On Thursday night, President Donald Trump confirmed that he had ordered a military strike against Iran, and then called it off, after a U.S. military drone was shot down by Iran earlier in the week.
Trump said he cancelled the military strike because the expected 150 Iranian casualties were not “proportional” to the destruction of a U.S. drone.
“Ten minutes before the strike I stopped it, [it was] not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone,” Trump said.
The concept of proportionality in military conflict is rooted in what is often called the “just war theory,” most famously expounded by St. Thomas Aquinas.
Modern conflicts, which often involve missile and air strikes rather than pitched battles between troops, present a more complicated concept of war than in previous centuries but, theologians told CNA, just war theory remains applicable to modern warfare.
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church does a nice job of summarizing the criteria for entering into the use of military force for self-defense,” Miller told CNA, “though I tend to think of just war as more of a ‘doctrine’ than a ‘theory’ in the Church.”
Miller said the Church’s moral criteria are divided into two categories – the ius ad bellum and the ius in bellum, covering the criteria for resorting to war and how it is to be conducted once begun.
“Regarding proportionality, the Catechism says that ‘the use of arms must not produce evils or disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.’ That would be the criterion that [President] Trump seems to be alluding to in saying what he did.”
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