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Tenets of the Cicero’s Just War Theory

Four Most Important Tenets of the Just War Theory of Cicero

There are seven major principles of the Just War Theory. For a war to be just, it should be the last resort, it should be waged by a legitimate authority, it should be for a just cause, based on the right intention, the violence must be proportional to the injuries suffered, there must be a rational probability of success, and force should not be used on civilians (Calhoun, 2001). Discussions regarding the ethics of war can be traced back to the Romans and Greeks.

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Cicero was a foremost Roman philosopher who argued that the only acceptable reasons to wage war were self-defense and justified revenge. He also argued that war could only be justified if publicly declared. The four most important tenets of Cicero’s theory of just war include the right intention for the war, the announcement by an appropriate authority, fighting for a just cause, and the proportionate response of declaring war.

According to Cicero, the only reason for declaring war is so that people can live in peace. He added that it was necessary to spare individuals who avoided barbarous and brutal methods of a combatant during the war. He maintained that a war is just only if it has been announced publicly or if it is preceded by a warning. According to Cicero, war should only be fought for a just cause.

How the Four Tenets Justify the Use of Force

In the Just War Theory, armed forces are allowed to use force that is proportionate to the end they wish to achieve (Primoratz, 2002). In the case of self-defense, it is reasonable to use force because of the high risk of suffering an injury in the hands of the enemy (Primoratz, 2002). Therefore, fighters must apply the force necessary to subdue the opponent. On the other hand, if the war is waged based on the right intention such as improvement of security or restoration of honor, then the use of force is justified (Calhoun, 2001).

Cicero considered restoration of peace as a good enough reason to start a war. In that regard, it is reasonable to use force to restore peace and keep people away from harm. The philosopher was very clear on the use of physical force. He argued that there were two ways of resolving conflicts namely, discussion and physical force. He maintained that physical force should be used only if the discussion between conflicting parties failed (Christopher, 2004).

In his understanding, the discussion was characteristic of human beings and the physical force of animals. The US used physical force in Iraq after discussions failed to bear fruits. Saddam Hussein refused to allow the US to conduct on-site inspections of its biological and chemical projects (Christopher, 2004). The continued violations of international law by Iraq warranted the use of force.

Application of Tenets in the Invasion of Iraq

The invasion of Iraq has been described by many scholars as a just war because it fulfilled several principles of the Just War Theory. First, the war was waged for a just cause because the US wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and free its people from his tyranny. Also, Hussein’s rule was a threat to world peace and stability (White, 2011). The United States had given Iraq warning that it would attack if it failed to surrender its weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, the war was publicly announced and waged by an appropriate authority. The people of Iraq had suffered for many years under the leadership of Hussein.

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The use of force was justified by claims of enforcement of international law and retribution for non-compliance (Christopher, 2004). However, the argument was described as a political move because Iraq had declined to comply with international law for 12 years. Therefore, the attack was based on political and not moral reasons. America’s decision to wage war on Iraq was justified even though the aftermath was catastrophic.

The war caused massive suffering on civilians who were under great pressure from international financial sanctions and the effects of violence and terrorism. The American government failed to justify its attack on Iraq because there was no evidence that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction that it planned to use (White, 2011). In that regard, the US responded to a vague threat and waged a war that caused more harm than good.

Before the attack, the Bush administration had succeeded in convincing Americans that Iraq was a threat to world peace. However, the government failed to provide compelling evidence that the danger was present and looming. The Bush administration launched pre-emptive attacks on Iraq. The US did not possess accurate intelligence to prove that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction (White, 2011). The attack was made null and void after a report revealed that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction and had no connections to terrorist groups. Scholars argued that the attack was a preventive measure against a harmless nation that did not pose any danger to the US or the world.


Calhoun, L. (2001). The metaethical paradox of Just War Theory. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 4(1), 41-58.

Christopher, P. (2004). The ethics of war and peace: introduction to legal and moral issues. New York, NY: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Primoratz, I (2002). Michael Walzer’s Just War Theory: some issues of responsibility. Ethical Theory and Moral practice, 5(2), 221-243.

White, J. E. (2011). Contemporary moral problems: war, terrorism, torture and assassination. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

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