The Ethics of Terrorism: Employing Just War Principles Essay

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The Just War tradition has been seen as a leading perspective on the ethics of war since the writings of St Augustine were rearticulated by Thomas Aquinas. It attempts to provide a framework which validates just conflicts, whilst at the same time applying limits so as to prevent unrestrained warfare. Today, its core principles can be divided into two broad categories: ‘jus ad bellum’ (just resort to war) and ‘jus in bello’ (just conduct in war). For a war to be just, numerous criteria must be satisfied within these categories.

In recent decades non-state terrorism has become increasingly high-profile; indeed, in the twenty first century it has dominated the global political agenda. It is pertinent therefore, to question whether
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Bearing this in mind, I will define terrorism as: ‘premeditated, politically motivated violence’ (US State Department, 2005), perpetrated with the aim of evoking a ‘state of fear (or terror) in a particular victim or audience’ (Crenlinsten, 1987) ‘in order to achieve political aims’ (Ganor, 1998). I will not be looking at state-terrorism because it raises different questions for the Just War tradition.

Legitimate Authority and Just Cause:

In ‘Summa Theologiae’, Thomas Aquinas argues that only the ‘right authority’ may wage war without sin. He reasons that ‘as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them’ (Aquinas, 1947). In the contemporary international system the ‘right authority’ is understood to be the state, meaning that according to the Just War tradition it is the only actor which can legitimately engage in conflict. The state’s monopoly on violence is necessary, according to Augustine, in order to maintain ‘the natural order conducive to peace among mortals’ (in Aquinas, 1947). Keith Pavlischek argues that ‘the free-lance terrorism of the late twentieth century’ threatens to ‘encourage the proliferation of disorder and barbarism’ and therefore cannot satisfy the requirements of the Just War tradition (2001).

However, it is widely acknowledged that many states do not

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