Punishing Warmongers for Their 'Mad and Criminal Projects' - Bismarck's Proposal for an International Criminal Court to Assign Responsibility for the Franco-Prussian War
21 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2017
Date Written: April 5, 2017
The idea of punishing aggressive war is routinely presented as having been first conceived of in the wake of the First World War. This conventional narrative is incorrect; the intellectual seed for the project had begun to take root long before, in the reactions to the interstate conflicts of the nineteenth century. This article explores one of the most significant moments from aggression’s unappreciated ‘pre-history’; Chancellor Bismarck’s pursuit of a trial before an international criminal court of the Franco-Prussian War’s (1870-1) French ‘intellectual originators and instigators.’ Although the proposal ultimately failed to attract the political and public support necessary for its implementation, it prompted in its own time an unprecedented discussion on the viability of international criminal responsibility for aggression and international criminal courts. The proposal later took on new life as both a precedent and an anti-precedent as these ideas resurfaced periodically after 1870.
The goal of this paper is to restore Bismarck’s proposal to its rightful place in the story of the crime’s development. At stake is more than historic fidelity; contemporary expectations of what international criminal law can accomplish, what circumstances should or could accompany international criminal law’s invocation, and what the parameters of the crime of aggression should be are shaped by such histories. As the 2010 Kampala Amendments to the Rome Statute are now a single accession away from accumulating the requisite number of ratifications to come into effect, raising the prospect that the International Criminal Court will imminently be tasked with adjudicating the first aggression case in over seventy years, the need for reflection on these issues has taken on unusual salience.
Keywords: international criminal law, international criminal court, history of international criminal law, Bismarck, Franco-Prussian War, aggression
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