What is Debellatio?

Introduction

The term “debellatio” or “debellation” (Latin “defeating, or the act of conquering or subduing”, literally, “warring (the enemy) down”, from Latin bellum “war”) designates the end of war caused by complete destruction of a hostile state.

Israeli law-school professor Eyal Benvenisti defines it as “a situation in which a party to a conflict has been totally defeated in war, its national institutions have disintegrated, and none of its allies continue to challenge the enemy militarily on its behalf”.

Examples

Carthage

In some cases debellation ends with a complete dissolution and annexation of the defeated state into the victor’s national territory, as happened at the end of the Third Punic War with the defeat of Carthage by Rome in the 2nd century BC.

Nazi Germany

The unconditional surrender of the Third Reich, in the strict sense only the German Armed Forces, at the end of World War II was at the time accepted by most authorities as a case of debellatio as:

  • There was a complete dissolution of the German Reich, including all offices.
  • The Allied Control Council held sovereignty over the territory of Germany.
  • Much of the territory of the German Reich was annexed (see former eastern territories of Germany).
  • No unitary German state remained, the German Reich being succeeded by the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic.

Other authorities have argued that a German state remained in existence from 1945 to 1949, albeit dormant and without any institutional or organisational component, on the basis that:

  • Most of the territory that made up Germany before the Anschluss was not annexed.
  • A German population still existed and was recognised as having German nationality.
  • German institutions such as courts never ceased to exist even though the Allied Control Council governed the territory.
  • Eventually, a German government regained full sovereignty over all German territory that had not been annexed (refer to German reunification).
  • The Federal Republic of Germany sees itself as the legal continuation of the Third Reich.

Others

  • Republic of Venice (Refer to the Fall of the Republic of Venice).
  • Confederate States of America (Refer to the Conclusion of the American Civil War).
  • Paraguay (Refer to Fall of Asunción).
  • Austria-Hungary (Refer to Treaty of Trianon and Treaty of Saint Germain).
  • South Vietnam (Refer to Fall of Saigon).
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