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on 6 December 2007
This book starts from the inconvenient truth that wars are unavoidable. But, if a nation decides on war it should be for just reasons and conducted in a just way. Any war is justified in self defence or assisting a country to defend itself that has been attacked by another country. It becomes complicated when starting a pre-emptive war or an intervention because the government in a country is acting very badly towards its own citizens, or different citizen groups are attacking each other. Examples of just wars are support to South Korea in its war with North Korea and China, support to Kuwait after invasion by Iraq, intervention in the Kosovo conflict, attack of Afghanistan after 6/11. The authors are less certain, that is, not completely certain if it was right or wrong, with the Falklands War, and the second Iraq war. About conduct they are certain that dropping the atom bombs on Japan was just and almost certain that it was wrong to bomb civil targets in Germany after it was clear that Germany was losing the war.
The authors present six principles specifying conditions that all have to be fulfilled before a war is just and two principles for right conduct. These principles are excellent and everybody should know them. The fact that the authors do not express definitive opinions about several wars, even with the benefit of hindsight shows how hard it is to arrive at conclusions, even with the principles. The authors in their conclusion write "This book is no more than a broad general survey of how the Just War tradition bears upon the morality of undertaking and conducting military operations in the twenty first century". I look forward to the book that should follow after this introduction that makes more definitive judgement about past wars and may even include something about what could have been done and can be done in the future to prevent just wars from happening.
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on 15 October 2011
Just War Theory (JWT), or as these authors term it the Just War Tradition has a long pedigree both as a fulcrum around which the Christian approach to war is debated and as a framework for initiating and conducting military actions; it is in the latter context that this book seeks to situate itself.

The authors are not both academics but are certainly distinguished in their field as their CVs demonstrate. Charles Guthrie has served in both the Welsh Guards and SAS has held a number of senior defence position culminating as Chief of the Defence Staff from 1997 to 2001 for the UK military, since then he has been member of the House of Lords. Michael Quinlan's reputation is no less distinguished. For over 35 years he was a civil servant acting at times as both Policy Director for the Ministry of Defence and as Permanent Under-Secretary of State. Since 2004 he has been a Senior Fellow of the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

At only just 50 pages it is I think fair to state that this is not a tour de force in JWT. Truth be told there is not much in the text that I consider to be noteworthy. This is not a work of ethical or theological theory; for example, pacifism is not really even considered viable - but is rather simply a case of standing back and watching evil unfold (p 24). I'm not entirely sure Martin Luther King or Gandhi would agree.

In terms of the author's survey of JWT itself they survey the decision to go to war (jus ad bellum) in somewhat greater detail than the the subject of military ethics that is the concern of the jus in bello. The jus in bello discussion is limited to the discrimination criterion, that is the requirement to limit military operations to combatants and other "actively involved" and secondly the continued need for proportionality. At first given the military background of the authors, together with those of the endorsers (that number among them other Chiefs of Staff, this may seem surprising. However, with the Jus ad bellum criteria the authors have focused on those deemed to be in legitimate authority or, in military jargon, those in command responsibility. My concern with such a emphasis is it creates an illusion of ethical neutrality on the part of the soldiers who actually do the killing of war - judging by the complete omission of their role it would seem that they are passive subjects to the JWT - the Nuremberg hearings, it would seem, never happened. With the contemporary conduct of some fragments of the military forces in recent conflict - I am thinking for example of Abu Graib, such an omission from a text on the military understandings of JWT is an extremely significant and regrettable omission. If given their experience as military commanders and or policy officials it is surely here that their expertise would be relevant.

Given its omissions and general unremarkable nature I do question why this book was written. I do wonder given its context in a time of continuing national debate over Iraq (at the time of publication) even given its paucity of references to current conflicts whether it is a subtle reminder by two seasoned "insiders" the tendency to label every war as Just does not make it so and that more than media soundbites are required to make the case. But that, of course, is speculation.
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on 27 January 2013
First of all I must declare that I do know one of the authors, Lord Guthrie and I have taught Just War and the Jus ad Bellum/Jus in Bello theories to senior members of the Armed Forces for a number of years, however, I do not believe that that fact has in any way clouded my judgement of this book. In short, and it is just that, short, the book is an excellent introduction to the Just War concept, with a wide range of examples from Korea to Afghanistan and Gulf War Two but I cannot help but feel that it was just simply too short to deal with the breadth of subject material that it attempts to cover. Whilst I fundamentally disagree with some of the arguments put forward, such as for example that surrounding the justification for the Basra Road attacks where they argue that the Iraqis were legitimate targets because they could not be described as innocent, which they define as `not involved in harming us, or helping to harm us' (p14), for the most part they do make a very clear, simple, and probably legally defensible argument for these positions. However, whilst this is a good introduction to the subject, anyone with a serious interest in studying this subject might do better looking to one of the weightier volumes available such as Reed (2004) or Reed and Ryall (2007).
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on 23 December 2009
Guthrie & Quinlan (2007), The Just War: Ethics in modern warfare.

This book is characterised by a dangerous parsimony, and it is, at best, the briefest introduction to a very complex issue. Yet the topic is so important because it affects nations, combatants, and millions of civilians.

The authors list six criteria for a just war:
1. Just cause;
2. Proportionate cause;
3. Right intention;
4. Right authority;
5. Reasonable prospect of success; and
6. Last resort.
Imagine the delegates at the UN Security Council listening to the arguments and voting according to these criteria.

Appendix A; The ethics of war in Islam and Judaism provides a very brief statement (3 pages) about the underlying beliefs about just warfare in both of these strategic religions.

I would be inclined to use this book as an introduction to something more substantial.
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on 19 November 2007
Very well written and highly recommendable. This book gives an analytical thought on the just war tradition, largely based on a western and Christian tradition. It covers the ethical issues that the international community - the UN Security Council, in particular - faces in tackling peace and security challenges. Such difficult issues as humanitarian intervention, the responsibility to protect and UN Security Council's authorization of military actions are eloquently discussed, in the context of major international crises in recent decades such as Iraq (both 1991 and 2003 wars), Kosovo and Rwanda. It is also a relatively short book so that you may finish reading it well before getting bored.
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on 28 April 2014
I could have liked the book to have looked at liberation movements and the subject of nuclear weapons. But all in all a very thought provoking series of chapters.
What should one read on the use of nuclear weapons, as well as chemical weapons?
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on 10 March 2014
I gave this 5 stars as this is a short, pithy summary of the Just War tradition written by a practitioner. I really rate it.
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on 30 October 2009
I am just starting a University course in War and Socirety and this provides a short, easy to read introduction to a just war.
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on 1 January 2008
This is a deeply obvious book, full of insights like "it's not alright to deliberately kill innocents" and "if you're attacked, you can defend yourself". It keeps saying that there are no definate rules and you will have to use "honest judgement" so I'd just skip the book and do that.
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