Just War Just War

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Waris a common phenomenon in the contemporary world and it is used as alast resort when settling disputes between parties or nations. Theapplication of military force to settle disputes between nationsresults in death, injuries, and destruction of property, which raisea question of whether such actions are legitimate or not (Brandt,1972). This question can be answered by analyzing the decision usingthe ethical theories, which are effective tools that are used toresolve dilemmas and determine the morality of actions. In thispaper, a discussion on how an individual using the utilitarianismtheory would conclude regarding the legitimacy of a decision to usemilitary force against another nation. From the basic principle ofthe utilitarianism, it is evident that an individual using the theorywould argue that the use of military force against another state islegitimate when it maximizes the anticipated utility or the wellbeingof the highest proportion of the stakeholders.


Utilitarianismis one of the most common ethical theories that are applied indifferent areas to resolve dilemmas and determine the wrongness orthe rightness of actions. Act utilitarianism is based on theprinciple that an ethical action is the one that maximizes thewellbeing of the majority of the key stakeholders (Brandt, 1972). Adecision on whether a given action is moral or immoral should bebased on its consequences or impact. Rule utilitarianism, on theother hand, holds that the amount of goodness that a certain rulebrings should be used as the measure of its rightness or wrongness.Supporters of this perspective argue that there are certain rulesthat will always produce a greater good whenever they are followed.The theory is used to support an argument that decision makers shouldalways follow specific rules that yield the greatest good, instead ofmaking exemptions, even if the exempted situations are demonstratedto have better consequences. The two utilitarian perspectives lead toa common argument that an individual needs to make decisions or takeactions that maximize the happiness of the majority of individuals orgroups of people that are affected by them. In other words, decisionmakers should identify an alternative that leads to positive nethappiness. The net happiness or the wellbeing is determined bycomparing the positive consequences and the negative outcomes of agiven action. While explaining the basic principle of the theory,Brandt stated, “Rules of war, which impartial persons would chooseare the rules that would maximize long-range expectable utility fornations at war” (p. 150). An action with a positive net outcome isassumed to be the one that enhances the wellbeing of the highestpercentage of the stakeholders, which makes it moral and the bestoption.


Theutilitarian theory can be used to determine when it is legitimate orillegitimate for a country to apply military force against anothernation. This is achieved by determining the consequences of suchactions or the rule that maximizes the happiness of the highestpercentage of affected stakeholders. According to Brandt (1972) acountry should decide to apply military force against another nationwhen such an action will maximize the anticipated long-range utilityof the two states. This is a tricky situation because it would beexpected that a nation is supposed to take part in the war with theobjective of overpowering the enemy and defending its interests.Under the utilitarian theory, the decision maker is expected todetermine the consequences and impacts of a given action on allstakeholders. Consequently, a country is expected to measure theoutcome of war in itself as well as the enemy. This leads to anargument that the objective of using the military force is not toharm the enemy nation, but to maximize the wellbeing of thestakeholders in both countries or minimize their suffering.Therefore, a decision to apply military force against a nation shouldbe made by a rational being in order to ensure that both the negativeand positive consequences are weighed and the alternative with thenet gain selected. While describing this situation, Brandt stated,“Rational persons, choosing behind a veil of ignorance, butbelieving that their country may well be ignored in a war at sometime, would prefer rules of war that would maximize expectableutility (p. 152). This statement suggests that the nature of theoutcome of war is the leading factor that needs to be consideredbefore applying the force. There are three key factors that may beused to measure whether appropriate rules of war that seek tomaximize the welfare of the stakeholders have been applied. First, itmust be determined whether the force has been applied with theobjective of protecting combatants as well as non-combatants fromsuffering that is not necessary. Secondly, the decision should bebased on the need to safeguard fundamental human rights of citizensin both nations. Third, the military force should be applied with theaim of restoring peace in both nations. Therefore, a decision toapply the military force is moral and legitimate when it maximizesthe expected long-range utility of both nations.


Anidea that a country needs to consider an alternative course of actionthat maximizes the wellbeing of its citizens and the enemy country iscontrary to the notion that each government has a duty to protect theinterests of its people. From the deontological perspective, thegovernment of each country has the obligation to protect its citizensfrom internal as well as external threats (Miller, 2017). This leadsto an argument that a country has no reason to consider the wellbeingof an enemy state when making a decision on whether to apply militaryforce or not. Supporters of this notion would object the utilitarianperspective by arguing that the government’s duty to protect itscitizens can be carried out by subduing the enemy country. The use ofthis approach to make decisions can lead to fatal damages as theenemy states try to incapacitate each other. However, this objectionis unfounded because countries should only use military force as alast resort to enhance the happiness of the people suffering fromdifferent forms of injustices, and not to cause harm to other nationswith an excuse of protecting their own citizens (Miller, 2017).Countries have a primary responsibility to protect their citizens,but the use of the deontological perspective to object the views thatare based on the utilitarianisms can lead to unnecessary harm.


Applicationof the utilitarianism theory leads to an argument that it islegitimate to use military force to attack another country when thereis evidence showing that such an action will maximize the anticipatedlong-range utility. This theory is founded on the concept ofconsequentialism, which holds that an action or a decision can onlybe considered to be morally correct when it enhances the wellbeing ofthe highest percentage of the stakeholders. This implies that anycountry should consider the impact of a decision to apply themilitary force on all stakeholders, including the enemy country.Consequently, a decision to use the force should aim at maximizingthe happiness of citizens in both countries for it to be consideredas a moral choice. Although there are some stakeholders (includingthe casualties of the war) who will suffer when force is used againsta given nation, a legitimate application of the military interventionwill minimize the suffering of the majority by restoring peace andpressuring the enemy country to respect human rights. The applicationof a utilitarian perspective leads to a fair decision that considersthe interest of all stakeholders.


Brandt,R. (1972). Utilitarianism and the rules of war. Philosophyand Public Affairs,1 (2), 145-165.

Miller,W. (2017). Crossingborders to fight injustice: The ethics of humanitarian intervention.Abingdon: Routledge.