As of this writing, Putin’s troops are in the suburbs of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, after invading that country by land, sea, and air.
Here we will consider just one aspect of the conflict: Is this a just war or not? In other words, did ex-KGB colonel Vladimir Putin have the right to invade Ukraine?
To analyze the issue properly, we must recall some principles of natural law and Catholic doctrine on just war.
Invalid Reasons to Start a War
First, let us review the invalid reasons for starting a war. Salamanca doctor, Fr. Francisco de Vitoria, O.P. (1492–1546) is considered “the founder of international law.” He summarizes the reasons that are always unjustifiable to start a war:
- First, a difference of religion cannot be a cause of just war.
- Second, enlargement of empire cannot be a cause of just war.
- Third, the personal glory or convenience of the prince is not a cause of just war.
For Vitoria, one situation alone justifies the starting of a war:
- Fourth, the sole and only cause for waging war is when harm has been inflicted.
Lastly, he cautions against self-serving interpretations of a situation’s facts and circumstances:
- Fifth, not every or any injury gives sufficient grounds for waging war.1
Conditions for Waging a Just War
In addition to having valid reasons for starting a war, certain conditions must be fulfilled for a war to be just or legitimate. Saint Thomas Aquinas summarizes them as follows:
- It must be declared by legitimate authority. Saint Paul says: “He [the authority] bears not the sword in vain: for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil” (Rom. 13:4).
- The cause must be just. He quotes Saint Augustine: “A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”
- It must be waged with good intention. “For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 74): ‘The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war.’”2
Principle of Proportionality
Theologians also highlight the principle of proportionality. Besides a just cause, a summons by legitimate authority, and a right intention, there must be proportion between the good to be recovered or preserved, the unjust situation to be remedied or prevented, and the evils that necessarily come in the wake of war, particularly the number of deaths.
In addition, all peaceful means must be exhausted before having recourse to war.
These theologians point out that the need for justification applies only to offensive war. The moral legitimacy of self-defense in the face of an attack is evident.3
A Duty to Help Unjustly Attacked Countries
Nations cannot stand idly by when they see a weaker nation unjustly attacked by a stronger one. They are obliged to aid the attacked nation against the aggressor. Indeed, due to the brotherhood that must exist among peoples, nations that can succor an unjustly attacked country must do so out of a duty of solidarity.
In his famous 1948 Christmas Radio Message, after speaking about the right of the unjustly attacked country to defend itself, Pope Pius XII states: “The solidarity of nations is required in this defense. They have a duty not to leave the attacked people abandoned. The certainty that this duty will be fulfilled will serve to discourage the aggressor and, therefore, to avoid war, or at least, in the worst-case scenario, to shorten the suffering.”4
The reasons alleged by the Russian autocrat to invade Ukraine do not pass muster. He failed to respect any natural law principles that justify the waging of war. For clarity, we will examine them.
Putin’s main argument for invading Ukraine is that country’s desire to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He claims this is a threat to Russia. This argument is fallacious because the North Atlantic Treaty is a mutual defense treaty. It was created in 1949 by European countries, the United States and Canada, precisely to protect Europe from Soviet expansionism. Its oft-quoted Article 5 states: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.”5
NATO membership could only present problems for Russia if it attacked Ukraine, as has now happened.
In addition to this primary argument, Putin uses others that are completely irrational, as Paul Kirby commented in BBC News: “Many of [President Putin’s] justifications for it were false or irrational. He claimed his goal was to protect people [the Ukrainians] subjected to bullying and genocide and aim for the ‘demilitarization and de-Nazification’ of Ukraine. There has been no genocide in Ukraine: it is a vibrant democracy, led by a president who is Jewish.”6
Kirby adds, “President Putin has frequently accused Ukraine of being taken over by extremists, ever since its pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in 2014 after months of protests against his rule.”7
Is Putin’s War Just Because He Is Supposedly a Defender of Morals?
Some Catholic and conservative-inspired web sites attempt to justify the invasion of Ukraine, claiming that Putin is a “defender of the family,” while Western rulers, who oppose the attack, favor immorality and enact immoral laws.
However, Putin, who spent his entire career in the fearsome KGB, does not hide his communist ideology. Speaking to some followers in 2016, he said he still has his Communist Party card and that “I still really like the communist and socialist ideas.” For him, such ideas are “like the Bible.”8
One must recall that, at Fatima, Our Lady warned against the errors of Russia, that is, Communism. However, even if it were true that the former KGB colonel is an outspoken defender of family values, that would not give him the right to invade Ukraine nor turn this unprovoked attack into a just war. As moralists say, “one evil does not become right or licit simply because a greater evil could be chosen.”9
The admiration such circles have for Russia is unwarranted. Russia is as immoral as the West, if not more. It has the world’s highest abortion rate.10 Prostitution is rampant, with some media reports claiming it has more than 3,000,000 prostitutes (in a population of 144 million).11
Socialist “Globalization” and Communist Domination
Many argue the existence of a Western conspiracy to form a globalized society of nations, the “Great Reset,” and that this Universal Republic of sorts would be worse than the invasion of Ukraine.
Those making this argument do not realize that, deep down, such globalists also have a socialist mentality and that a Universal Republic is essentially communist. Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira already denounced this in 1959 in his masterwork, Revolution and Counter-Revolution.12
There is no contradiction between Putin’s post-Communist, cosmist and pan-Slavic nationalist goal of world domination and a globalist Universal Republic. Ultimately, both want the same thing: The end of Western Christian civilization and independent countries, which still have some remnants of the natural law and Christian values.
The inescapable conclusion is that Russia’s invasion, analyzed in the light of natural law, Catholic morality, and the facts, cannot be justified in terms of moral principles. Therefore, all Catholics, and every person with the slightest sense of justice, must utterly repudiate it.
At Fatima, Our Lady Asked for Conversion
The war in Ukraine may be the beginning of a broader conflict, a world war. At Fatima, Our Lady warned that, unless it converted, humanity would be punished. However, we see an astounding increase in sin, even public Satanism.
Whatever may be the outcome of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, it is foolish to expect the salvation of the modern world to come from autocrats or political leaders. The solution to the terrible moral crisis in which humanity finds itself can only come from an authentic conversion of customs and a return to an ardent faith and trust in God.
Our Lady’s promise at Fatima should encourage us: “Finally, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”
- Anthony Pagden and Jeremy Lawrance, eds. Vitoria: Political Writings (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 302–304.
- St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II–II, q. 40.
- A. Lanza-P. Palazzini, Pincipios de Teologia Moral (Madrid: Ediciones Rialp, S.A., 1958), 2:288–94.
- Pius XII, “Christmas Radio Message,” Dec. 24, 1948, https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/it/speeches/1948/documents/hf_p-xii_spe_19481224_un-tempo.html. (Our emphasis.)
- “The North Atlantic Treaty,” NATO.int, accessed Feb. 26, 2022, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_17120.htm.
- Paul Kirby, “Why Is Russia Invading Ukraine and What Does Putin Want?” BBC, Mar. 2, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-56720589.
- Kirby, “Why Is Russia.”
- “Putin Still Has His Communist Party Card, Likes Socialist Ideals,” AFP, Jan. 25, 2016, https://news.yahoo.com/putin-still-communist-party-card-likes-socialist-ideals-183734163.html?fr=yhssrp_catchall.
- Ludovico Bender, O.P., s.v. “Lesser Evil,” in Francesco Roberti and Pietro Palazzini, Dictionary of Moral Theology, trans. Henry J. Yannone (Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1962), 705.
- See “Abortion rate,” UNData A World of Information, accessed Feb. 28, 2022, http://data.un.org/Data.aspx?d=GenderStat&f=inID%3A12.
- See Damien Sharkov, “Prostitution Surges in Russia in Wake of Financial Crisis: Report” Newsweek, Mar. 17, 2016.
- Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Revolution and Counter-Revolution, chap. 11, no. 3, https://tfp.org/revolution-and-counter-revolution/.