Casus belli

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

It is often misspelt 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 since the term does in practice effectively mean "cause for war".

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". 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.


[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] 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 Serbian nationalist, Austrian subject and member of Young Bosnia, led to 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 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 Hitler decided to incorporate Czechoslovakia into his Third Reich, he used a Casus Belli called Lebensraum. This means, roughly, "room for living", and was based on Germany's poor condition after WWI, where the victorious Allies had demanded of Germany large payments in reparations, so that when the US withdrew loans provided to Weimar Republic, caused largely by the Wall Street Crash, Germany's economy collapsed. Because of this Germany was in a state of crisis when Hitler rose to power, and his plan was that if he could expand to areas with many resources, he could build up Germany's economic state and infrastructure. 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. 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.

[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 pretext for the Vietnam War. Vietnamese Naval officials have publicly stated that the USS Maddox was never fired on.

[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 Terrorism

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

[edit] 2003 United States / Iraq War

There have been claims that the Weapons of Mass Destruction believed to be in Iraq were the pretext for the Iraq War. As of October 31st, 2006 the US administration has denied that this is the case.

[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 that he was involved in. The phrase "Wag the Dog" was later used in reference to the incident during the Monica Lewinsky scandal when President Clinton ordered an attack on the chemical factories in Sudan and on Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Sudanese protestors held up signs saying "Wag the Dog" referring to this attack as being a diversion to take away people's attention from the Lewinsky scandal.
  • In 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".

[edit] References

[edit] See also

cs: Casus belli

de: Casus belli

el:Αφορμή πολέμου

eo: Militkazo

es: Casus belli

fr: Casus belli

he: עילה למלחמה

it: Casus belli

nl: Casus belli

no: Casus belli

pl: Casus belli

pt: Casus belli

ro: Casus belli

sv: Casus belli

tr: Casus belli

Casus belli

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