Here’s one analysis, from Jack Quirk at Christian Democracy:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the just war doctrine this way: “All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. “However, ‘as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.’ “The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: “- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; “- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; “- there must be serious prospects of success; “- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. “These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the ‘just war’ doctrine. “The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.” (Secs. 2308-2309) The underlying premise of the just war doctrine is that nations must be allowed the right of self-defense. But that is because there is no “no international authority with the necessary competence and power.” It follows that the United Nations should be utilized to the extent possible. The UN may well prove unable by itself to have any serious preventive effect, but it ought to be looked to as a first resort if time and circumstances permit. In this case, the United States has acted unilaterally, and does not appear to have sought even so much as UN Security Council authorization. Moreover, the teaching is that “governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense,” not that they may utilize military force every time they are outraged. As horrific as the outcome of the chemical attack in Syria was, there is simply no question here of the United States acting in self-defense. The U.S. is not threatened by Syria. Now since the premise of the just war doctrine is that a nation is entitled to defend itself, the four “strict conditions” that are listed for purposes of assessing just war compliance must be analyzed in that light. Self-defense is a presumed requirement in order to pass muster under each condition. What’s more, each of the four conditions must be satisfied at “one and the same time….” Satisfying even three of the four is insufficient.
He goes on at length on the subject. Continue reading.
I’d be curious to see if anyone has posited a defense of the Syria attacks as part of the “just war” theory.