Did the U.S. bishops muddy the waters when they added imprecise or unmeasurable criteria to the original just war principles?
The Christian principles of what constitutes a just war were known, at least implicitly, prior to St. Augustine of Hippo putting these principles in writing during the fifth century. When St. Thomas Aquinas offered principles of a just war he affirmed just war principles that St. Augustine had written down. In this we have a pattern in tradition of what embodies the just war principles. These principles of just war were generally accepted by Christians until 1983, when the U.S. bishops added additional criteria to them.
These are the principles of just war that St. Augustine formally introduced in 430:
1. The intention in going to war must be to restore peace.
2. Only a legitimate authority may declare war.
3. The conduct of the war must be just.
4. Monks and clerics may not engage in warfare.
St. Thomas Aquinas offered these principles:
1. War must be waged by a public authority for the common good.
2. A just cause is required.
3. It must be fought with right intentions.
In 1983, the U.S. bishops added these three principles to the list:
1) There must be a probability of success, to prevent a hopeless resort to violence.
2) Proportionality: the destruction inflicted must be less than the good expected by taking up arms.
3) Comparative Justice: No state should act on the basis that it has “absolute justice” on its side.
How does a state *know* that there is a probability of success before the factors that take place during war which would affect or determine whether the war is successful have occurred yet? It would seem at best the state could make an educated guess or hypothesize as to the probability of success but without having knowledge of all the conditions on the ground the probability of knowing whether or not the war will end up being a hopeless resort to violence would be almost impossible.
The problem with measuring the evidence of proportionality or *knowing* the proportionality between the destruction which is inflicted being less than the good which is expected to take place from taking up arms is that the time measured for each is different. We know the destruction during the war but the goodness which is brought about may take place over a lengthy period of time. Should we expect immediate goodness? Or the immediate goodness to outweigh the destruction? Or is it possible for the later goodness to legitimize the particular war’s destruction?
I just think that these two criteria that the bishops added to the just war theory muddied the waters and makes it extremely hard and confusing to determine whether a particular war is meets the just war criteria or not. The principles asserted by Thomas Aquinas and Augustine are cut and dried in determining what constitutes a just war. It is my contention that the U.S. bishops have made it more confusing and almost broadly subjective to determine whether or not a war meets the just war criteria.
Given the vagueness of these principles there are two approaches that can be taken to the application of these principles: 1) Since it close to impossible to know with absolute certainty that the war is just there may never be a war that is considered to be a just war or 2) Since it is close to impossible to know with absolute certainty that the war is unjust there may never be war that can be condemned as an unjust war.