Article  Human Dignity  War

A brief introduction to the just war tradition: Jus post bellum

Note: This is the third article in a series on the Christian just war tradition.

If a nation is able to meet all of the moral requirements for going to war (jus ad bellum) as well as the moral requirements for waging war (jus in bello) they will find they have a new set of moral requirements after warfare is concluded.

“As in so many issues in public life, those who would act well bear a heavy burden, and jus post bellum duties only add to that burden,” says Gary Bass. “People who somehow manage to act decently before and during war are rewarded only by being required to act decently again afterward.”

The “afterward” is the focus of just post bellum, justice after war. Because it can be difficult to determine when exactly a war has ended, we’ll consider the post (after) in jus post bellum to refer to the termination phase of conflict, the drawing-down of the war and the beginning of a the phase of a just peace.

While just post bellum is the newest addition to the just war tradition, the concept has always been inherent in thinking about the morality of war. After all, as Aristotle says in his Politics, the proper telos (end or function) of war should be peace. Just war theorist Michael Walzer adds to this that, “the object of a war is a better state of peace. And better, within the confines of the argument for justice, means more security than the status quo ante bellum, less vulnerability to territorial expansion, greater safety for ordinary men and women and for their domestic self determination”

If at the end of the war, the state of peace and justice is no greater than before the conflict started, then how can the conflict have been worth the violence and death? This is why thinking jus post bellum is an essential addition to the Christian jus war tradition.

Unfortunately, despite the importance of the topic, it has been given less thought than jus ad bellum or jus in bello and no set criteria have yet been agreed upon.

One of the first attempts to clearly define jus post bellum principles was offered by Michael Schuck in a 1994 article in Christian Century magazine. Shuck proposed three principles: repentance, honorable surrender, and restoration.

A more elabarote set of principles was presented by just war scholar Briand Orend, who outlines seven post-bellum principles whose violation would contradict the rules of just war:

Proportionality and Publicity: The peace settlement should be both measured and reasonable, as well as publicly proclaimed.

Rights Vindication: The settlement should secure those basic rights whose violation triggered the justified war. The relevant rights include human rights to life and liberty and community entitlements to territory and sovereignty.

Discrimination: Distinction needs to be made between the leaders, the soldiers, and the civilians in the country one is negotiating with. Civilians are entitled to reasonable immunity from punitive postwar measures.

Compensation: Financial restitution may be mandated, subject to both proportionality and discrimination.

Punishment: Soldiers and political leaders from all sides should face fair and public international trials for war crimes.

Rehabilitation: Reforming of decrepit institutions in an aggressor regime.

Former U.S. Navy chaplain Louis V. Iasiello also outlined seven principles he says should set the moral parameters of behavior in the post-combat phase of war:

A healing mind-set: “It would be constructive if both the victors and the defeated entered this post-conflict phase in a spirit of regret, conciliation, humility, and possibly contrition. Such a mind-set may further the healing of a nation’s trauma and thus enhance efforts to seal a just peace.”

Just restoration: “Victors have a moral obligation to ensure the security and stabilization of a defeated nation. Whenever practical and possible, they must provide the essentials of life (food, clothing, shelter, medicine, etc.) to those without them and repair or rebuild infrastructure essential to a vulnerable population’s health and welfare.”

Safeguarding the innocent: “The victors in war should focus special attention on children in the post bellum phase of war. Of equal importance is the direction of post bellum care to other at-risk groups and those who cannot easily care for themselves, most notably the sick, the elderly, and some groups of women.”

Respect for the environment: “All sides in a conflict should assume responsibility for the protection of the environment in war, and they should be held accountable for both the treatment of the environment during hostilities and the subsequent restoration of the environment after the fighting has ended.”

Post bellum justice: “The prosecution of suspected war criminals and political regimes should be treated as a critical dimension of any successful post bellum dynamic to further post bellum healing.”

Warrior transition: “This criterion addresses a nation’s moral obligation to heal the visible and invisible wounds of its warriors by adequately preparing them for their inevitable return and reentry into the society.”

Study of the lessons of war: “Nations that wage war have a moral responsibility to study their decision to use force, and the way force was used in the conduct of war.”

Each of these three scholars has added important elements to the formulation of a set of jus post bellum principles. But more thought needs to be done and the area is ripe for fresh Christian thinking on what we owe our enemies after the fighting has ended.  

Next in this series: The just war tradition and terrorism.

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