U.N. Definition of 'Aggression' - Law and Illusion in the Context of Collective Security

24 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2008

See all articles by Jack I. Garvey

Jack I. Garvey

University of San Francisco - School of Law

Date Written: June, 24 2008


This article examines the definition of "aggression," - a definition framing "aggression" as a delictual and juridical term to be used to identify a wrongdoer in international law - formulated by the United Nations in General Assembly Resolution 3314. The term "aggression" is consistently at the center of debate concerning coercive confrontations between States, and the goal of those seeking a definition of "aggression" has been to establish a legal standard for distinguishing legitimate from illegitimate action in such confrontations, as well as in more serious situations when war or peace is the immediate issue.

This article argues that the U.N. definition of "aggression" is essentially misconceived and, as a consequence, is incompatible with the effective operation of the United Nations. In essence, the definition, as an a priori classification in the context of a legal structure designed to achieve collective security, undermines rather than promotes the greater ordering of international behavior through law. The critical shortcoming of the definition is its failure to accommodate the common interest of the membership of the Security Council in achieving relative stability in a world in which nuclear apocalypse is the final stage of instability. Through a priori definition a term that offers little potential for effective application to contemporary politico-military realities has become a ready vehicle for undermining negotiation and conciliation. The article asserts that instead of seeking to achieve collective security by rulemaking through definition, the focus should be upon the processes of international decision and their development through the structures and procedures of pacification.

Keywords: international law, aggression, collective security, United Nations, Security Council, General Assembly Resolution 3314

Suggested Citation

Garvey, Jack I., U.N. Definition of 'Aggression' - Law and Illusion in the Context of Collective Security (June, 24 2008). Virginia Journal of International Law, Vol. 17, No. 2, 1977, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1150975

Jack I. Garvey (Contact Author)

University of San Francisco - School of Law ( email )

2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
United States

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