Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



On June 7, 1981, the State of Israel conducted an aerial attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor known as Tamuz I located near Baghdad. The attack was carried out by F15 and F16 aircraft supplied by the United States. The reactor was damaged severely and three Iraqi civilians and one French technician were killed. On June 8 Israel announced the attack and described it as an act of legitimate self-defense, claiming Iraq planned to construct nuclear weapons. On the same day the Republic of Iraq requested an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council to consider what it described as an act of aggression in violation of the United Nations Charter.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a definition of aggression by consensus in resolution 3314 (XXIX) of 14 December 1974. It states in article 1 that aggression is "the use of armed force by a State against the sovereign integrity or political independence of another State," and adds in article 2 that "the first use of armed force by a State in contravention of the Charter shall constitute prima facie evidence of an act of aggression... " In all legal formulations, self-defense is considered lawful, in contrast with aggression, which is considered unlawful. Consequently, the issue to be resolved is whether the fact situation should be appraised, according to the criteria of law, as aggression or self-defense.