Some Preliminary Thoughts on the Situation in Ukraine

In my homily this Sunday I included what is going on in the Ukraine as among the tribulations we face in the world today. Now I would like to offer some preliminary thoughts on Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. I stress what follows are my preliminary thoughts as it is still less than one week since Russia began the invasion.

I find it very difficult to make any sense of what is going on. However, it only seems appropriate to offer some thoughts on what is going on in the light of Catholic Just War Theory. You can find more information about just war theory in an article, “Just War Theory,” I wrote a few years ago on my website at (I also discuss Just War Theory as part of the fourth presentation in my series, Treating Life with Dignity and Love).

Now, I offer some preliminary thoughts, first on what Russia is doing. Then, I will reflect on how the world is and could choose to respond in light of Just War Theory. Please note that my references to “Russia” should not be taken as against all of the Russian people. It is the Russian leadership that I speak of here.

Russia’s Actions

The first criteria of Just War Theory is having a “just cause.” For today’s reflection I will include the fourth criteria, “right intention,” in unison with “just cause.” Honestly, I don’t understand why Russia is doing this. There seems to be two possible reasons. The first is that Putin seems to think that since the Ukraine was once part of what Russia had been under the U.S.S.R., it should also be now. This would seem to me to be based on a selfish interpretation of history based on power and pride. While this is one motive that the news has reported as spoken by Putin, it does not fit with the news reporting that Russia has said that once the Ukraine is demilitarized, that they will allow the Ukrainian people to decide their future.

The other positive motive for Russia might be concern for the people with Russian heritage that live in eastern Ukraine. Russia is correct in being concerned for them. The world should be concerned. However, I am not sure what evidence there is to prove those people are being attacked by Ukraine forces.

The next criteria of Just War Theory is “comparative justice.” For this criteria to apply, first there needs to be a wrong that has been done. Following what I have said above in regards to “just cause” and “right intention”, I am not sure there has been anything that Russia is responding to. Even if there is, the present invasion by Russia does not appear to a “proportionate response” (the fifth criteria) or “comparative” to the initial “wrong”. Rather, it seems to me that Russia is taken an offensive action, not defensive.

The third criteria of Just War Theory is “legitimate authority.” Does Russia have the authority to take this action unilaterally? This criteria was an important part of the discussion when we joined other countries in attacking in Iraq both in 1991 and 2003. Those who acted first built at least some consensus among nations that action was needed. To this day some would argue against what was done in Iraq. However, it was not a unilateral action by one country. Russia has not attempted to work with the rest of the world here. It has acted on its own.

The next criteria of “Just War Theory” is “probability of success.” Will Russia be successful? One cannot begin to answer that question without knowing what they consider success to be. If Russia’s idea of success is to take over Ukraine, they are alone in that.

The last criteria of “Just War Theory” is that it must be a last resort. Even if one agrees that Russia has a just cause/right intention in invading Ukraine, it does not seem that we are at the point of “last resort”. What efforts at diplomacy have they made? Have they tried to build a worldwide consensus? If they have, I have not heard of it.

The Response of the Rest of the World

Before considering the response of the rest of the world, I want to first say that Ukraine has a right to defend itself. Their response needs to a proportionate response” (for example, they should not seek to wipe out the entire Russia people) but they can defend themselves. Now for the rest of the world.

Again, we begin with the Just War criteria of “just cause”/”right intention”. The rest of the world responds with a just cause as long as it based on the good of the Ukraine people. It cannot be motivated by a desire to strike Russia for other motives. It cannot be motivated by any quest for power. It must be for the good of the Ukrainian people as children of God and as a sovereign nation.

Now, we look at the criteria of “comparative justice”/”proportionate response” in the response of the world. It is a fact that Russia has invaded Ukraine. That is undeniable. A clear example of an over-response would be to launch a nuclear attack against Russia. The response of the nations must not be greater than the force of Russia’s invasion.

Next, we consider the criteria of “legitimate authority.” As I already indicated, the Ukraine has a right, even a duty, to defend its people with a proportionate response. However, beyond that, it is not for any one nation to strike Russia for this. It must be a joint effort of the world together. We already some efforts in this area at the United Nations, among NATO allies, and the European Union. This is good. Still, the “right intention” remains the good of the Ukrainian people, not any of these groups acting in their own interest.

Then comes the criteria of the “probability of success” for the response of the world. For me this might be the hardest criteria to evaluate at this point. Certainly “success” is rooted in the good of the Ukrainian people. What is it going to take to do that remains very uncertain at this point in time.

That brings us to the last criteria in considering the response of the world. War must be a “last resort.” Have diplomatic options been exhausted? I don’t know how to respond to this question because it seems that Russia lacks a genuine openness to diplomatic dialogue. There is also the options of “sanctions.” Sanctions are only beginning at this point. How long we allow for sanctions against Russia to work before taking a next step? What would a next step even be? What options beside war are there?

We are in very difficult times. We face a great tribulation. We don’t have all the facts. We only know what is reported in the news. What can we do?

For the average person, I see two courses of actions. The first is to pray. Pray for the safety of the Ukrainian people and their leadership. Pray for the Russian leadership to seek a better path forward. Pray for all world leaders who are part of the response. Pray for everyone to have good information to determine future actions.

The second course of action for the average person to consider is the possible need for humanitarian aid. What will be the needs of the Ukrainian people? Will they need a new home? Will they need food, clothing, medicine, or other humanitarian aid? How might we be called to response to their need?

I end by repeating what I said at the beginning, these are only preliminary thoughts that I offer (thoughtful comments welcome). It is too soon to understand all that is going on. I don’t know if we will ever understand it. I do know we must pray to God “thy will be done.”


Fr. Jeff

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