No Substitute for Victory? Why Just War Theorists Can’t Win

European Journal of International Relations

Author/s (editor/s):

Cian O'Driscoll

Publication year:


Publication type:

Journal article

Find this publication at:

Cian O’Driscoll, ‘No Substitute for Victory? Why Just War Theorists Can’t Win’, European Journal of International Relations, online, 25 July 2019: 1-22.

Victory has historically been regarded as the ‘telos’ or ‘very object’ of war. As one well-placed commentator has noted, war is all about winning. It is baffling to note, then, that contemporary just war theory, the predominant framework for addressing the moral and legal questions that war raises, makes no allowance for victory. Today’s just war theorists shun the language of victory, preferring instead to speak about the ‘endings’ of warfare. This article investigates why just war theorists have been so reluctant to engage with the idiom of victory. It identifies seven principal objections to accommodating victory in just war theory and subjects them to cross-examination. It concludes that while there are good reasons for regarding the discourse of victory as deeply problematic, these same reasons could (and arguably should) be taken as an argument for embracing rather than ignoring victory within the just war framework. Such a move would not only spare just war theory of the charge of irrelevance by ensuring that it remains connected to the material realities of modern warfare, it would also illuminate the tragic character of just war itself, revealing both its necessity and limitations.

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