Victors' Justice

Issue section: 
(344)

Danilo Zolo, Verso, £14.99

The subversive notion that leaders of Western nations could be considered "war criminals" has become common sense for millions of people influenced by the anti-war movement. Victors' Justice describes the innovative precedents set by the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals - that a court could be set up on the terms of the victorious powers with retrospective jurisdiction and hold individuals to account for state crimes.

This is a forensic critique of the liberal inconsistencies resurrected to support the ideology of "humanitarian war". Many critics have invoked the UN as a more legitimate arbiter of international justice.

Zolo points out how obscenely imperial powers twist the UN Charter's provision for self-defence while they denounce the victims of occupation who practise it. But he is sceptical about promoting the UN as an alternative.

There is much to praise in this polemic but there are also flaws. It is not the most accessible book for the general reader. Latin phrases are only sporadically translated and important reference points are infrequently or belatedly explained.

Also, while this is clearly a radical left analysis, Zolo's brief survey of Marxist theories of imperialism fails to do them justice. At no point does the anti-war movement merit a mention meaning this strong critique of imperialism fails to line up unequivocally with an alternative.