Intervention in Syria – does not meet criteria for a just war

I am not a pacifist. If I was, then I would simply argue against intervention in Syria because armed intervention was always wrong.

Instead, I think that there are circumstances where it is right (not by any means good) for armed force to be used.

Christians have a fairly well developed tradition of thinking about this which is called Just War Theory. This attempts to work out whether it is legitimate to go to war. There’s a reasonably good Wikipedia page about it if you want to take a look here: and there’s a helpful summary on the BBC website which I’ll use below to show how I come to the conclusion that there is not a case for regarding military intervention in Syria at the moment as a just war.

The first thing to note is that Just War theory is a developing tradition. There are people working on it all the time looking at new situations that arise. The particular thing that we must ask ourselves in our own time is whether intervening for humanitarian reasons is justification for armed conflict.

Let’s take the basic criteria though and work through them.

In order for a war (or armed action) to be considered just then the following conditions must be met:

  1. The war must be for a just cause.
  2. The war must be lawfully declared by a lawful authority.
  3. The intention behind the war must be good.
  4. All other ways of resolving the problem should have been tried first.
  5. There must be a reasonable chance of success.
  6. The means used must be in proportion to the end that the war seeks to achieve.

1 The war must be for a just cause

It is certainly the case that any intervention in Syria that could be said to be aimed at ensuring that further lives would not be lost could be said to be a just cause. This condition is probably met though there are significant questions to be asked about why we might be intervening here where there is said to be a dictator doing bad things to his own people and not in, for example, Zimbabwe.

2 The war must be lawfully declared by a lawful authority

There would be no ambiguity about this if the UN Security Council authorised action. In that case this condition would be met. If that is not met, then a case has to be made by the government justifying its actions. We have seen no arguments yet so this is as yet, not proven.

3 The intention behind the war must be good

This is a highly subjective area. There will be those who argue that if we believe chemical weapons are intolerable then we must act against whoever has used them. The complicating factor is that we don’t have any conclusive proof in the public domain that such weapons were used by the Assad regime. Proof that the weapons were used is not proof that Assad authorised them. An obvious argument is that there was an obvious motive for using such weapons by armed opposition groups in Syria if they were attempting to draw foreign powers into the conflict to finish off Assad. The danger for the government if this is the case is that it will be accused of firing missiles for Al-Qaida and other unsavoury elements. There are not many good guys to get behind in this conflict.

Again, if the intention of an action were to surgically remove from the Assad regime any possibility of launching chemical weapons attacks by removing chemical weapons production plants then this might meet this condition. Once again, this is not proven. We simply don’t know enough about government plans to draw a conclusion here.

4 All other ways of resolving the problem should have been tried first.

With the UN desperately asking for more time for diplomatic solutions, it is clear this condition is not met.

5 There must be a reasonable chance of success

Again this is subjective. It might be argued that “surgical strikes” against chemical weapons plants could meet this condition. However, there seems to be a strong view both from commentators and the general public that involvement in this conflict could well have unforseen consequences. If we don’t know what success would look like then this condition is not met. I don’t believe that a convincing case has been made that there is a successful outcome to intervention that is possible. My judgement is that this is not met.

6 The means used must be in proportion to the end that the war seeks to achieve.

The government will argue that “surgical strikes” are precisely designed to be a proportionate response. However, it needs to answer the question as to what it will do if the consequence of such strikes was further chemical weapons attacks. Without some idea of this, it is difficult to argue that this condition is met.

Because I don’t believe these conditions are all met, my conclusion is that military intervention is not at this stage justified. That does not mean that I am opposed in principle to the use of force. It simply means that I’m not convinced today. I suspect a very great number of religious and non-religious people will agree.


  1. A good analysis from the just-war perspective, and for now I agree with the conclusions.

    I would be a whole lot more impressed if the US or UK governments gave any inclination of trying to find a peaceful solution. So far, it merely seems like Iraq all over again with claims rather than evidence.

Speak Your Mind