This Journal is sponsored by the Assn. for Christian Conferences, Teaching and Service.

ISSN: 2354-8315 (Online)



Saint Augustine
Just War in the 21st Century - Conclusion
PDF Print E-mail
Article Index
Just War in the 21st Century
Old Testament and War
Jesus and the New Testament
The Just War: Augustine
The Just War: Aquinas
War in the 21st Century
All Pages

As a result of the tactics adopted by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda some would argue that ‘the gloves need to come off’, suggesting that increased aggression and less discrimination by NATO forces would be more militarily effective. On the surface such an approach is appealing, especially for combatants who stand in the firing line and politicians who want quicker results. Such a temptation must be resisted because it would simply ensure a bigger loss for the UK and its allies. The loss would take a number of forms. I suggest that the first loss would be strategic failure, which may still happen anyway. If the UK knowingly unleashes a brutal war fighting machine on the civilians of Afghanistan, some of whom might be Taliban fighters and some not, the remaining fragile support for the campaign by the British public would evaporate. With the UK being a signatory to the International Criminal Court British politicians and military commanders who advocated such an approach would leave themselves open to prosecution. As Carl von Clausewitz, the great Prussian strategic theorist, pointed out two centuries ago in his book On War, the military needs the moral and material support of the people and the political support of the government if it is to successfully engage in war. The International Assistance Force could win every tactical engagement with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters yet still suffer political defeat, paralleling the experience of the Americans in Vietnam. The second loss that the unrestrained use of force would incur would be the loss of British self-identity that for most citizens is characterised by a sense of justice and fair play. For the British people to have to see themselves as deliberate purveyors of indiscriminate destruction would be a demand too far. Finally, any claim that the UK could make to being a force for good, particularly in Afghanistan, would be ridiculed around the world. The long-term consequences for a country that is rich in history but small in size and poor in natural resources could be severe.

The only practical option, therefore, for the UK in making war in the twenty-first century is to engage with just war principles. One consequence of the ongoing doubts about Prime Minister Blair’s justification of the 2003 invasion of Iraq is a sense among the British people that they were somehow misled. If or when the time comes that the present, or a future, Prime Minister believes it to be essential for the UK to go to war again it is likely that the British people will demand a higher burden of proof than might previously have been the case. In the execution of war, especially interventionist wars like Afghanistan, proportionality and discrimination will be essential if support for war is to be maintained and a positive outcome achieved. If the constraints of engaging an enemy in a just manner results in a sense of fighting with one hand tied behind our backs, so be it. This is a price that must be paid if the values that Britons claim to cherish are not to be sacrificed on the altar of military expediency.

Peter Lee served as a Royal Air Force chaplain during the build-up to the 2003 invasion, and for most of the period of the UK’s involvement in Iraq. After hostilities commenced he spent five months at a military hospital in Cyprus providing pastoral support to wounded, maimed and injured soldiers who had been airlifted from the battlefield. During this period Dr Lee developed a keen interest in the way the intervention was justified, particularly by Prime Minister Tony Blair. This prompted extensive reading of the classic just war arguments, eventually leading to formal research in the field at King’s College London War Studies Department. Since 2008 Dr Lee has been employed by King’s College London as a Lecturer in Air Power Studies based at Royal Air Force College Cranwell in Lincolnshire, specialising in the ethics of war. In 2010 he gained his PhD in War Studies for a thesis entitled A Genealogy of the Ethical Subject in the Just War Tradition. Dr Lee is regularly invited to lecture on this subject to military, academic and wider audiences.



1. Joshua 1:4. Unless otherwise stated, all Bible references are taken from the New International Version.
2. Text from Joshua 4:13; 6:2; 6:20,21.
3. Exodus 20:13, King James Version.
4. For example, the New International Version.
5. See also 1 Samuel 15: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”’
6. Isaiah 2:4.
7. Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3, 8.
8. Isaiah 9:6.
9. Luke 4: 18-19, 21, quoting Isaiah 61:1,2.
10. This declaration is also found in Mark 1:15 and Luke 10:11, though in Matthew’s gospel Jesus is recorded as referring to the kingdom of heaven, rather than the kingdom of God. A difference usually attributed to the cultural and religious differences in the audiences for which the respective gospels were intended.
11. Matthew 5:39.
12. Matthew 26:50-52.
13. Matthew 26:47.
14. That the crowd had no legitimate authority for their actions is evidenced by what happened after Jesus had been brought before the religious authorities: he had to be taken before the Roman governor Pilate who, alone, could authorise punishment for his alleged crimes.
15. Matthew 8:10, 13.
16. See Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 2:14; John 1: 35-51.
17. The rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30, and the Samaritan woman he encountered at the well in John 4:1-26.
18. Matthew 22:21.
19. Romans 13:1.
20. John 17:16.
21. Augustine, City of God, Trans. Henry Bettenson (London: Penguin Classics, 2003) XV.1, p. 595.
22. Augustine, Letter 189 to Bomiface, in Fortin, E.L. and Kries, D. (Eds.) Augustine: Political Writings, Trans. Tkacz, M.W. and Kries, D. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994) p. 220.
23. Augustine, Against Faustus the Manichean, Ch. XXII.74, in Fortin, E.L. and Kries, D. (Eds.) Augustine: Political Writings, Trans. Tkacz, M.W. and Kries, D. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994) p. 221/2.
24. Augustine, Against Faustus the Manichean, XXII, Ch.74 in Reichberg, G.M., Syse, H. and Begby, E. (Eds) The Ethics of War (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006) p. 82.
25. Romans 13:1.
26. Augustine, City of God, XIX.7, p. 861/2.
27. Augustine, Against Faustus the Manichean, p. 81.
28. Id.
29. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 40, A. 1, p. 1813/14.
30. Ibid., II-II, Q. 60, A. 6, p. 1934.
31. Charter of the United Nations, Chapter 1, Article 51, located at 10 March 2010.
32. Ibid., Chapter VII, Article 39.
33. The five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, each with Veto powers, are the US, UK, Russia, China and France.
34. Ibid., Chapter VII, Article 41.
35. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 31, A. 3, p. 1762.
36. Ibid., Q. 64, A. 7, p. 1961.
37. The full text and history of the Geneva Conventions can be found at, accessed 23 August 2010.
38. Blair, 24 Apr 1999, Speech at the Economic Club, Chicago.
39. Id.
40. Matthew 5:43.
41. Blair, Speech to launch the Faith Foundation, 30 May 2008, from: 10 December 2009.
42. ‘All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.’ Charter of the United Nations, Art. 2, Para. 4, located, 4 December 2008.
43. Blair, op cit.
44. For further explication of just war criteria see Norman, R., Ethics, Killing and War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) p. 118. For similar summaries see Bellamy, A. J., Just Wars: From Cicero to Iraq (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006) p. 121–3; McMahan, J., 'Just Cause for War', Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 19, No. 3 (Fall 2005) p. 5; or Rengger, N., ‘The Ethics of War: The Just War Tradition’, in Bell, D., (Ed.) Ethics and World Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) pp. 296-298.
45. Blair, 1999, op cit.
46. Aide Memoire on the Law of Armed Conflict, JSP 381, Revised February 2005, Ministry of Defence, located at , Para. 4, accessed 10 January 2009.
47. Id.
48. Programmes of military instruction, Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977. Part 5, Section 1, Article 83, Para. 3376, located at, accessed 15 January 2010.
49. Id.
50. Aide Memoire, op cit.
51. Id.


Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
You must be logged in to post a comment. Please register if you do not have an account yet.


Last Updated on Thursday, 17 February 2011 14:46