What is a just war?

The Catholic tradition advocates peaceful solutions to conflict whenever possible and normally counsels against all use of force. But it also recognizes that, in a disordered world, it is sometimes necessary to use force for the sake of preserving human rights and human dignity. To help discern whether a cause justifies a response of force, Catholic teaching has developed and refined a theory of just war.

In a 1993 statement, The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops outlined the criteria for a just war:

* Is the offense sufficiently serious? War is acceptable only when there has been a serious and public evil, such as an act that violates the basic rights of whole populations.

* Has one side clearly been victimized? There are always claims on both sides of injustice, but to justify war the injustice inflicted on one side must be measurably greater than that inflicted on the other.

* Is the authority waging war legitimate? Only recognized public authorities or governments may conduct war.

* Is the cause truly just?

* Is there a probability of success?

* Is the force proportional? The good that combatants hope to achieve must be greater than the destruction they will likely cause.

* Is war a last resort? All peaceful alternatives must be exhausted before arms are used. have been seriously tried and exhausted.

In addition, if conflict is justified, combatants must observe the following restraints:

* Spare civilians from harm when at all possible.

* Use no more force than necessary.

* Avoid vengeance and indiscriminate violence.

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