Just War Doctrine and the Invasion of Iraq

By Enemark, Christian; Michaelsen, Christopher | The Australian Journal of Politics and History, December 2005 | Go to article overview
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Just War Doctrine and the Invasion of Iraq

Enemark, Christian, Michaelsen, Christopher, The Australian Journal of Politics and History

The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such things, all these are rightly condemned in war.

St Augustine


The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was militarily efficient and achieved the swirl overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. But was it just? Preoccupied with the technology and gadgetry for waging war, strategists have a tendency to think in terms of what is possible. However, if war is ever to be a pursuit more noble than organised murder, it is vital that strategists also think in terms of what is permissible. A useful tool for analysis is the theoretical framework of Just War doctrine. This includes, but is not restricted to, international laws on the use of armed force. Beyond strict assessments of the legality of war, Just War doctrine is concerned with the broader notion of justice. The fundamental principle of Just War doctrine is that, as war inevitably brings much death and destruction, the burden of proof falls on those who favour the use of armed force to explain why it is morally justified. (1)

There are two dimensions to Just War doctrine: jus ad bellum (the justice of going to war) and jus in bello (the just conduct of war). The justice of the decision by the "Coalition of the Willing" (2) to invade Iraq in March 2003 may be assessed primarily according to the jus ad bellum framework. As at the time of writing this article, it is too early to make final judgments on whether the Iraq War was conducted justly (jus in bello), not least because the war may not in fact be over. There are six jus ad bellum criteria that, in combination, make going to war a just endeavour: Just Cause, Right Authority, Right Intention, Reasonable Prospect of Success, Proportionate Cause, and War as a Last Resort. (3) Each is connected to the others. This article analyses the decision to invade Iraq according to all six criteria. However, as most of the public commentary has centred on issues of justification and authorisation for going to war, the most important criteria for the purposes of this article are Just Cause and Right Authority.

Our analysis of Just War doctrine first examines the proposition that Iraqi possession of "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD) and Iraq's links to international terrorism created a Just Cause for the Coalition's invasion based on self-defence. A second purported Just Cause to be analysed is humanitarian intervention--the proposition that invading Iraq was necessary to save the Iraqi people. A possible third Just Cause is enforcement of the collective will. The substantive issues that arise on this point relate closely to the question of whether the Coalition had Right Authority to invade Iraq. Our discussion of this Just War criterion includes the authority required to act in self-defence, the meaning of United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolutions, and whether the principle of state sovereignty may be violated to achieve humanitarian objectives. The last section completes the Just War analysis of the invasion of Iraq by examining the four remaining criteria of jus ad bellum mentioned above.

The temporal focus for analysing the justice of going to war in Iraq is necessarily restricted to the period immediately before the invasion--to the circumstances at the time and the Coalition's stated reasons for going to war. It is important to note, however, that some information relevant to what was known before the invasion was not made public until afterwards. While we examine some sources published after the invasion, it is not our intention to make judgments with the benefit of hindsight based on information not known to the Coalition at the time. Such an approach would be unfair and unhelpful.

Just Cause

The default position of Just War doctrine is that war is wrong. This fundamental principle is also manifested in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter which provides that "[a]ll Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force".

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