Casus belli

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Casus belli is a modern Latin language expression meaning the justification for acts of war. Casus means "incident", "rupture" or indeed "case", while belli means "of war".

It is often misspelled and mispronounced as "causus belli" since this resembles the English "cause" (and a different Latin word, causa {cause}). "Casus belli" is also pronounced this way because the term is used with the meaning of "cause for war", instead of "case of war" (notice that "case" comes from Latin "casus").

Despite the apparent age that the use of Latin confers on it, the term did not come into wide usage until the late nineteenth century with the rise of the political doctrine of "jus ad bellum" or "just war theory".[citation needed] Informal usage varies beyond its technical definition to refer to any "just cause" a nation may claim for entering into a conflict. As such, it has been used both retroactively to describe situations in history before the term came into wide usage and in the present day when describing situations when war has not been formally declared.

Formally, a government would lay out its reasons for going to war, as well as its intentions in prosecuting it and the steps that might be taken to avert it. In so doing, the government would attempt to demonstrate that it was going to war only as a last resort ("ultima Ratio") and that it in fact possessed "just cause" for doing so.

Proschema (plural proschemata) is the Greek equivalent term. These stated reasons may or may not be the actual reason for waging the war (prophases). The term was first popularized by Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War, who identified fear, honor, and interest as the three primary "real" reasons that wars are waged, while prophases commonly play up nationalism or fearmongering (as opposed to rational or reasonable fears).


[edit] Cause of use

Casus belli can be used to avoid loss of morale in the country or nation[citation needed] or to gain the support of the people. If a country attacked another country with no stated reason, it may cause discontent among its populace and loss of faith in their leaders and may, in extreme cases, lead to revolt or other kinds of civil uprisings.

In modern times casus belli may not be focused primarily on convincing the population but instead be aimed at justifying the action to the global community, which would equally affect dictatorships and militarily controlled nations who might not previously have had need of a convincing casus belli among its own people.

[edit] Historic uses

[edit] Spanish-American War

The US navy ship USS Maine sank in the Havana Harbor from an explosion whose cause remains controversial. Critics such as Gore Vidal have claimed that the explosion was a purposeful act to create a fake and phony pretext for the US to attack the Spanish. This gave the United States the political cover to have an excuse to attack Spain triggering the Spanish-American War because the US government accused the Spaniards of being responsible for the explosion[citation needed].

[edit] WWI

The Assassination in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 ultimately led to World War I. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria at Sarajevo in Austria-Hungary by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian nationalist, Austrian subject and member of Young Bosnia, led Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia. The Russian Empire started to mobilise its troops in defence of its ally Serbia, which resulted in the German Empire declaring war on Russia in support of its ally Austria-Hungary. Very quickly, after the involvement of France, the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire, five of the six great European powers became involved in the first European general war since the Napoleonic Wars. (see Causes of World War I)

[edit] WWII

When Adolf Hitler decided to incorporate Czechoslovakia into his Third Reich, he used a Casus Belli called Lebensraum. This means, roughly, "vital space". Instead of capturing colonies outside Europe, Hitler claimed that he needed resources close to him, so he could build Germany up fast. To help justify this he also claimed that he was merely reuniting Germany, since most of the areas he captured had formerly belonged to Germany (and had German-speaking people living in them).

The use of such a casus belli was well suited to the economic and political situation in Europe at the time. Britain, still exhausted from WWI, reacted to his claims by following a policy of Appeasement. Willing to make significant sacrifices to avoid another war, Britain did not stop the Germans when they started to remilitarize and expand. France was unenthusiastic about the appeasement policy, but was not willing to go to war alone.[1]

The official casus belli of the Soviet Union for attacking Finland in the Winter War was the shelling of Mainila. The Soviets claimed Finnish troops had shelled the village of Mainila on the USSR territory. Investigations have revealed later that no Finnish artillery batteries were in range[citation needed]. The shots the Finnish sentries heard allow triangulation of the position of the battery, which was on the Soviet side. The reality was, that the Soviets had fired the shells over Finnish territory to their own territory. The losses the Soviets reported were forged[citation needed].

[edit] Six-Day War

"Casus belli" was also a prominent issue during the Six-Day War of 1967. The Israeli government had a short list of "casus belli" that would trigger military action by Israel in the event that an Arab state took one of the listed actions. The most notable "casus belli" was a blockade of the Straits of Tiran leading into Eilat, Israel's only port leading into the Arabian Sea from which its vessels could reach important markets in East Africa and Southeast Asia. Passage through the straits was important since at the time Egypt was also prohibiting any traffic bound to and from Israel from passing through the Suez Canal. Such a blockade of the straits, in contravention of international law, was undertaken by Egypt on its own sovereign territory following the expulsion of UN peacekeepers from the Sinai Peninsula and the Egyptian military presence in Sharm el-Sheikh (at the southern tip of the Sinai). The blockade was a major factor in the start of Israeli strike against Egypt's airforce. Syria and Jordan both attacked soon after, both of which had previously been supporting incursions and infiltrations into/against Israel. Israel asked Jordan to end its attack, informing the ambassador it would consider the Jordanian attack to be a "salvo of honor", necessary as an ally to Egypt. Jordan refused, and Israel retaliated, occupying part of Jordan.

[edit] Vietnam War

Some historians have suggested that the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was a fake manufactured pretext for the Vietnam War. North Vietnamese Naval officials have publicly stated that the USS Maddox was never fired on by North Vietnamese naval forces[1][2].

[edit] Turkey and Greece

In 1995, the Turkish parliament issued a "casus belli" against Greece for the event that the latter extends her territorial waters from 6 to 12 nautical miles from the coast. Nevertheless, Turkey refuses to remove the casus belli despite initiation of preliminary negotiations in order for it to join the European Union.

[edit] War on Terror

The "casus belli" for the War on Terror was the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and the supposedly intended attack on the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

[edit] 2003 United States / Iraq War

The casus belli given for the 2003 invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein had existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons and that he was actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability. Colin Powell addressed a plenary session of the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003 citing these reasons as justification for military action[2].

[edit] Casus Belli in popular culture

  • "Wag the Dog" is another such movie related to the topic of "casus belli". In this movie, the President uses a pretext to attack Albania in an attempt to divert attention from a political scandal with which he was involved.
  • In an episode of the American sitcom Seinfeld, Elaine enters Jerry's apartment and sits at his table. As Jerry spies on the Pakistani restaurant, Elaine mentions "casus belli" in a facetious voice, explaining that she read it recently and just wanted to say it out loud.
  • In the comic book series "Lucky Luke", a crazy old judge accuses two of his personal enemies of different crimes. Finally, he accuses them of (using the first words he randomly finds in his lawbook) "casus belli". Next, the two suspects try to blame each other of who actually killed this "Casus Belly".
  • A popular ongoing modification of the computer game "Rome: Total War" has been titled Casus Belli
  • In the computer game "Europa Universalis" and its sequels "casus belli" makes an appearance. If a country declares war on another country without a casus belli, the attacking country will suffer a stability penalty.
  • In the board game "Pax Britannica" by "Victory Games", players are limited to declaring war if they have a Casus Belli against the defending nation.
  • In the U.S. TV show "Jericho (TV series)" series 1, episode 19 is titled Casus Belli (U.S. Air date 25 April 2007)

[edit] References

  • Vidal, Gore. Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia. Hardcover ed. Avalon Group.

[edit] See also