When ethics meets politics: Concerning the possibility of fighting a justified war in the late twentieth century

Robert Paul Abele, Marquette University


The Just War Theory, developed from the time of St. Augustine, has been subject to attack from numerous positions. Specifically, there are three main contemporary arguments for rejecting the Just War Theory. First, the position of Realism (Realpolitik) insists upon an absolute dichotomy between ethics and politics, thus a fortiori between ethics and warfare. Second, Pacifism maintains an absoluteness to ethical values which precludes war as a moral possibility. Third, nuclear weapons, with their vast destructive power, seem to violate all tenets of traditional Just War thinking, such that neither their possession for deterrence purposes nor their use would fit within the bounds of the traditional Just War Theory. Finally, there is the problem regarding if and when military intervention into the internal affairs of another country is legitimate, according to Just War Theory standards. The thesis of this dissertation is that, despite these significant challenges to it, the tradition of the justified war is able to meet the contemporary problems it encounters, and thus remains a viable, if indeed not the only, source of moral constraints on war available to us. Specifically, it is held that grounding the Just War Theory on human rights, and settling conflicts between rights by a method of proportionality, enables us both to maintain the current relevancy of the tradition, and to defend it against the challenges enumerated against it. It is concluded that the Just War Theory remains alive and quite viable to the contemporary political situation in the late twentieth century. Finally, the Just War Theory is applied to the 1991 war in the Persian Gulf, where it is concluded that, although the criterion of just cause may have been met, the other Just War criteria were not. In general, then, the Gulf war was not a justified war.

Recommended Citation

Abele, Robert Paul, "When ethics meets politics: Concerning the possibility of fighting a justified war in the late twentieth century" (1995). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9626931.