Does the Ukraine War meet the criteria for a Just War?

All war is unjust, in the sense that, at the very least, the aggressor nation commits an exceedingly grave injustice by unprovoked attack on another nation (or even on a region within its own nation). This does not mean that the nation which attacks first is the aggressor nations. If nation A is massing troops on the border with nation B, and an unjust attack against B is imminent, B may make a first strike in its defense. But A is still the aggressor nation. In defense of the nation, offensive action is an indispensable part of the overall defensive purpose of the war.

However, it is also true that nations have a right to defend themselves, and such a war effort undertaken to defend the nation is not intrinsically evil. This is what has long been called a just war. But certain other criteria are necessary for that nation’s war of defense to be moral. There are three fonts of morality: intention, object, circumstances. (If you don’t know what that means, search my blog.) So to be truly just, a nation’s defense must have only good in the intention, only good in the moral object, and the reasonably anticipated good consequences must morally outweigh the reasonably anticipated bad consequences. And it is this last point that is considered in this article.

Does the decision of Ukraine to refuse the demands of Russia, thereby resulting in a war, meet the criteria for a just war?

Catechism of the Catholic Church: “2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. the gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: – the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; – all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; – there must be serious prospects of success; – the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. the power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.”

1. If Ukraine had agreed to the certainly unjust demands of Russia (and particularly of Putin, who is acting like a dictator at this point), would less harm have been done to the nation?

2. Could the war have been averted if Ukraine agreed not to make a pact with NATO and had agreed to other terms?

3. Is there serious prospects of success?

4. In the case of success, would more harm be done than if Ukraine averted the war by agreeing to Russia’s unjust demands?

At this point, it is clear that the harm done to the Ukraine (and to the rest of the world due to the economic repercussions of the war) is immense and long lasting, including displacement of over 10 million refugees, deaths of many innocents, including elderly, women, and children. The economic harm to the Ukraine will take decades to rebuild. The harm to the society in general is very grave. Many Ukrainians will not return to their nation, as they have lost everything. The lives lost are also many, and we don’t know the true extent of the deaths from this war yet.

It seems possible, perhaps likely, that all this could have been avoided by Ukraine making agreements with Russia. And supporting the conclusion is the fact that Belarus is closely allied with Russia and has not been attacked. Russian troops come through Belarus to Ukraine without harming Belarus at all. These agreements that would have been necessary to avoid the war were unjust. An agreement made under threat of severe violence is not moral (nor is it generally legal). But the situation in the war in Ukraine does much more harm.

Success in the war might be obtained, in the sense that Russia might withdraw. But so much damage has been done, that this can hardly be considered a real success.

I have to conclude that Ukraine should have agreed to the unjust demands of Russia, in order to avoid the greater harm of this war. Then, perhaps with the support of many other nations, they might have gradually freed themselves from the more burdensome parts of that agreement, over time.

Instead, the other nations inflict economic harm on the civilians of Russia, who are innocent in this conflict. And these economic penalties have had grave and as yet not fully realized harmful consequences on the people of many different nations. The world economy is one tightly interwoven tapestry. Russia’s exports to the world are being lost, causing sharp increases in prices of food and other goods. Soon farmers either will not be able to afford fertilizer, or it won’t be available. This could cause a severe food crisis in many wealthy nations, including the U.S. So the harm done to the world, both because Ukraine did not make an agreement with Russia, and because the other nations issued economic penalties which harmed themselves, is also a consideration in whether this war of self-defense by Ukraine is actually just.

“Prices for food commodities like grains and vegetable oils reached their highest levels ever last month largely because of Russia’s war in Ukraine and the “massive supply disruptions” it is causing, threatening millions of people in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere with hunger and malnourishment, the United Nations said Friday.” [AP News]

It is not intrinsically evil for Ukraine to defend itself, but my conclusion is that the bad consequences of the war gravely outweigh the good consequences of this war of defense. So Zelenskyy [yes, his name is spelled with two “y”s] erred gravely by refusing to agree to Russia’s demands.
{14:31} Or, what king, advancing to engage in war against another king, would not first sit down and consider whether he may be able, with ten thousand, to meet one who comes against him with twenty thousand?
{14:32} If not, then while the other is still far away, sending a delegation, he would ask him for terms of peace.

That said, I hope that God will intervene to stop the war and to begin to repair the damages to the people and their nation.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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3 Responses to Does the Ukraine War meet the criteria for a Just War?

  1. James Belcher says:

    Although I agree with your statements of one nation having the right to defend one-self against an unprovoked aggressor, I disagree that Ukraine should have capitulated to the demands of Russia.
    There are numerous past and future unforeseen variables during a war and many strategic mistakes are made on both sides. This is the nature of war. There are too many variables in trying to assess the overall impact of this war and possible future wars.
    I don’t believe Putin just wanted Ukraine not to join NATO, he wanted to re-conquer the land that the empire once held. Why would anyone believe that Putin who has killed many innocent women, children and infants would act in good faith. Putin did not harm Belarus and currently has no intentions of doing so due to Belarus and Russia signing a treaty for a two-state union back in 1999. This treaty was for an overall integration of political and economic aspirations of both countries. Although there are currently contentious goals to be realized – it still is a treaty.
    I ask the following questions:

    1. Is it the fault of a nation defending itself against an aggressor/butcher of humanity where other
    nations have placed economic sanctions on the aggressor causing harm to innocent people?

    2. Free-will is limited by nature. The Bible clearly states we have the right to choose but we must
    choose wisely. How can anyone assess a situation with clarity and knowing the results of a future
    event when there are too many unknown variables. You make the judgement call at the
    beginning, adjust strategies and pray for the best.

    3. Is it possible that the war between Ukraine and Russia has led to the “Consecration of Russia to
    the Immaculate Heart of Mary” preventing further catastrophic events?

    4. Once a nation has begun to taste the fruits of freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is it
    not understandable to defend oneself in keeping these virtues? You do not enter a war as a
    defender of these virtues and make concessions to an a aggressor.

    5. Is it possible Putin has realized the timing of such aggression is now due to a weak and pathetic
    USA governance?

    6. How far do we go on giving up our inalienable rights?

    7. What is next? Do we return to slavery? Do we give up our religious freedoms?

    I cannot conclude that any limited concessions made by Ukraine to Russia would have stopped the war and its horrible effects on the innocent citizens. I blame Putin for all the harm it has caused to the people of the world and its own citizens. Unfortunately, there are not enough prayers to stop societies from killing one another.

  2. James Belcher says:

    I should have concluded – I currently do not see any conflict with Ukraine’s actions and the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “2309, indeed, I see concurrence with the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the Right of Self-Defense.

  3. Magdalena says:

    I also do not side with the view that they should have agreed to Russia’s demands, that is not patriotic and they have the right to self defence. I am sad that Vatican has not named the agressor.
    My feeling is we will not have the Warning tommorow, but hopefully I am wrong…

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