Courtesy Reuters

Putting the Nuremberg Law to Work

THE time has come when debate over the legality of the Nuremberg trial may perhaps give way to a consideration of the long-range implications of the principles which it established as law. This is not to say that the legality or wisdom of the proceedings should be a closed question; specifically, it is not to dissent in the least from the authoritative and convincing reasoning which has led Mr. Stimson to the conclusion that "This is a new judicial process, but it is not ex post facto law."[i] It is only to point out that the Nuremberg judgment has been made and is now precedent, and that the present task is to consider how its principles can be put to work in the interests of a peaceable and ordered international society. The challenging question now is how to use the doctrine that aggressive war is "the supreme international crime."

It is perhaps not commonly apprehended that the principles of Nuremberg, which are based on the London Agreement and Charter of August 8, 1945, go hand in hand with the organization of the United Nations as the twin foundations of an international society ordered by law. Both deal with the ultimate problem in international relations -- regulation of the use of force as a means of achieving national objectives. In earlier days it was the inarticulate major premise of agreements between nations that they did not touch the "vital interests" (a term much broader than the right of self-defense) of the High Contracting Parties, as determined by each party itself. This was the attitude expressed by many of the Nazis in the dock at Nuremberg, whose argument may be summarized thus: "For what we have done only Germany can judge us. We acted in the interests of Germany alone, and only Germany has the right to decide whether we acted rightly or wrongly. It is no business of any other country what we did." Both Nuremberg and the United Nations have changed this weltanschauung

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