The Immorality of Supporting the Ukraine War

Just War theory is not so much a theory anymore; it is at least a non-infallible magisterial teaching as it is in the Catechism. Many Catholics support Just War theory, until a war actually occurs. Then they think and react like everyone else in their nation. Striking Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear bombs was intrinsically evil and gravely immoral as it was a direct attack on a mass population center, an attack on innocents not combatants. It was also very gravely immoral under the font of circumstances, as the harm done by radiation to survivors was exceedingly cruel.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the West reacted without thinking of the consequences. This invasion was certainly an unprovoked severe attack against innocents, and so it is intrinsically evil and gravely immoral. Ukraine then has a right to defend itself. But the decision of other nations to support Ukraine is not solely based on the above facts. Circumstances must also be considered.

A just war is always a war that has grave injustices on the side of the aggressor nation. If both sides behaved justly, there would be no war. But the requirements of just war theory are not limited to the assessment that the aggressor nation is in the wrong. There is also a traditional requirement that the war have a reasonable chance of success, and another requirement that fighting the war, as a war of national defense against an unjust invasion, does not do more harm than good.

In the case of Ukraine, it was a grave moral error for the leader of Ukraine, Zelenskyy, to fail to negotiate an agreement with Russia, avoiding the exceedingly grave harm to his nation from this war. Here is what Jesus says about war:

{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.

This was used by the Lord as an analogy on being ready to do all that is needed in order to be His disciple. But it is clearly also a statement on negotiating to avoid the horrors of war.

Even if an agreement between Ukraine and Russia were oppressive, the EU and the US could have subsequently worked to lessen the harm of such an agreement. (Ukraine attempting to join NATO was an unnecessary provocation. The U.S. would not tolerate, for example, Mexico making a military pact with Russia.) Zelenskyy is an incompetent leader, but no one notices because he is well-spoken; he is an actor who can make good speeches but not good decisions for his nation.

Now that the war in Ukraine is underway, a further decision on whether other nations should support that war requires a consideration of the circumstances. Will this support give Ukraine a reasonable chance of success in the war? Or will this support prolong the war to no substantial benefit, doing even more harm as the weeks pass?

We are not justified in supporting Ukraine, in my opinion, because we are merely prolonging a war that Ukraine cannot win and this prolongation does much more harm than if the war were won by Russia more quickly. What is a “win” for Ukraine in this situation? If Russia is forced to withdraw, the nation of Ukraine has suffered incalculable harm: very many dead and injured civilians, millions of refugees who fled the nation, destruction to homes, businesses, infrastructure, and its economy. That is not a win. And the longer the war continues, the more damage the people suffer. What benefit outweighs this harm? Nothing substantial. The U.S. and the EU nations are prolonging a war, resulting in even more harm, not less harm. And there is no reasonable anticipation of a good consequence that would outweigh this vast harm.

Consider the nation of Belarus, which is closely allied with Russia. The agreement between the two nations is not too restrictive or oppressive to Belarus, and the two nations did not go to war. Ukraine should have followed the example of Belarus.

The continuation of the war in Ukraine is also harming the world agricultural system, resulting in a severe worldwide food crisis, which is already beginning. Taking actions against Russia, actions which harm the general population there, have no reasonable chance of ending the war, and so these actions are not justified. Innocents in Russia are harmed. Even if they are not directly targeted, so to speak, there is no benefit in the circumstances that outweighs the resulting harm, not only to them, but to the whole world. Russia and Belarus are the source of much of the world’s fertilizer, as well as of many agricultural products and energy products (oil, natural gas). The disruption to fertilizer, fuel, and food is set to gravely harm innocents in the U.S., the E.U., and most other nations. Food depends on fertilizer, natural gas is used to make Nitrogen fertilizer, and diesel fuel is used to power irrigation and other farm equipment.

If the war in Ukraine were avoided by negotiation, a vast amount of harm would have been avoided. I suppose that God is permitting this harm, in His wise providence, due to our many unrepentant sins. But we are still obligated to do what is good and avoid doing what is evil.

It is not intrinsically evil for Ukraine to defend itself against the gravely immoral invasion of that sovereign nation by Russia. But no act is moral unless all three fonts are good, including the font of circumstances.

The three fonts of morality are:
* “the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts”
* “the intention for which the choice is made”
* “the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.” [Veritatis Splendor 79, 82]

The font of circumstances is the overall moral weight of the reasonably anticipated good and bad consequences of that act for all persons concerned. If the act is reasonably anticipated to do more harm in the consequences than good, the font of circumstances is bad and the act is not moral to choose in those circumstances, unless circumstances change.

What good results from prolonging the war by pouring more weapons and ammunition into Ukraine? The harm done is severe and well-known, as modern means of communication make the horrors of war readily apparent to all. I cannot agree with supporting the war in Ukraine. I do agree with supporting Ukraine — the nation and its people — but not with helping them fight a harmful war that has no chance of a better outcome by fighting longer.

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

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6 Responses to The Immorality of Supporting the Ukraine War

  1. decker2003 says:

    If Ukraine attempting to join NATO was an “unnecessary provocation,” and I agree that it was, then the Russian invasion is not entirely an “unprovoked severe attack against innocents.” The provocation may not justify the attack, and many innocents may be harmed in addition to those who are at fault, or are in their service (i.e. the Ukranian army). But it’s not accurate to characterize the Russian invasion as “unprovoked.”

  2. James Belcher says:

    In my opinion, President Zelenskyy, offered a very reasonable solution to end the conflict with Putin.
    Ukraine had offered a neutrality stance covering the following:
    Ukraine would become a non-aligned and “non-nuclear” state, with no foreign military bases or contingents on its territory. Strict, legally binding guarantees would require other countries to protect a neutral Ukraine in the event of attack. Within three days guarantor states would have to hold consultations and come to Ukraine’s defense. Ukraine would be allowed to join the European Union, but would not enter military-political alliances and any international exercises would require consent of guarantor states.
    The future status of Russian-annexed Crimea would be negotiated over the next 15 years.
    President Zelenskyy offered this compromise in good faith but as expected Putin rejected this as he wants to regain his empire.

    The nations coming to the defense of Ukraine has prolonged this war and has avoided Russia from overtaking the entire country. Many people from the free-world are very forgetful on the steep price accrued in protecting the rights of self-governance. The people of Ukraine continue to fight this war to protect their God-giving rights to protect their freedoms from oppressive restrictions.

    The citizens of Ukraine put a premium on self-governance regardless of the cost. President Zelenskyy has done a wonderful job in getting military help from other nations to thwart the overthrow of his country.

    I believe, we are in a disagreement here as I for one, still feel there is nothing greater than to uphold principles and protect your country from aggression. Yes, I know at what cost? The cost is great but upholding and not relinquishing your rights to self governance is greater.

  3. King Robert the Bruce says:

    Now Sweden and Finland are ready to join NATO this will only provoke a clearly ill Putin evenmore.

  4. Jeff says:

    Ron, I have a question about the 10 secrets of medjugorje regarding their revelation. We are told by Fr Ljubicic who has been entrusted the very important job of sharing the secrets, that he will announce 3 days prior, the first secret. Will each subsequent secret be revealed 3 days prior? I would think that doing so would save more souls through conversion and penance, allowance of time for prayer and fasting, and preparation for graces and gifts, as this isn’t all bad. Your thoughts?

    • Ron Conte says:

      “10 days before the first and second secrets” which means that the first and second are announced together, counting 10 days before the first. And it would seem likely that the third will be announced 10 days before as well. The other secrets might not have a specific day for a starting point, so that might vary.

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