FINAL JUDGMENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL MILITARY TRIBUNAL AT NUREMBERG1
1946, published 1947
The Tribunal was invested with power to try and punish persons who had committed Crimes Against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity as defined in the [Nuremberg] Charter.2
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The charges in the indictment that the defendants planned and waged aggressive wars are charges of the utmost gravity. War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent States alone, but affect the whole world.
To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only and international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.
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The Seizure of Austria
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It was contended . . . that the annexation of Austria was justified by the strong desire expressed in many quarters for the union of Austria and Germany . . . . and that . . . the object was achieved without bloodshed.
These matters, even if true, are really immaterial for the facts plainly prove that the methods employed to achieve the object were those of an aggressor. The ultimate factor was the armed might of Germany ready to be used if any resistance was encountered.
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The Aggression Against Poland
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In the opinion of the Tribunal, the events of the days immediately preceding 1 September 1939 demonstrate the determination of Hitler and his associates to carry out the declared intention of invading Poland at all costs, despite appeals from every quarter. . . . The . . . war initiated by Germany against Poland . . . was most plainly an aggressive war, which was to develop in due course into a war which embraced almost the whole world, and resulted in the commission of countless crimes, both against the laws and customs of war, and against humanity.
The Invasion of Denmark and Norway
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. . . As early as October 1939 the question of invading Norway was under consideration. The defense that has been made here is that Germany was compelled to attack Norway to forestall an Allied invasion, and her action was therefore preventive.
It must be remembered that preventive action in foreign territory is justified only in case of an instant and overwhelming necessity for self-defense, leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation. [Internal quotation marks and citation omitted.]
When the plans for an attack on Norway were being made, they were not made for the purpose of forestalling an imminent Allied landing, but, at the most, that they might prevent an Allied occupation at some future date.
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The Law of the [Nuremberg] Charter
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. . . The General Treaty for the Renunciation of War of 27 August 1928, more generally known as the . . . Kellogg-Briand Pact,3 was binding on 63 nations, including Germany, Italy and Japan at the outbreak of war in 1939. The question is, what was the legal effect of this Pact? The nations who signed the Pact . . . condemned recourse to war for the future as an instrument of policy, and expressly renounced it. After the signing of the Pact, any nation resorting to war as an instrument of national policy breaks the Pact. In the opinion of the Tribunal, the solemn renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy necessarily involves the proposition that such a war is illegal in international law; and that those who plan and wage such a war, with its inevitable and terrible consequences, are committing a crime . . . War for the solution of international controversies undertaken as an instrument of national policy certainly includes a war of aggression, and such a war is therefore outlawed by the Pact.
1Excerpts. Emphasis added. Document found in Supplement of Basic Documents to International Law and World Order, 4th ed., Weston et al., Thompson West 1997.
2See London Agreement under “Nuremberg” this Website.
3 See “Kellogg-Briand Pact” under “Treaties,” this website.