By Aloysus Okoye
The Church believes that a State has a right to defend itself, and its peoples, from an act of aggression, though the manner in which it does so will still need to be bound by certain principles. In the West we can trace the Just War Theory back at least as far as the 4th Century and the work of St Augustine of Hippo. Since then it has undergone, and continues to undergo, rethinking and refining. Nonetheless, it is traditionally divided into two strands that cover the conditions by which one discerns if it is morally permissible or necessary to wage war (called jus ad bellum), and second, the type of conditions with which that war can be fought (called jus in bello).
More recently, scholars have added a third strand concerning the resolution of conflict and the moral and practical responsibilities various parties have, during the transition from war to peace (called jus post bellum). There are many significant Church documents that set out this position and provide nuance, history, detail as well as practical application of the Theory. The Church, because it sees peace as the legacy of Jesus, the greatest ‘Prince of Peace’, and so the outcome of Divine love and order, has a much broader vision of what peace is than merely the absence of armed conflict.
True peace is of God, so it involves the harmony of all people pursuing justice for all. In this way peace is, at its heart, a reflection of God’s Kingdom. That is why, throughout the 1960s, Popes John XXIII and Paul VI proclaimed in pacem in terris ,gaudium et spes and populorum progressio respectively that peace cannot exist where there is injustice, inequality between people and nations (economic or otherwise), thirst for power, pursuit of endless profit as an end in itself, nor when there is an arms race. Ultimately, whenever there is disregard for or breach of the commandment to ‘love our neighbour’ we cannot rightly be said to have peace; not the peace God intends for us. The catechism of Catholic Church starts the position of the church on war with the premise “the fifth commandment forbids the international destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war”.
In Gaudium et Spes, the church teaches that some wars are justified as follows “certainly, war has not been rooted out of human affairs. As long as the danger of war remains and there is no competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the international level, Government cannot be denied the right to legitimate defense once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted. State authorities and others who share public responsibility have the duty to conduct such grave matters soberly and to protect the welfare of the people entrusted to their care. But it is one thing to undertake military action for the just defense of the people and something else again to seek the subjugation of the other nations. Nor by the same token, does the mere fact that war has unhappily begun, mean that all is fair between the warring parties”
With roots in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the life of Christ, and with a pedigree that stretches from the Church Fathers through to today’s Catechism of the Catholic Church, this Just War Theory/ Doctrine as supported by the church specifies the conditions that must be met before going to war : A. competent authority = that the decision be made by the supreme authority, B. when there is a just and sufficiently serious reasons and prospects of success, C. when all other means to secure redress have first been shown to be impractical or ineffective, D. that the resultant evils will not obviously be out of all proportion to those which would otherwise have to be endured and finally, that in the conducting of the war the lives and property of non-combatants, wounded soldiers must be respected and treated humanely.”
For a millennium and a half, it has been not only a defining element of Catholic International Relations Theory, but also the foundation of contemporary International Humanitarian Law. The Church supports absolutely self-defense. This is evident both in the Just war Doctrines/ principles and in the Easter message of pope Pius XII in 1954, “ for our part we will tirelessly endeavor to bring about by means of international agreements the effective proscription and banishment of atomic, biological and chemical war-fare, always in the principle of subordination to the principle of legitimate self-defense” and while addressing a convention of Italian women Army-auxiliaries he says, “ no nation which wishes to provide for the security of its frontiers, as its right and absolute duty, can be without an army proportionate to its needs, supplied with all indispensable material, ready and alert for the defense of the homeland should it be unjustly attacked” The Holy Father Francis sent a letter to the conference at the Vatican.
He wrote: “In this vein, we recall that the only explicit condemnation issued by the Second Vatican Council was against war, although the Council recognized that, since war has not been eradicated from the human condition, ‘governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defense once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted.”
The council struck the right balance. The leadership of our church, clerical and lay, should not be too hasty in abandoning the Just war theory. We should attend to the positive development in international legal circles represented by the emergence of a right to protect. The above position of the church implies then that, the church even though it encourages pacifism, does not promote absolute pacifism, as such the church encourages leaders of every nation to avoid any form of war.
The church’s pacifistic activity is flexible and the church does not support war or violence. Thus one sees in the church’s position, a careful application of the famous Kantian mediation (that is, the church’s synthesis of two contra tendencies “violence and pacifism” at the middle point). Thus, it implies then that the termination of Boko Haran insurgents in Nigeria is justified since every peaceful effort made has proved futile and ineffective. The church surveys and weighs situation of violence and war through the spectrum of the Basic traditional tenets of Just War Theory. Above all, the Church supports self-defence in the face of war. (That is to say, she runs on conditional pacifism or teleological pacifism). However, one can deduce from the above positions and explications, the fact of possible relevance of pacifism in the contemporary world.Follow us