Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Aggression Definition:

Unjustified use of force against the territorial integrity of another state.

The international law community has struggled with this term for decades. What should be a plain concept of unjustified use of force has turned into a catch-all for international crimes and a focus not on the state but on the political leaders.

To wit, consider the results of a meeting in Uganda mid-June 2010 at which 4,600 delegates met and debated a definition of aggression.

Under the auspices of the International Criminal Court, the international working group meeting ultimately suggested that aggression be defined with a circular reference to the Charter of the United Nations - at first glance, no definition at all:

"... a crime committed by a political or military leader which, by its character, gravity and scale constituted a manifest violation of the Charter."

But the brilliance of this definition is in the detail. It is often an individual that makes the decision to commit an act of an aggression (but not always - they often have that decision ratified by some puppet deliberative assembly).

By nesting the definition at the feet of the leader, the international community effectively plays a waiting game. Sooner or later, leaders culpable of aggression leave office and it is the nature of their leadership that their departure is often violent and followed by exile. That is where this definition excels: once convicted, the leader is either handed over or can never leave his or her country without facing arrest. In any event, the mere fact of a trial of a former leader will give incumbent leaders pause for thought when, in their turn, they consider aggression.

In 1974, the United Nations had managed to put forward this definition of aggression:

"1. 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 ("Charter"), as set out in this Definition.

"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.

"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 Stale 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; (d) 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 territory, 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....

"5. No consideration of whatever nature, whether political, economic, military or otherwise, may serve as a justification for aggression. A war of aggression is a crime against international peace. Aggression gives rise to international responsibility. No territorial acquisition or special advantage resulting from aggression is or shall be recognized as lawful....

"7. Nothing in this Definition, and in particular Article 3, could in any way prejudice the right to self-determination, freedom and independence, as derived from the Charter, of people forcibly deprived of that right .... particularly peoples under colonial and racist regimes or other forms of alien domination; nor the right of these peoples to struggle to that end and to seek and receive support, in accordance with the principles of the Charter and in conformity with the above-mentioned Declaration."

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