Just causes or false premises? Just war theory and Western military intervention, 1945--1995

Date of Completion

January 2004


Political Science, International Law and Relations




The scholarly record in international relations exhibits a dearth of empirical analyses elucidating the theoretical implications of intervention. As a result, an important paradox in the conduct of international politics—the persistence of military intervention as an instrument of statecraft frequently employed by Western states—remains unanswered. Despite evidence suggesting that Western liberal states should be increasingly disinclined to use force, military intervention remains prominent in their foreign policies. ^ The dominant frameworks advanced to explain Western military intervention contend that structural factors determine intervention. These frameworks discount the importance that discretion plays in the military intervention decisions of states. This dissertation takes up the question of agency and its influence on the intervention behavior of three states—the United States, Britain, and France. The project elaborates an empirical analysis of the relationship between norms and the use of force in international crisis, and evaluates an alternative explanation for Western military intervention—the “just intervention” framework, represented by the jus ad bellum convention of just war theory. ^ The presumption of this research is that if evidence of the just war tradition in a crisis increases the likelihood of military intervention then the norms of a “just war” clearly influence the military intervention decisions of Western states. If the value-sets stipulating a “just” resort to force impact the intervention behavior of Western states, we can safely conclude that choice and discretion play a role in military intervention decisions. ^ The general findings of this study support this hypothesis; norms matter in important ways for each state. The presence of conditions reflecting elements of the main precepts of the jus ad bellum convention statistically increases the probability of Western military intervention. Irrespective of the merits of just war theory or the actual intentions of Western political leaders, the norms of a “just” war have an impact not only in rhetorical application, but also in the behavior of Western states. The results of this empirical analysis support advancement of a constructivist argument; norms as well as structure impact state behavior, and “justice” in war is a socially constructed entity. ^