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Wars of Aggression

The basic definition of a war of aggression is "any war that is not in response to an invasion or attack on a nation." Engaging in a war of aggression violates international law and is considered a war crime.

The concept of war-and the guidelines that "govern" it - were recently revisited in the Supreme Court case Hamdan v. Rumsfield. On June 29, 2006, the Supreme Court decided in Hamdan v. Rumsfield that the Geneva Conventions apply to the United States, which protects the treatment of captured soldiers and in fact makes preemptive war a war crime. Given Bush's defiance of the Geneva Conventions in the treatment of terror suspects, it is suggested that the "Hamdan v. Rumsfeld ruling by the Supreme Court ... may leave him [Bush] open to prosecution for war crimes." While newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal have editorialized in opposition to the Hamdan decision, other analysis has supported the importance of adhering to the Geneva Conventions as a "claim to moral and political leadership".

In the twentieth century there were multilateral treaties defining restrictions against going to war. The three most notable examples are the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing war as an instrument of national policy; the Nuremberg Charter which defines "crimes against peace" as one of three major categories of international crime to be prosecuted after World War II; and the United Nations Charter, which binds nations to seek resolution of disputes by peaceful means and requires authorization by the United Nations before a nation may initiate any use of force against another, beyond repulsing an immediate armed attack against its sovereign territory. The concept of prohibiting wars of aggression has been enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations (see below for the full definition in the UN General Assembly Resolution 3314).

The prohibition against aggression has even deeper roots in Just War Theory which dates back to the Hebrew Bible's Book of Judges. Just War Theory is an attempt to distinguish between justifiable and unjustifiable uses of armed force and conceive of how the use of arms might be restrained and ultimately directed towards the aim of establishing lasting peace and justice. Wars of aggression are further condemned in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

U.N. Definition of "War of Aggression"
United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3314 (XXIX)

Article I

Aggression is the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, as set out in this Definition.

Explanatory note: In this Definition the term "State":

(a) Is used without prejudice to questions of recognition or to whether a State is a member of the United Nations;

(b) Includes the concept of a "group of States" where appropriate.

Article 2

The First use of armed force by a State in contravention of the Charter shall constitute prima facie evidence of an act of aggression although the Security Council may, in conformity with the Charter, conclude that a determination that an act of aggression has been committed would not be justified in the light of other relevant circumstances, including the fact that the acts concerned or their consequences are not of sufficient gravity.

Article 3

Any of the following acts, regardless of a declaration of war, shall, subject to and in accordance with the provisions of article 2, qualify as an act of aggression:

(a) The invasion or attack by the armed forces of a State of the territory of another State, or any military occupation, however temporary, resulting from such invasion or attack, or any annexation by the use of force of the territory of another State or part thereof,

(b) Bombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State or the use of any weapons by a State against the territory of another State;

(c) The blockade of the ports or coasts of a State by the armed forces of another State;

(d) An attack by the armed forces of a State on the land, sea or air forces, or marine and air fleets of another State;

(e) The use of armed forces of one State which are within the territory of another State with the agreement of the receiving State, in contravention of the conditions provided for in the agreement or any extension of their presence in such territory beyond the termination of the agreement;

(f) The action of a State in allowing its temtory, which it has placed at the disposal of another State, to be used by that other State for perpetrating an act of aggression against a third State;

(g) The sending by or on behalf of a State of armed bands, groups, irregulars or mercenaries, which carry out acts of armed force against another State of such gravity as to amount to the acts listed above, or its substantial involvement therein.

Article 4

The acts enumerated above are not exhaustive and the Security Council may determine that other acts constitute aggression under the provisions of the Charter.

Article 5

1. No consideration of whatever nature, whether political, economic, military or otherwise, may serve as a justification for aggression.

2. A war of aggression is a crime against international peace. Aggression gives rise to international responsibility.

3. No territorial acquisition or special advantage resulting from aggression is or shall be recognized as lawful.




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