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War: Theories, Rules & Politics

Nobody loves war and there are justifiable reasons behind that loathe. Wars are always detestable that can ravage human lives including civilians, and properties pushing the economy into troubling times that makes survival harder than under peaceful conditions. 

It seems, there is even no rough estimate of the number of lives lost in all the wars fought so far- at least with a quick Google search- as it would be a monstrously huge pile of numbers. The war with most number of fatalities is the World War II with a reported loss of 56.4 million lives and it is also said that 17.2 % of Poland’s population was wiped off during this war of six years. 

Now, it makes sense to consider the effort of finding the total estimate of war fatalities a gargantuan task. No, computers are not meant for this purpose!

Theories of War

Interestingly there are different theories about the thoughts on war. They are as simple as what one can think about war. 


Most of us think that wars in any case should be replaced by peace and all actions resorting to armed power should be prohibited. This is the case of Pacifism. It is mandatory to ask, if a war has moral grounds, only not to wage it. This theory substitutes diplomatic and peaceful resolutions for war strictly.


There is nothing moral in fighting a war but it is all about power and security. This theory rejects application of any moral values in fighting a war, but thinks of it as a way to hold on to power and enhance national security as the most pressing need for survival.

Just War

Wars can be undertaken only if it is morally just, says this theory. It doesn’t completely deny waging wars as in the case of Pacifism, but pays careful attention to the causes of war, if they are morally justified. World War II is considered as a just war in the view of allied forces, according to this theory.  For Just War theorists, you need a moral reason for a good war. It is increasingly becoming that you need only reason, clipping away the ‘moral’ term to wage a war.

Rules of War

The rules or the theory itself come in three parts: jus ad bellum (justice before war), jus in bellum (justice during war), just post bellum (justice after war). The translations can convey the meaning of the three terms directly.

jus ad bellum:

This is for the political leaders and policy makers to decide on whether to go ahead with war. They should follow six principles and satisfy those conditions before waging a war: just cause, right intention, proper authority and public declaration, last resort, probability of success and proportionality. All these terms are self explanatory.

jus in bellum

The declarations in this part of the rules of war are the righteous deeds that a soldier or anyone who is a part of the war needs to follow. These laws came from various old traditions like Mahabharatha and the Hebrew Bible, which later became the International Humanitarian Law. 

As one could expect, the laws require the military commanders and soldiers to identify the civilians and combatants, respect enemy soldiers and every other stuff to maintain dignity in the process of war.  In Mahabharatha it is said that an opponent cannot be killed from his back and it is unfair to kill someone who is not fighting you or unarmed.

There was clearly a sense of courage and moral values in those wars, whereas in modern times, they are in black and white.

jus post bellum

This explains what should happen after the war as in treating war prisoners, ethical exit strategy, transformation of the territory that lost the war economically and politically and so on. Thus the responsibility of the victor is not just over with the war, but becomes more to restore lives normal in the newly occupied region.  Opponents would heal each other’s wounds after a war, says Mahabharatha, because war was not about power, but about courage then.

There are also proofs that International Humanitarian Laws have been violated in many of the modern wars leading to further conflicts.  It is stark hypocrisy, if you follow a certain standard to decide on waging a war, but not properly enforcing the same standards to avoid war crimes and end long standing conflicts; in which case, isn’t it better to switch to pacifism? 

As Carl von Clausewitz, a famed philosopher of War rightly said, ‘War is the continuation of Politics by other means’.

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