Just War and the Situation in Ukraine

Just War and the situation in Ukraine.


At this writing there are protests, verging on riots, taking place in Ukraine. The ostensible issue is that the President, Mr. Yanukovich, is seeking closer ties with Russia, while at least some of the people want closer ties with the European Union, and in particular, do not want closer ties with Russia. Protesters have seized government buildings in various parts of Ukraine, and are openly defying government forces in Kiev, the capital.

There have been suggestions that these protests might lead to civil war in Ukraine. This issue provides an opportunity, then, to see under what conditions would a revolution or civil war be justified. Even though the Just War Doctrine was originally developed for the case of war between nations, the same logic can be applied to domestic issues.

For revolution or civil war to be justified, then, the following conditions must be met:

  1. There is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights;
  2. All other means of redress have been exhausted;
  3. Such resistance will not provoke worse disorders;
  4. There is well-founded hope of success;
  5. It is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution.

These are essentially translations of the Just War criteria to domestic situations. However, one criterion, present in the between-nations situation, is missing here. That is, the requirement that war be declared by competent authority. There can be no “competent authority” to call for a revolt. Only the people themselves, who retain the right to self-government, can have that authority. This doesn’t mean that a leader cannot arise who inspires the people to revolt, but it means that unless such a leader gains the following of the people, he becomes a criminal rather than a leader.

To borrow from Will Rogers, all I know (about the situation in Ukraine) is what I read in the papers. I do not know whether the protests there will escalate to revolution or civil war, nor at this point whether such escalation would be justified. However, these points should be kept in mind as the situation develops.

It would be particularly important to watch item 3 above. A revolution on the borders of Russia might be seized upon as justification for an invasion by Russian forces, ostensibly to “restore order,” but in actuality to make Ukraine again a province of “Greater Russia.” This might actually please Yanukovich, who is a Russophile, but would be a disaster for the people of Ukraine.


3 thoughts on “Just War and the Situation in Ukraine

  1. The idea of a Russian invasion would likely be laughed at by most folks; but I think you’re dead on. At the very least Putin could take the eastern half/Russian speaking regions of Ukraine. Nobody from the EU or NATO would lift a finger to stop him. They’d just yell a lot. Just look what happened in Georgia. Now everybody’s off to the party near there.

  2. I agree that the Russian invasion angle shouldn’t be ignored.

    As to the justifications for war, re: the violation of rights, I am unclear as to the reasons for the conflict. Most news outlets I read on the topic seem to talk about the national leaders deciding whether to align themselves politically with the EU or Russia, but there must be some other, less ephemeral, reasons as well. This might my American perspective talking, but people don’t riot in the streets over treaties and UN resolutions, why would they riot over EU membership? Maybe there are more cogent arguments about underlying issues that relate to the “bad old days” of Soviet domination?

  3. Good point, Weston. I’m not really familiar with the situation there. My guess is that the alignment thing is a symbol for something deeper. The Ukrainians probably don’t want to be associated again with Russia. They had enough bad experiences before. Yanukovich is being bought with loans and (probably) low priced natural gas from Russia, and the people don’t like it. Many may feel they’re being sold out. However, none of that appears in the news media here.

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