[2.6.8] St Augustine’s Just War Theory

St Agustine (354-430 AD) in the City of God (De Civitate Dei) and other works proposes a theory of how to initiate and conduct a just war. He thinks that:

  • Because of the pride, vanity, and fallen nature of man, wars between political states (see [2.6.7]), sects, religions are present in the world.
  • Wars have a coercive role in God’s plan for humanity.
  • Killing in wars is permissible even for Christian soldiers – as agents of the law, if the killing avoids a greater evil.
  • Christians involved in wars should decide and conduct wars in a just way.

In the UML Activity Diagram below, I propose a representation of the “business” process of decision-making and conducting a just war. The actions marked with yellow and cyan are St Augustine’s criteria.

Augustine’s just war theory
DECISION ABOUT JUST WAR Check if there is a just cause for war: “such as to defend the state from external invasion; to defend the safety or honor of the state, with the realization that their simultaneous defense might be impossible; to avenge injuries; to punish a nation for failure to take corrective action for wrongs (legal or moral) committed by its citizens; to come to the defense of allies; to gain the return of something that was wrongfully taken; or to obey a divine command to go to war (which, in practice, issues from the political head of state acting as God’s lieutenant on earth); and in any case, the just cause must be at least more just than the cause of one’s enemies”.

Check if there is a rightly intended will for war: “which has the restoration of peace as its prime objective, takes no delight in the wickedness of potential adversaries, views waging war as a stern necessity, tolerates no action calculated to provoke a war, and does not seek to conquer others merely for conquest’s sake or for territorial expansion”.

Check if the war is declared by a competnet authority

Check if the war is the last resort in order to achieve the objective of the just cause.
Declare war Declare war by a competent authority
CONDUCT JUST WAR Plan military action

Check if the military action is proportional to “the wrong to be avenged, with violence being constrained within the limits of military necessity”

Check if the military action discriminates between objects of violence (that is, combatants) and noncombatants, such as women, children, the elderly, the clergy”

Check if the military action observes good faith in its interactions with the enemy, by scrupulously observing treaties and not prosecuting the war in a treacherous manner.”

Conduct military action

Check if war’s objective is reached


First published: 30/1/2020

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