The First World War, Wilhelm II, and Article 227: The Origin of the Idea of 'Aggression' in International Criminal Law
Kirsten Sellars, 'The First World War, Wilhelm II, and Article 227: The Origin of the Idea of "Aggression" in International Criminal Law' in Claus Kress and Stefan Barriga (eds), The Crime of Aggression – A Commentary (Cambridge University Press, 2016), pp. 21-48.
28 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2013 Last revised: 28 May 2019
Date Written: November 11, 2016
It is well known that David Lloyd George declared his intent to try the Kaiser for starting World War I, but it is not known that British lawyers embarked on detailed behind-the-scenes plans for prosecuting him — plans now brought to light in newly uncovered archival documents.
At the end of the First World War, Lloyd George declared: ‘The Kaiser must be prosecuted. The war was a crime.’ This was a radical departure from the traditional approach to war, advancing the then-novel ideas that starting an aggressive war was a crime, and that national leader could be held criminally responsible.
After the signing of the Versailles Treaty in June 1919, the British Attorney General, Sir Gordon Hewart, quietly began laying the groundwork for Wilhelm II’s prosecution, in case the latter fell into entente hands. These plans – unheralded then and overlooked since – were set in motion in August 1919, when Hewart convened a meeting between himself, the Solicitor General, the Procurator General, and two senior barristers, Frederick Pollock and George Branson.
As it turned out, the ex-Kaiser never faced trial. Six days after the Versailles Treaty came into force, the entente powers requested that the Netherlands, where Wilhelm II had sought asylum, deliver him for trial. The Dutch refused, and Hewart pulled the plug on the British prosecution project.
Keywords: Paris Peace Conference, Versailles Treaty, Crime of aggression, Aggressive War, International Criminal Law
JEL Classification: K33, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation