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Mark Evans (ed), 'Providing a framework?'

Edinburgh University Press, 2005; ISBN 0 7486 2075 3; 250 pp; £16.99

For a number of reasons, and this book explores some of them, “just war” theory has come under various kinds of strain in recent years.

As a result, some would seek to jettison it altogether, arguing that it is no longer relevant because the world has changed in too many ways since the theory was developed and formulated. Some try to patch it up on the basis that having something is better than having nothing, but without any real commitment to it. Some, however, continue to insist that, honestly and creatively used, just war theory still constitutes a valuable moral framework for thinking about war. Mark Evans, who both edited the volume and wrote three of its ten essays, falls into the third category, suggesting that “the theory seems to raise all of the questions it is appropriate to raise about the morality of war and it organises them in an integrated structure that it seems hard to better” (p220). However, one direction in which he moves significantly beyond traditional just war thinking is in insisting that a just peace, a jus post bellum, must form part of just war thinking. Although this is by no means a totally new idea, it is an element of just war thinking that has been much neglected in recent centuries and is long overdue for revival.

Many readers of Peace News will doubtless feel that the whole enterprise of just war theory is misplaced and that the emphasis should be on doing away with war rather than justifying it in any way. However, as Mark Evans convincingly argues, we live in a less than ideal world and for as long as war exists it is better to at least try to keep it within the scope of moral discourse rather than simply abandon it to the realists.

As a collection of essays this book falls well short of a systematic reappraisal of just war theory, and some of the topics covered are more central than others. However, the eight contributors generally seek to relate theory to practice with specific respect to recent and contemporary events, and many illustrations are drawn from Kosovo, Rwanda, Iraq and the “war on terror”. Indeed, as becomes increasingly clear, it is precisely such events that make the reappraisal of just war theory such an important exercise.