Schmücker, Gibt es einen gerechten Krieg?
Annotation author: Büttner, Marco
Book author: Schmücker, Reinold

Reinold Schmücker: Gibt es einen gerechten Krieg?, Stuttgart 2021.

The book under discussion was published in 2021 in the Was bedeutet das alles? series by Reclam. It is the extended version of an essay that Reinold Schmücker, who teaches Philosophy at the University of Münster, published already in 2000 in Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie. The essay takes up a question which, especially in the light of current conflicts and wars in the world, is once again being actively discussed in academic circles and has also attracted the interest of a wider audience. The discussion on this topic is based, sometimes more, sometimes less, on a background in the history of ideas that goes back to Antiquity. To this day, there is debate about which and how many conditions must be met for a war to be considered “just”. Schmücker’s aim now is, on the one hand, to explain why, in his opinion, such a possibility of a just war, which is also assumed by many of his colleagues, exists and, on the other hand, to determine the conditions that would be necessary or sufficient for such a war. However, the aim is not to develop a strategy for legitimizing war that could be used to legitimize any war, but, on the contrary, to create a yardstick that should make it possible to judge a war as illegitimate.

In doing so, Schmücker explains at the beginning of his essay why reference to international law alone cannot provide an answer to the moral justification of a war as “just”, since law and morality are not necessarily the same thing. Rather, Schmücker argues, a distinction must be made between moral legitimacy and legality. (p. 19–21) Moreover, he explains why dealing with the question of just war does not mean to promote waging wars but to limit warfare. Although moral philosophical reflections could also motivate moral action, they initially serve to assess which action is morally required or forbidden. (p. 13–19) Schmücker then tries to show why not every form of war can be called illegitimate. According to him, the idea that waging war is illegitimate in every case cannot be reconciled with the widely accepted moral legitimacy of individual and collective self-defense. (p. 25) It becomes interesting when Schmücker next asks whether an offensive war can be also legitimate. Schmücker claims that there can be a just offensive war, but only if six necessary conditions are present, which only together result in a sufficient condition. According to Schmücker, these principles are not new, but have been repeatedly mentioned in the theoretical tradition, namely (1) competent authority, (2) justifiable cause, (3) right intent, (4) respect for international humanitarian law, (5) ultima ratio, and (6) proportionality. (p. 33–54) According to Schmücker, only certain humanitarian interventions can be considered legitimate offensive wars on a moral level. But unlike, for example, the U.S. philosopher Michael Walzer (1977), Schmücker concludes, that there is no obligation for such an intervention. (p. 105–108)

In fact, Schmücker’s criteria succeed in providing a yardstick that can make it possible to critically assess the legitimacy of wars. Nevertheless, even though Schmücker differentiates especially the condition of the justifiable cause in great detail, his conditions are valid only on the premise of the assumption of a universal normative order. Problematic about this as well as other such attempts, however, are the questions of who sets these moral standards on what is considered just or legitimate and who has the authority to interpret when a wrong has been committed. An extension of Schmücker’s theory to include an ideology-critical perspective might therefore be useful.