Peace in Ukraine

R. R. Reno

The war in Ukraine is passing the one-year mark as I write. In its early days, the determination with which the Ukrainians repulsed Russia's attempt to overrun their country inspired and encouraged me. But as months have passed, I have begun to harbor misgivings. What's the end game? What turn of events will allow for the cessation of hostilities? Little that I have read over the last year gives me confidence that those urging strong support for the courageous Ukrainians have a plausible answer.

One of Catholicism's most important contributions to contemporary moral reflection is just war theory. This approach establishes jus ad bellum criteria, moral standards that must be met before hostilities are initiated. The justice of the cause of Ukrainian defense is without question. The Russian invasion aims to usurp the sovereignty of the Ukrainian people and ensure that their country accepts a supine role as a satellite state in a Moscow-dominated region. But just cause is not the only criterion. War, even in self-defense, must be undertaken as the last resort, in view of the probability of success, and with proportional means.

These standards apply to the war's prosecution as well as its beginning. At every major juncture in a conflict, the principle of last resort holds. Governing authorities must ask: Should we continue the conflict, or has the larger situation changed to such a degree that we can attain our aims by diplomatic means? Probability of success likewise applies in an ongoing way. It may be gallant to fight what one knows will be a losing battle, but according to just war teaching, doing so reflects pagan vanity, not Christian moral judgment. A wise leader does not embark on unrealistic enterprises, especially when lives are at stake. Finally, as a war progresses, those in charge need to discern whether the advancing destruction outweighs the gains that will be made possible by further victories.

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