Just War Theory and Terrorism

Jan 23, 2024

Just War Theory and Terrorism

Discussions on terrorism were not highly covered prior to the attacks on the United States on 11th September 2001. After these attacks, however, terrorism became a subject of concern in philosophical circles. Many scholars have delved into the subject of to define what constitutes terrorism, the motivations behinds acts of terror, and whether terrorism can be morally justified. This paper deals with the question of whether terrorism can be morally justified. For the purposes of this paper, terrorism is defined as the extreme use of extreme means of violence and threats whose aim is to create intimidation or subjugation to individuals, groups of people, or governments. Terrorism is applied by governments, individuals, or groups who wish to achieve certain ends which may be good or indifferent. In the process of trying to achieve these ends, terrorism tends to affect innocent civilians. The provisions of the just war theory show that terrorism can never be morally justified.

The just war theory was originally constructed by St. Augustine and was based on religious doctrine. The classic just war theory was made up of two key requirements that St. Augustine thought were necessary for a war to qualify as being just. The first requirement was that war had to be declared by a legitimate authority while the second requirement was that war had to be precipitated by a just cause. The theory was further enhanced by Thomas Aquinas who incorporated the element of intentionality in war. The just war theory has been developed to reflect both moral and legal aspects, with the former being the focus of this paper. The principles of the just war theory that used to assess the moral dimensions of terrorism are the jus ad bellum and jus in bello.

The principle of jus ad bellum reveals that terrorism is immoral. According to this principle, a just war is supposed to be precipitated by a just cause, be executed as a last resort in the absent of other options, be okayed by a legitimate authority, serve a right cause, be characterized by significant chances of success, and have results that are proportional to the used means. The first provision of the jus ad bellum principle dictates that any act of war should be backed by a just cause. A war should only be in response to a wrong suffered. Also, war can be justified if it is in the form of self-defense against an attack or physical aggression. More importantly, a war can only be justified if its serves only the objective of correcting the inflicted pain.

Terrorism does not subscribe to the provisions of a just causes of war, making it highly unjust and immoral. Most acts of terrorism have been in response to allegations of colonialism, imperialism, and deprivation of political autonomy. Many of the current Islamist fundamentalist organizations subscribe to the ideology that their actions are the result of depletion of resources by other states that leads to poverty, prolonged conflicts, corruption, and instability. In many cases, however, the interventions in these countries are usually for the good of the people and do not in any way harm the stability. It is these groups’ fight for power, as opposed to the pursuit of justice, which form the ground for acts of terrorism. When the quest for power and control is used as the major ground for war, then the moral requirements of the just war theory are violated.

Terrorism also violates the last resort, right intention, and declaration by a legitimate authority provisions of the jus a bellum principle and as such is immoral. There are many ways which the grievances raised by terrorist organizations can be solved. The consequences of war are enormous for either side, and as such all other possible solutions should be exhausted. Terrorists do not subscribe to the idea of using other means such as dialogue, a reason why this practice is immoral. Also, terrorist organizations tend to be outlawed organizations and as such the declaration of war is never made by legitimate authority, making it highly illegal. Regarding the intentions of waging a war, the just war theory stipulates that war is just only when morally right consequences are intended. However, many terrorists only pursue their greed for power and control, making the war immoral.

Terrorism also violates the jus in bello principles of the just war theory which dictate the elements of morality during war. This principle is composed of the discrimination and proportionality provisions. The discrimination provision the deals with those individuals or institutions which are the legitimate targets of war. A war can be just if this principle is applied such that only the targeted individuals are affected. However, recent terrorism events have seen the commitment of non-discriminatory attacks that affect more innocent civilians than the targeted individuals. Even when governments are the targets, a majority of those affected are innocent civilians, showing that terrorism is highly immoral. Also, there is immense violation of the proportionality principle which dictates that reasonable force should be applied. Terrorist attacks have been shown to make use of unnecessary force, leading to unnecessary deaths and injuries.

The violations of the jus a bellum and the jus in bello principles of the theory of just war by terrorists means that this practice can never be morally justified. For terrorism to be morally justifiable, it has to conform to all of the jus a bellum and jus in bello principles which include having a just cause, be executed as a last resort in the absent of other options, be okayed by a legitimate authority, serve a right cause, be discriminatory in targeting victims of the war, and exhibit proportionality in the use of force.

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