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Updated: Nov 9, 2023

By Mark Young and Julian Wittkamp

Rational Games, Inc.

The dueling speeches in Moscow and Warsaw.

Although nothing was explicitly mentioned in the recent proposal, on the face of it, it is fairly clear what a Chinese-negotiated proposal peace agreement would entail. Following the principles of win-win, we award Crimea and perhaps an additional slice of the Donbas to Putin. 

Zelensky is given security guarantees that are almost like being in NATO and can also eventually join the EU. The UN or Red Cross monitor the troop withdrawal and all parties leave the field with their dignity intact. What is not to like?

But surely there is something missing here. Is it acceptable to reward Putin in any way for the grievous harm his brazen aggression has caused? Does he not owe Ukraine some kind of compensation? Peace is important, but not peace at any price. What about justice?

Some possible insights are available from the considerable literature on “just war theory”. In reflecting on whether war can ever be morally justified, ethicists differentiate between three questions:

  1. Jus Ad Bellum:  the right to go to war. The criteria here are fairly tight and stringent: innocent life must be in imminent danger, it cannot be solely about punishing people or seizing land and property, the injustice suffered must be proportional on both sides and the conflict must truly be a last resort.

    1. The Russian Orthodox Church makes the intriguing further distinction between an (unacceptable) aggressive war and a (moral and sacred) justified war with acts of bravery.  Clearly, Putin is banking on this interpretation.

    2. The water is murky but let’s generously grant that if only from the Russian perspective this conflict can be deemed “just”.

  2. Jus In Bello: right conduct in war.  Acts of war must be directed to enemy combatants, not innocent civilians or combatants who have surrendered.

    1. If a long line of international war correspondents, independent NGOs and now officially the US government are to be believed, none of that has been honoured here, and we are dealing with “crimes against humanity”.  So clearly a justice issue is present.

  3. Jus Post Bellum: the morality of postwar settlement and reconstruction.  Can a just situation be re-established, including adjudication of damage and property claims?

    1. Here as well there is clearly a justice issue:  as we say in retail, “if you break it, you buy (pay for) it. “That is still to be negotiated.

In general, we are a long way from achieving peace with justice by any standard.  And that is leaving aside the question of sustainability and of how to negotiate anything when the perpetrator is still in power, with a Security Council veto.  But that is the subject of another rumination.

Comments welcome!


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