Imagine Tony Blair and George w. Bush languishing the years away behind bars for their ginned-up war on Iraq. Imagine future "tough guy" leaders weighing whether to pound little countries senseless knowing the same fate would await them.
Starting tomorrow a new crime will enter the books of international law, the crime of aggression.
Tuesday is a red-letter day for international law: from then on, political and military leaders who order the invasion of foreign countries will be guilty of the crime of aggression, and may be punishable at the international criminal court in The Hague. Had this been an offence back in 2003, Tony Blair would have been bang to rights, together with senior numbers of his cabinet and some British military commanders. But if that were the case, of course, they would not have gone ahead; George W Bush would have been without his willing UK accomplices.
The judgment at Nuremberg declared that “to initiate a war of aggression … is the supreme international crime”. But this concept never entered UK law (as the misguided crowdfunded effort to prosecute Blair discovered last year). International acceptance of it stalled until states could agree on an up-to-date definition. The crime was included in the ICC jurisdiction back in 1998, but was suspended until its elements could be decided (in 2010) then ratified by at least 30 states (in 2016). At last it is finally being “activated”. In the meantime, Iraq and Ukraine have been invaded and other countries threatened, while Donald Trump attacked Syria last year. Now, the very existence of the crime of aggression offers some prospect of deterrence, and some degree of certainty in identifying the criminals.
The crime will be committed by those who direct the use of armed force against the “sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence” of another member state, in a manner which “by its character, gravity, and scale” amounts to a “manifest violation” of the UN charter (which prohibits such attacks, other than in self-defence). This allows some wriggle room – Trump’s attack on Syria lacked the “gravity and scale” required (it did little damage) but it might well apply to Russia for its incursions into Ukraine – the test is whether Vladimir Putin and his armed forces were “substantially involved”, whether secretly or by proxy, in the use of armed force. Self-evidently, it would have incriminated those who ordered the invasion of Iraq.
This should end the "butwhatabout" horseshit (today, my favourite word) constantly raised by those who defend their leader of choice by pointing out the sins of a different leader. 'You can't fault Putin. The United States does the same. This guy bombs the snot out of helpless civilians, sure, but what about that other guy?'
Well, you'll never get your hands on these guys. Their countries would never turn them over to stand trial at the Hague. Of course. Try them in absentia if you must and convict them of war crimes, the crime of aggression. Let them know they can no longer travel freely outside their own country. Make them cower in perpetual disgrace and ignominy.
Hey, I guess that means, as of tomorrow, the House of Saud will be on Interpol's arrest on sight list. Those buggers love to live it up in Europe. Come to think of it, starting tomorrow, a lot of these thugs might be in trouble - Netanyahu, Trump, Erdogan, Putin (big time) and plenty of lesser miscreants.