:
    • Reason for permission: The use of counter-violence may be permitted in the case of the most serious, human life and commonly recognized law threatening attacks by a violent perpetrator, because the protection of life and the strength of the common law must not remain defenseless against the "right of the strongest".
    • Authorization: Only those who are authorized to act in the name of generalizable interests of all those potentially affected may resort to counterviolence; therefore the use of counter-violence must be subjected to the rule of law.
    • Right intention: The use of force is only permitted to ward off an obvious, current attack; it must be limited by the goal of (re) establishing the conditions for non-violent coexistence and must have a conception related to this.
    • Extreme means: The use of force must be necessary as an extreme means, i.e. all effective, milder means of conflict settlement are to be explored. The criterion of “extreme means” does not necessarily mean “last in time”, but it does mean that of all suitable (i.e. effective) means, the least violent is to be preferred.
    • Proportionality of the consequences: The evil caused by the first use of force must not be answered by bringing about an even greater evil; Political-institutional as well as economic, social, cultural and ecological consequences have to be considered.
    • Proportionality of the means: On the one hand, the means of violence must be suitable, i.e. in all probability sufficiently effective, to avert the threat or bring about an end to the conflict with a prospect of success; on the other hand, the scope, duration and intensity of the means used must be aimed at limiting suffering and damage to the necessary minimum.
    • Differentiation principle: Persons and institutions not directly involved in the exercise of primary violence are to be spared.
  6. The traditional view of ethics is to use legitimate counter-violence all these criteria must be met, regardless of whether in the case of internal resistance, a liberation struggle or military conflicts between states. But even in cases in which all criteria seem to be met, it is problematic and misleading from the point of view of Christian ethics to speak of a “justification” of the use of force. In situations in which the responsibility for one's own life or that of another makes it necessary to act that threatens or destroys life at the same time, no matter how careful the weighing of interests is, one can free from the risk of becoming guilty.
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