Campus Author

Aggression and Crimes Against Peace

Cambridge University Press (2008)

Larry May, Ph.D., J.D., professor of philosophy in Arts & Sciences, wants to turn the traditional understanding of aggression on its ear.

In “Aggression and Crimes Against Peace,” the third in his trilogy on the philosophical and legal aspects of war and conflict, May locates a normative grounding for the crime of aggression — the only one of the three crimes charged at Nuremberg that is not currently being prosecuted — that is similar to that for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

He considers cases from the Nuremberg trials, philosophical debates in the Just War tradition, and more recent debates about the International Criminal Court as well as the hard cases of humanitarian intervention and terrorist aggression.

His thesis refutes the traditional understanding of aggression. At Nuremberg, crimes against humanity charges were only pursued if the defendant also engaged in the crime of aggression. May argues for a reversal of this position, contending that aggression charges should be pursued only if the defendant’s acts involve serious human rights violations.

This is the third book in an award-winning trilogy.

The first, “Crimes Against Humanity: A Normative Account” (2005), was named the best book in social philosophy by the North American Society for Social Philosophy, honorable mention from the American Society of International Law and Outstanding Academic Title by the American Library Association’s Choice Magazine.

The second, “War Crimes and Just War” (2007), won the Frank Chapman Sharp Prize for best book on the philosophy of war and peace and was named Outstanding Academic Title by the American Library Association’s Choice Magazine.

“Aggression and Crimes Against Peace” has been awarded the book of the year prize from the International Association of Penal Law, American section.

In the book, May, who also is a strategic research professor of social justice at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia, tries to link the 1,500-year-old “just war” tradition with more contemporary themes, like the Iraq War and special courts in Bosnia and Sierra Leone.

May proposes a way to re-examine the concept of aggression.

The current concept, in use since 1974 and based on a United Nations resolution, states that aggression is “the use of armed force by State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations.”

May argues that the definition should be updated since there may be cases where the use of force against state sovereignty is not aggression, such as in cases of humanitarian intervention. The definition also does not address terrorist organizations that can engage in acts of aggression when they act like states.

“My view is that crimes of aggression are deserving of international prosecution when one state undermines the ability of another state to protect human rights,” May writes in the book’s introduction.