Justice After War Essay example

Submitted By kdr0588
Words: 3418
Pages: 14

Sadly, there are few restraints on the endings of wars. There has never been an international treaty to regulate war's final phase, and there are sharp disagreements regarding the nature of a just peace treaty. There are, by contrast, restraints aplenty on starting wars, and on conduct during war. These restraints include: political pressure from allies and enemies; the logistics of raising and deploying force; the United Nations, its Charter and Security Council; and international laws like the Hague and Geneva Conventions. Indeed, in just war theory--which flames moral principles to regulate wartime actions--here is a robust set of rules for resorting to war (jus ad bellum) and for conduct during war (jus in bello) but not for the termination phase of war. (1) Recent events in Afghanistan, and the "war against terrorism" vividly underline the relevance of reflecting on this omission, and the complex issues related to it.

The international community should remedy this glaring gap in our ongoing struggle to restrain warfare. The following facts bear this out:

* Recent armed conflicts--in the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Kosovo--demonstrate the difficulty, and illustrate the importance, of ending wars in a full and fair fashion. We know that when wars are wrapped up badly, they sow the seeds for future bloodshed. (2)

* To allow unconstrained war termination is to allow the winner to enjoy the spoils of war. This is dangerously permissive, as winners have been known to exact peace terms that are draconian and vengeful. The Treaty of Versailles, terminating World War I, is often mentioned in this connection. (3)

* Failure to regulate war termination may prolong fighting on the ground. Since they have few assurances regarding the nature of the settlement, belligerents will be sorely tempted to keep using force to jockey for position. Many observers felt that this reality plagued the Bosnian civil war, which saw many failed negotiations and a three-year "slow burn" of continuous violence as the very negotiations took place. (4)

* Allowing war termination to be determined without normative restraints leads to inconsistency and confusion. First, how can we try to regulate the first two phases of war--the beginning and middle--yet not the end? Second, the lack of established norms to guide the construction of peace treaties leads to patchwork "solutions," mere ad hoc arrangements that may not meet well-considered standards of prudence and justice.

Peace treaties should still, of course, remain tightly tailored to the historical realities of the particular conflict in question. But admitting this is not to concede that the search for general guidelines, or universal standards, is futile or naive. There is no inconsistency, or mystery, in holding particular actors in complex local conflicts up to more general, even universal standards of conduct. Judges and juries do that daily, evaluating the factual complexities of a given case in light of general principles. We should do the same regarding war termination.

This article will consider what participants should do as they move to wrap up a war. It will do so while drawing on the resources contained within the just war tradition, particularly its reworking offered by Michael Walzer. (5) Since just war theory has played a constructive role thus far in its influence on political and legal discourse concerning launching and carrying out war, there is reason to believe it has light to shed on war termination. My goal is to construct a general set of plausible principles to guide communities seeking to resolve their armed conflicts fairly.


The first step is to answer the question: What may a participant rightly aim for with regard to a just war? What are the goals to be achieved by the settlement of the conflict? We need some starting assumptions to focus our thoughts on these issues. First, this article will consider classical cases of