Chapter 3 When is War Lawful? by Adam Smith In general, whatever is the foundation of a proper lawsuit may be a just occasion of war. The lawsuit’s foundation is the violation of some perfect right whose performance may be extorted by force. In modern times, it is decided by the magistrate, lest the society should be disturbed by every person taking justice at his own hands. The sovereign is bound to demand satisfaction for the following offences= When one nation: encroaches on the property of another, or kills the subjects of another, imprisons the subjects of another, or refuses them justice when injured. This is because the government intends to protect its members from foreign enemies. There is a foundation for war if redress be refused. In the same way, a breach of contract is a very just occasion of war. For example, when payment for a debt by one nation to another, is refused. If the king of Prussia refuses to pay the money lent to him by Britain during the last war, war can be declared against him justly and reasonably. The following may be the cause of a war= every offence of the following that does not give reasonable satisfaction= the sovereign of one country against the sovereign of another, or the sovereign against the subject of another country, or the subject of one country against the subject of another. There is only one exception to the general rule. Everything that is the subject of a lawsuit may be a cause of war, and that is with respect to quasi-contracts. In this case, it is difficult to determine whether a war would be reasonable or not. There has been no war declared on the violation of this right. The introduction of quasi-contract was the highest stretch of equity. Except in the Roman law, it was never perfected nor introduced. In England, if you repair a man’s house in his absence, you must trust to him to pay for it because you have no action by law. In the same way, if a Russian does a service to an English merchant, which, if he had not done, the merchant would have suffered extremely, and afterwards demand satisfaction for his trouble, if he be refused it and apply to the courts of justice, they will tell him that he must depend on the honour of the merchant for payment. Except for this, everything which is the foundation of a proper law suit, will also make war just and reasonable. Back to Introduction Next What is Lawful in War?