• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


Just war theory (jus in bello)

Page history last edited by John McMahon 4 years, 7 months ago

What is just during wartime (jus in bello


          Brutal, impactful and genocidal. War is defined by Google’s dictionary as “A state of armed conflict between different nations or states or different groups within a nation or state”. It is a cliché that as long as two humans exist on this planet someone is going to want someone dead. Now while this hopefully seems like a gruesome overstatement, there’s a disturbing sense of realism about it. For as long as recorded history can tell us, humans have fought one and other. Sometimes groups will be formed and these groups, or states, or countries, will go to war with each other or themselves. When war does break out, chaos ensues and many people are effected. Technological advancement may come out of war, but unfortunately so does a miasma of death, destruction and misery. A war between two entities will change everyone it comes in contact with, and wars have effected every corner of the globe. Countless lives have been lost over misunderstandings, greed, or political differences. Where there is pride, patriotism and propaganda, there is an army of soldiers who will kill or be killed. But it’s not just soldiers. Civilians, animals, customs and infrastructure can all be hurt too. People have witnessed and felt the destruction of the past and still to this day innocent people all over the world are hurt by war. Nations and, international entities like the International Red Cross, have realized this and have held conventions in which their primary goal with regards to international humanitarian law for jus in bello was and still isto minimize suffering in armed conflicts, notably by protecting and assisting all victims of armed conflict to the greatest extent possible." This page will cover major debates and questions about what is just in wartime, include a social movement related to justice in wartime, and finally we’ll wrap it up with a connection to broader theories of justice with a conclusion right after it.


Major debates and questions on Jus in Bello


              In this section we're going to cover some questions and debates often heard about Jus in Bello. Obviously questions pertaining to this are huge and many people are going to have different perspectives of what is "just" during war time. Because many people have been or are being effected by the ongoing fighting around the world the answers to these questions are written with that in mind. The answers provided here are done so in an effort to shed light on existing and past international law and in no way are here to upset anyone based on what might have effected them before. It is up to everyone to decide from their perspective how effective the rules of Jus in Bello are in preserving justice during wartime.


1. Is all fighting unjust?


            In a perfect world there would be no war between humans. This is not a perfect world unfortunately. While most people seemingly agree that starting a war for personal or political gain is an inappropriate way to justify killing people, the UN has stated that under 2 exceptions it finds it just for your country to go to war. The first is that your country was attacked first and you are acting in self-defense. The second is that the UN has voted to give your country the authorization to use force. This is often used in rare cases where human rights are being egregiously violated and the country seemingly plans to spread this suffering (Goldberg, Arthur and Trooboff, Peter. 1975). This is covered more here in the other major component of Just war theory, (Jus ad Bellum).


2. What's to make sure countries follow these rules and do what's just during war time?


          Often countries will go against has been previously agreed upon as just. For example, the United States has been criticized for its treatment of prisoners that were allegedly involved with terrorism prior to their capture. Resorting to methods of interrogation that were controversial, other countries criticized the U.S. as they believed that the treatments of these prisoners violated the rules that the U.S. agreed to uphold that stated prisoners must not be treated with any excessively cruel force. Once countries come together and agree internationally that a law is just and that all countries must adhere to it, that law is then set in stone until countries that are enforcing it decide to change it or get rid of said law. Often times countries will come together and form a law under the UN. Let's say for instance the law that bans countries from publicly executing prisoners of war, or POWs. Countries have come together from all over the globe and have agreed that no one in the world is allowed to take someone who is fighting for their country prisoner and then publicly execute them, a principle that is extended to civilians too (Ferencz, Benjamin and Sohn, Louis. 1975). Unfortunately, this still happens as many countries refuse to do such acts and make sure their soldiers know it's off limits to kill civilians or publicly execute prisoners. Should a country actively violate this rule, several things can happen. Countries may find it just to go to war with the country that is committing human rights violations as well as countries will often times place mass trade embargos, significantly cutting down on said country's resources. Also, as stated by the Geneva Convention, all countries are held to these laws even if they withdraw: the country is still held accountable for what was agreed upon (Goldberg, Arthur and Trooboff, Peter. 1975).


3. Are there certain weapons that are banned from use in warfare?


          Yes. Countries have agreed that some weapons are just too inhumane to be used against other people.

Often times these banned weapons do at least one of three things:

-They cause unnecessary levels of suffering.

-They create wounds that cannot be fixed easily.

-They have a high chance of hurting innocent civilians.

For an example of unnecessary levels of suffering, one can look to napalm and flamethrowers. Both at one point were deemed appropriate in warfare but were later considered to be unjust weapons to use on other people as burns that bad can cause a slow painful death or pain and disfiguration that lasts a lifetime. For weapons that cause wounds that are hard to fix, the previous examples fit but also you can look to serrated blades (Keen, M. 1965). As far back as World War I, countries have made agreements not to use serrated blades on each other as these implements are excruciatingly painful and open up wounds that are very hard to patch up. Finally if you want to know some examples of things banned for their ability to indiscriminately kill look no further then nuclear and atomic bombs. Both of these will cause a horrible death to anyone or anything inside a certain radius of the blast zone. For obvious reasons countries armed with these have converged on the view that their use on other countries is too destructive and indiscriminate to be used ever again. Nowadays countries just keep a stash of these, as a deterrent, to help ensure no one uses nuclear weapons against them, called mutually assured destruction, or MAD (Friedman, Leon and Taylor, Telford. 1972). 


Of course there are many weapons that walk on the edge of being illegal but are not banned. For instance pump action shotguns have had movements to see them internationally outlawed, but to no avail. This has actually stirred up quite the talking point and dates back to the First World War. When the U.S entered it found out quickly that the German forces would often throw grenades that would arc into the air and land in American trenches. To combat this the U.S. deployed troops with M1897 Winchester pump action shotguns. Given to those with experience in shooting things out of the air, often bird hunters, the soldiers soon discovered that this pump action shotgun was devastating in close range fighting that often went on in the tranches and thus the gun was nicknamed "Trench Gun". Germans felt that the use of pump action shotguns were unjust and thus in a war that utilized gas attacks, flamethrowers and zeppelins, official articles were brought up to outlaw the use of shotguns in war. However, the other countries refused to agree and the U.S. got to keep using the Trench Gun against enemy soldiers. Because the weapon almost became a war crime before mustard gas and flamethrowers, WWI enthusiasts often refer to it as the "pump action war crime". A lot of cultural discourse and merchandise have sprung up from this legendary weapon and the argument over whether it was just or not.


4. In general what actions are considered war crimes?


          These are the rules of engagements (ROE) as agreed upon by most countries and the UN. Many of these ROE have already been covered. You're not allowed to attack innocent civilians. If your army sees civilians that are effected by war it is your duty to help them and let them pass. If your army hires civilians who consent to working for you they must be compensated for their work. Armies can't force civilians to work for them but they can hire them to perform tasks if they compensate them. If your army is in a foreign land and you need supplies, you must pay in one form or another an appropriate amount for the supplies you take. If the actions of your army result in the death of an innocent civilian, their family must be financially compensated. You must also take great care not to destroy people's culture. Things like statues and monuments must be left alone (Teson, Fernando. 1988). If a soldier surrenders or is too wounded to continue fighting they must they must be taken alive and given medical care. You're not allowed to torture or execute soldiers you've taken alive, instead they are to be given the appropriate amount of food, water, medical care and if possible, the chance to write home. On the other hand, when you surrender you, you must actually surrender. You cannot fake surrender to lure your enemies into a false sense of security and then kill them. This will cause people to distrust those surrendering and will make it harder for anyone who actually gives up in the future. Also soldiers of countries are not allowed to attempt to hide in plain sight in civilian clothing so as to attack while the enemy isn't expecting it. This will draw fear and aggression towards the civilians which can become very bad for them. If an international group, like the

Red Cross, arrives on the scene to help wounded, they are not to be fired upon whether they're helping your soldiers or not. The corpses of fallen soldiers or civilians are not to be desecrated and instead must be allowed to be sent home (Meron, Theodore. 1987).


Social movements about the torture of U.S detainees


          In this article in Forbes we see the discussion pop up about the U.S. torturing people tied to terrorism or terrorist groups. After word got out that the U.S. was doing this many people got upset and verbal. While some argued that the U.S. must protect itself so interrogating terrorists for any and all info they have that could keep us safe is the just thing to do here, while others argue that they're still people and that this not only goes against our agreements on what we can justly do, it also cause skeptics to question such treatment. If we gave the government the power to withhold and torture us, what happens if someday day the government decides it doesn't want you around anymore and labels you a terrorist so that it may jail and torture you? Many organizations have come forward in an attempt to end torture of U.S Detainees including the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, the Anti Torture Initiative, Witness Against Torture, and finally Physicians For Human Rights. All of these organizations aim to end the use of torture.


How this ties in to broader ideas we've discussed in class


          It wasn't till now that I realized just how much the concept of what is just in war was actually brought up a fair amount within the speakers themselves this semester. To begin, it's obvious when we discussed Locke as he mentioned when someone performs a transgression against you in the state of nature that you enter a state of war against them should you defend yourself. While many people and nations believe it is just to defend yourself. Locke goes even further to say that if someone tries to steal from you in the state of nature, then you have the right to kill them, as they are waging war against you at that point. Based on what is provided on these wiki, we can gather that specific rule may not always be the case outside of the state of nature. For instance, these rules say that once you wound a combatant past the point of fleeing or fighting back, you must stop fighting them and give them medical attention as they are no longer a threat towards you. This goes against what Locke offers in the state of nature, as he says you have the right to finish the thief there. 


Rawls and his veil of ignorance can also be seen here. The rules of war seem to have been made with everyone in mind regardless of who they are, even if not using Rawls' specific method. This set of rules makes it clear that it wants to minimize the loss of any life, culture or infrastructure by as much as possible. A blanket set of rules for everyone, where if anyone is treated unequally it is for their betterment. In a handful of exercises about the original position, we have pretended to make laws or decide what was just from the position of ignorance, we came up with rule sets that were quite reminiscent of jus in bello rules. 


To conclude about jus in bello


          In this page we covered broader ideas and how they tie in with Jus in Bello, a social movement that discusses what is just in war, and finally some major questions and debates surrounding this topic. It is thanks to nations coming together and agreeing to things like the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations that most countries have a list of rules to follow when engaging other countries which helps to make war more humane, if you don't find that an oxymoron at least. Before and after these however humans have fought. Humans have fought a lot and many people have died from wars that have effected all corners of the globe. We can only hope and work forward towards a more peaceful future where humanity works together and all of this fighting won't be in vain.





Ferencz, Benjamin and Sohn, Louis. 1975. Defining International Aggression. Dobbs Ferry, New York: Oceana Publications, INC.


Friedman, Leon and Taylor, Telford. 1972. The Law of War. United States: Ransom House, Inc.


Goldberg, Arthur and Trooboff, Peter. 1975. Law and Responsibility in Warfare. North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill.


c. What are just ad bellum and jus in bello?.

            < https://www.icrc.org/en/resource-centre/result?r[0]=document_type%3A%22Article%22&sort=date+desc > (12/9/2019).


Keen, M. 1965. The Laws of War. Great Britain: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.


Lock, John. 1686. The Second Treatise of Government. England: Awnsham Churchill


Meron, Theodore. 1987. “The Geneva Conventions as Customary Law” The American Journal of International Law 81 (Issue #2). Pages 348-370


Rawls, John. 1993. The Law of Peoples. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Teson, Fernando. 1988. Humanitarian Intervention: An Inquiry Into Law and Morality. United States: Transnational Publishers, Inc.






Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.