What is a Just War?

There are essentially three Christian views on warfare:
  1. Activism--it is always right to participate in war
  2. Pacifism--it is never right to participate in war
  3. Selectivism--it is right to participate in some wars.
Two books that outline these positions are:

Robert G. Clouse, ed. War: Four Christian Views. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1981.
Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Options and Issues. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989.

A key element in the third view is the idea of a just war. The following seven points are a summary (by Arthur Holmes in War: Four Christian Views) of the concept of a just war:

1. Just cause. All aggression is condemned, only defensive war is legitimate.

2. Just intention. The only legitimate intention is to secure a just peace for all involved. Neither revenge nor conquest nor economic gain not ideological supremacy are justified.

3. Last resort. War may only be entered upon when all negotiations and compromise have been tried and failed.

4. Formal declaration. Since the use of military force is the prerogative of governments, not of private individuals, a state of war must be officially declared by the highest authorities.

5. Limited objectives. If the purpose is peace, then unconditional surrender or the destruction of a nation's economic or political institutions is an unwarranted objective.

6. Proportionate means. The weaponry and the force used should be limited to what is needed to repel the aggression and deter future attacks, that is to say to secure a just peace. Total or unlimited war is ruled out.

7. Noncombatant immunity. Since war is an official act of government, only those who are officially agents of government may fight, and individuals not actively contributing to the conflict (including POWs and casualties as well as civilian nonparticipants) should be immune from attack.