[21]   International: War & Weapons of Mass Destruction

STORY: During the 1990s, there were 86 armed conflicts. Although most of them were internal conflicts (the majority were struggles between ethnic groups), about one in seven involved more than one countries.


During the Iraq war in April 2003, a poll reported that about three-quarters of Americans believed that “war is the right decision.” The support for war was highest among evangelical Protestants (87%), followed by Catholics (81%), mainline Protestants (70%) while among secular Americans, who never or seldom go to church, only 59% supported the war. One possible reason attributed for the difference is that evangelical Christians believe the continuing conflict of good and evil in the world today, based on the Biblical perspective of contrasting the kingdom of God and “the world”.

97.  Wars are bad. How can a war be justified?

a.   Wars are sometimes justified because there are two conflicing norms involved in a war:

(1)  Justice: Fighting a war to repel unjust invasion, e.g. Japan invaded China in 1937, Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

(2)  Peace (Hebrew: shalom) or non-violence: Not fighting the war to retain peace

b.   BUT in the Bible, true peace means peace with justice and freedom (Ps 85:10). Letting unjust invaders conquer and plunder your country is not true peace.

·         From the human point of view: In 1937, Japan massacred 300,000 Chinese in Nanjing, most of them civilians. Can we simply tolerate such injustice and not resisting it in order to keep peace? Without the Second World War (1939-1945), China will still be ruled by the Japanese. Can we tolerate this in the name of peace? Certainly not.

c.   A war is justified if the ultimate aim is to uphold justice and in the end obtain true peace.

·         Augustine of Hoppo (354-430): “Peace should be your aim; war should be a matter of necessity so that God might free you from necessity and preserve you in peace. One does not pursue peace in order to wage war; he wages war to achieve peace. And so, even in the act of waging war be careful to maintain a peaceful disposition so that by defeating your foes you can bring them the benefits of peace.”

98.  What is the historical position of the Church towards war?

a.   General position: Wars are always bad. Mutual killing is not God’s will. But sometimes wars are unavoidable.

b.   In early church (first 3 centuries), most Christians objected and condemned entering any military service, mainly because of idolatrous rites required of everyone in the Roman legions.

c.   After Constantine (AD 4th century) placed Christianity as the national religion, the Church altered her position. Since then, most theologians support Christian participation in wars, provided that they are “just”.

d.   Today, some denominations (such as the Mennonites and Quakers) are pacifists and are completely against any Christian involvement in war. They believe Christians should never be involved in violence so their members are prohibited from joining the army.

·         Question for pacifists: Police work also involves violence. Should they be against police work too?


Paul’s teaching on non-revenge and vengeance in Romans

Paul, like Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, tells Christians that they should return good for evil and turn the other cheek. Their lives are to exhibit loving service to their neighbours. Personal vengeance is off-limits because it grows from pride and self-seeking. Leave revenge to God, says Paul, because, as the Scriptures say, “ ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Ro 12:19).

Yet immediately following this verse, Paul says that God has established governing authorities precisely in order to execute some of that divine vengeance (Ro 13:1,4). Government bears this responsibility not as an extension of human vengeance but as a servant of God. Government is not the independently authorized power of Caesar, but “God’s servant to do you good” (Ro 13:4).

This is in keeping with the Old Testament and with the whole tone of his letter. Paul is telling Roman Christians to recognize Christ’s lordship by loving and serving their neighbors for their good, in every office they may hold. They should do this by responding nonviolently personally to any attacks—and by allowing God, through the governing authorities, to execute any forceful judgment that may be necessary against those who do such evil things.


Attitude on War (Free Methodist Church of Canada)

We believe, however, that military aggression as an instrument of national policy is indefensible (Isa 2:3-4). The destruction of life and property, and the deceit and violence necessary to warfare are contrary to the spirit and mind of Jesus Christ (Isa 9:6-7; Mt 5:44-45). It is, therefore, the duty of every Christian to promote peace and goodwill, to foster understanding and mutual trust among all people, and to work with patience for the renunciation of war as a means to settle international disputes (Ro 12:18; 14:19).


99.  What is the meaning of just war?

a.   The traditional position of the church is to support “just war”, held by most theologians including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin.

b.   Characteristics of a just war:

(1)  Legitimate declaration: by legitimate authority (e.g. the government which defends an invasion)

o        Question: Can the United Nations be regarded as a legitimate authority when local wars (within one country) are involved? e.g. Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti.

(2)  With justice: including objective “just cause” (e.g. to resist invasion) and subjective “just motive” (e.g. to attain peace)

o        Question: Can wars to defend true religion be just?  e.g. Crusades, Muslim Intifada (holy war)

(3)  With limits: war as the last resort, use of minimum force required, violence only against combatants

(4)  With hope: reasonable hope of success, good consequences outweigh the evils of war

100.                         Could Christians ever support a just war?

Arguments against War

Arguments for “Just War”

The norm to consider is peace or non-violence. In order to maintain peace, wars should never be fought.

The norm to consider is justice. Wars can be fought to repel injustice, such as the Nazi invasion in World War II. In the Bible, true peace means peace with justice and freedom.

War is not God’s will:

(1)   Old Testament wars were approved by God not because of justice but because of man’s hardness of heart.

(2)   Those wars were won through miracles, not by superior strategy or sophisticated weapons (Jos 6).

(3)   Christian warfare is spiritual, not carnal (Eph 6:10-18).

War of justice was approved by God (Heb 11:32-34):

(1)   God’s justice demands that evil must be restrained, if necessary by force.

(2)   It is a divine obligation to provide needs of the family (1Ti 5:8). This includes the obligation to protect.

(3)   The state is the servant of God to restrain evil (Ro 13:4), including evils done by own citizens or by external enemies.

Jesus taught non-violence and non-resistance (Mt 5:38-48). Violence is explicitly forbidden by Jesus (Mt 26:52; Lk 9:54-55; Jn 18:36).

(1)   Applying this passage against war is confusing private and public duties.

(2)   Violence can be necessary: Jesus did use force (Jn 2:13-16; Mt 21:12-13) and challenged injustice (Jn 18:22-23).

Jesus died an innocent victim in the face of injustice (1Pe 2:21-24).

His death was a special act of salvation. It was in fact a war for justice (Ro 3:25-26) against powers of evil (Heb 10:12-14).

Paul taught against revenge (Ro 12:17-21).

(1)   Most wars are not revenge.

(2)   Resisting injustice can be necessary: Paul did exercise his rights and challenge injustice (Ac 22:25-23:3).

To evaluate whether a war is justified is often arbitrary. Further, actions during the war may violate the original objective.

Christians can only support a war so long as it meets the “just war” criteria.

 VERDICT:    Arguments for “just war” are stronger on all the above points.

101.                         Which wars in recent history can qualify as just wars?

a.   Defending China against Japanese invasion (1937-1945)

·         Legitimate declaration: declared by the Chinese government

·         With justice: to defend against an invasion and to repel the invaders

·         With limits: Chinese only killed Japanese combatants while Japanese killed millions of civilians

·         With hope: with good chance of success, eventually won

VERDICT: It was clearly a just war.

b.   World War II (1939-1945)

·         Legitimate declaration: declared by the Alliance governments who were invaded

·         With justice: to defend against an invasion and to repel the invaders

·         With limits: the Alliance only aimed at killing combatants while the Axis countries (Germany, Italy, Japan) deliberately killed millions of Jews and civilians in Europe and Asia

·         With hope: with good chance of success, eventually won

VERDICT: It was a just war.

Question: Was the invasion of Germany by the Alliance at the end of the war justified? Yes, it was part of the war to stop the enemies and to arrest those responsible for the war.

c.   Gulf War against Iraq by the United Nations (1991)

·         Legitimate declaration: declared by the United Nations on a request by Kuwait.

·         With justice: to defend Kuwait against Iraqi invasion and to repel Iraqi invaders

·         With limits: the United Nations coalition only killed combatants

·         With hope: with good chance of success, eventually won

VERDICT: It was a just war.

d.   Bombing of Yugoslavia (Serbia) by NATO (1999)

·         Legitimate declaration: declared by NATO (which was not invaded), not legitimate

·         With justice: to to stop ethnic killing in Kosovo

·         With limits: NATO aimed at bombing strategic sites but in the process killed many civilians, including the bombing of the Chinese Embassy (although the small number of civilian deaths may justify the war if the war has a just cause)

·         With hope: with good chance of success, eventually Yugoslavia yielded

VERDICT: It was NOT a just war. If a country or a military alliance can declare war just because a government has committed unjust acts within its own boundaries, then it is interference into a country’s internal affairs. NATO can equally justify bombing Beijing because of suppression committed by the Chinese communist government in Tibet. The proper way is probably through boycotts and diplomatic pressure, such as the case of South Africa.

e.   Invasion of Iraq by US-led Coalition (2003)

·         Legitimate declaration: declared by the Coalition governments who were threatened with terrorism; a large-scale terrorist act was committed in the US on September 11, 2001; the war was threatened by a United Nations resolution (ultimatum) demanding unlimited inspection

·         With justice: to uproot the terrorist organizations and to stop nuclear threats from Iraq; to change the dictatorial government which killed almost 1 million people [Note: the Coalition invasion of Afghanistan was described as justified by UN.]

·         With limits: The Coalition only aimed at killing combatants

·         With hope: it was arguably the last resort as Iraq refuted 14 UN resolutions and continued to resist unlimited inspection after the UN ultimatum; with good chance of success, eventually won in a very short time

VERDICT: It was arguably a just war. The problem is that it sets a precedent of invading a country based on its potential threat (although the threat of weapons of mass destruction is real and serious, and that all intelligence gathering organizations believed that Iraq possesses WMDs [in fact, they used them to kill over 100,000 Kurds], and that terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda operate freely in Iraq), and the US claimed that the UN ultimatum gave authorization to invasion.

102.                         Can Christians support the development of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)?

a.   WMD refers to chemical, biological, nuclear weapons that have large destructive potential to kill a large number of people. Nuclear weapons have the highest potential to kill.


Arguments against Nuclear Weapons

Arguments for Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons are indiscriminate in design and are thus immoral. Using them violates the norm against shedding innocent blood, such as non-combatants (Isa 59:7-8; Ro 3:15).

Modern nuclear arms are very accurate and can be directed only against combatants.

Once started, nuclear war will escalate and result in Mutual Assured Destruction (M.A.D.), long-term radiation hazard, or nuclear winter.

M.A.D. is hypothetical and is unlikely to happen in view of extreme caution exercised in the past by countries with nuclear weapons. Nuclear winter is again hypothetical and may not happen.

The resources for developing nuclear arms are best used for economic development.

The development and maintenance of conventional weapons is actually more expensive.

It is impossible to limit nuclear weapons to just deterrence; there is always a possibility of using them.

Nuclear weapons can act as a deterrence to military aggression without actually using them.

 VERDICT:    Arguments against the use of nuclear weapons are stronger.


b.   Was the use of atomic bombs on Japan (Hiroshima, Nagasaki) in 1945 justified? No, they killed millions of civilians. They might have shortened the war slightly but are not justified.

c.   Can we support unilateral disarmament of nuclear weapons (without reciprocal disarmament on the other side)? Probably not, as it would result in a destabilizing effect. However, mutual disarmament is a worthy cause although this would depend mostly on the verification capabilities.

d.   Should WMDs be developed? The use of WMDs is most likely unethical. The use of resources to develop WMDs cannot be supported. However, in view of the existence of WMDs, the development of ways to reduce or eliminate the effects of WMDs (missile shield) is justifiable.