“Self-defence is the only acceptable reason to go to war.” Evaluate this statement. (12 marks).

  • Blue – Your argument 
  • Red – Argument against 
  • Purple – Response

There is much debate about what constitutes a fair reason for war or use of force against another nation. Self-defence is one reason but retaliation could also be viewed as legitimate in religions such as Islam and Christianity, as well as secular ethics.

The Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas proposed that there could be a “Just War” if it met certain criteria. Examples of these criteria are: war should be the last resort after diplomacy fails, there must be a reasonable chance of success and it must be done in the pursuit of good over evil. This means that it might not always be in self-defence; instead it might be retaliating against a great evil such as Nazi Germany. The Allied forces in the Second World War recognised a moral duty to stand up to Nazi advances in Europe and had they not retaliated they could have been viewed as complicit to the deaths of millions of innocent people. 

Alternatively, in Islamic tradition, one of the essential rules for a Holy War is that the opponent must have initiated the fighting. This could imply war must always be in self-defence rather than for territory or wealth.  Furthermore, if there is a conflict across the other side of the world, it might not be justifiable to intervene and risk the lives of millions of people even if it is retaliating against a possible evil. 

Nevertheless, there are still more arguments that suggest retaliation as a fair reason to engage in conflict. On a utilitarian basis, retaliating to conflict could arguably stop conflict faster and therefore more lives could be saved in the long run. The current war in Syria is an apt example of this. World leaders have condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria and have responded with targeted air-strikes. Retaliation in this manner might not stop the war instantly but if nothing is done and the world remains silent; innocent people might very well continue to suffer and die.

To conclude, the world is too connected to ignore the plight of others and therefore, only going to war in self-defence might involve failing political and financial allies when they need us most.

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