ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Basic Criteria of Just War Theory; An Introduction

Updated on June 19, 2013

What is just war theory?

Just war theory is applied ethics; it attempts to justify the effects of war as well as determine what is morally acceptable in committing warfare. The criteria for just war theory can be loosely defined in five concepts. Traditionally, however, there is a distinction between the justice of going to war (jus ad bellum) and just conduct in war (jus in bello). Taken together, these factors constitute modern just war theory.*

In recent years, a further distinction, the justice of actions after war (jus post bellum), has been added. For more information on this, see references.

Jus ad bellum

1. Legitimate Authority: war must be declared by competent authority for a public purpose.

2. Just Cause: the avowed cause must be just, all peaceful alternatives must be exhausted, and the means must be proportionate to the just cause.

  • Just cause may include the desire to:
  • protect the innocent from unjust attack;
  • restore rights unjustly denied;
  • re-establish a just order;
  • the requirement of proportionality will be met by:
  • having a sufficient good and just cause that warrants war;
  • weighing the costs as well as the potential for good and evil ends;
  • continuing to weigh the costs throughout the war and including all parties involved;
  • having a reasonable chance of success (unless it is a war of self-defense);

3. Right Intention: Right intention must be had on the part of the just belligerent by:

  • limiting the belligerent to the avowed just cause;
  • requiring the belligerent to always have in mind a just and lasting peace.

Jus in bello

4. Principle of Proportionality: the military means must be proportional to the political and military ends.

  • the military means must be proportionate to discrete and legitimate military ends with the ultimate object of war, the just cause, always in mind;

5. Principle of Discrimination: only legitimate combatants may be targeted by direct attack.

What the pre-war and current warfare distinction means.

This traditional distinction allows for warring parties to be analyzed at multiple levels. A warring party may enter war under just pretenses but wage war unjustly. Warring parties can also enter war under unjust pretenses but fight honorably. This view begins to allow us to make a reasoned and intelligent judgment on the ethics of war.


Why should you care about just war theory?

There are many reasons why one might study just war theory.

If you are in politics, you should have a deep familiarity with just war theory. A statesman may have a direct affect on warfare. A political activist should know just war theory in order to convincingly and intelligently debate the issues of morality in war.

Following closely, if you are a citizen in a democracy, your votes and political sway affect the wars which your nation wages. It is a civic duty to have an inkling on the ethics of war.

As a soldier, you are constantly going to be faced with decisions pertaining to the just conduct of war. While you may not have much choice in many matters of warfare, at sometime in your life you may question whether what you have done or what you will do is just.

Finally, as an ethical person, these matters may directly bear on your life.

References and Links


The Conduct of Just and Limited War, William V. O'Brien.

Just War: Principles and Cases, Richard J. Regan.


The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on War by Brian Orend;

An entertaining guide by the BBC;

You can also check out my hub on an applied case study of the Falklands War.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • shalini sharan profile image

      shalini sharan 

      6 years ago from Delhi

      interesting hub


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)