Supreme crime

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(This article is about historical and social science research on conditions leading to wars of aggression. For recent history of, and current definitions of war of aggression in international law, see that article.)

The concept of supreme crime is a legal principle that to initiate war not in self-defense, called war of aggression in international law, but with the intent to conquer territory and subjugate other people, is more egregious than a normal crime. The term was introduced by Justice Robert H. Jackson, chief prosecutor for the United States at the Nuremberg Trials.[1]


The loss of human life during World War I prompted the debate about the legality of war-making in the League of Nations. Shortly after the cessation of hostilities on the European theatre of World War II, Jackson framed the legal principles making the initiation of a war of aggression a supreme crime as follows:

  • The power of sovereign states to make war, except in self-defense, should be restricted by law. ("It is high time that we act on the juridical principle that aggressive war-making is illegal and criminal")
  • This law must apply equally to all nations. ("I am not willing to charge as a crime against a German official acts which would not be crimes if committed by officials of the United States")
  • Nations can act only through their leaders and thus the individuals responsible for initiation of an aggressive war are accountable for acts of violence against others committed in the name of the state. ("The guilt we should reach is not that of numberless little people, but of those who planned and whipped up the war.")

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gabrielle Kirk McDonald and Olivia Swaak-Goldman (2000). Substantive and Procedural Aspects of International Criminal Law: The Experience of International and National Courts. Brill. p. 33. ISBN 978-90-411-1133-3.
  • Bainton, R. H. (1960) Christian attitudes toward war and peace. New York: Abingdon. ISBN 0-687-07027-9.
  • Bush, B. (1994) Barbara Bush: A memoir. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. ISBN 0-02-519635-9.
  • Clausewitz, C. von (1991) Vom Kriege (19th ed.). Bonn, Germany: Dümmler.
  • Ellis, M. H. (1997) Unholy alliance: religion and atrocity in our time. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers. ISBN 0-8006-3080-7.
  • Huntington, S. P. (1993) The clash of civilizations? Foreign Affairs, 72/3.
  • Roosevelt, J. (1960) A family matter. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24621-6.
  • Russell, E.W. (1971) Christianity and militarism. Peace Research Reviews, 4, 3, 1-77.
  • Russell, E.W. (1974) Christentum und Militarismus. In Huber, W., & Liedke, G. (Hrsg.), Christentum und Militarismus, Studien zur Friedensforschung. München, Germany: Kösel-Verlag, 21-109.