Ultima ratio

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The ultima ratio (from Latin ultimus , here: “last”, “outermost”; ratio , here: “means”, “possibility”) generally designates the last solution , the last resort or the last resort in a conflict of interest , if before all other proposed solutions were rejected because no - or allegedly no - agreement could be reached with them.

In international politics, this term was used to justify acts of war in which the previous non-armed interventions did not lead to a solution to the conflict. The ultima ratio is a point that needs to be fulfilled, especially to justify a so-called just war .

In jurisprudence, too, the ultima-ratio principle is used when the legal principle of proportionality is emphasized when using legal means.

Origin of the term

Ultima Ratio Regum - inscription on a cannon in front of the Army History Museum in Vienna

The term comes from the Thirty Years War . Cardinal Richelieu had the formula poured onto the gun barrel: “Ultima ratio regum” (“the last resort of kings”). This did not mean the last available means after exhausting all other possibilities, but the last word of the king to definitively decide a conflict. At the same time as Richelieu, the Spanish playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca recognized in his drama "In this life everything is true and everything is a lie", in the field weapons are the última razón of kings. A hundred years later, Frederick II of Prussia responded appropriately and almost word for word: Since 1742, all of his cannons have received the inscription "Ultima ratio regis" - "the king's last resort".


In criminal law , Germany, like other democratic constitutional states, follows the principle of the “ultima ratio”. In other words, in accordance with the principle of proportionality , criminal law is used as the last resort to enforce legal peace and, according to the legal scholar Heribert Ostendorf, is considered the "sharpest control instrument of the state because it is usually the toughest intrusion into privacy . “Before that, other control instruments such as civil law or administrative law should be used.

The principle of proportionality is also applied to so-called minor offenses or in juvenile criminal law . In labor law, the principle is used in particular in the right to strike and in the event of operational dismissals .


Web links

Wiktionary: Ultima Ratio  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Ultima ratio  - sources and full texts
Commons : Ultima ratio regum  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. "Que sepas que, en la campaña, / última razón de reyes / es la fuerza de las armas!" Quoted from Calderón: En esta vida todo es verdad y todo mentira. 2nd act, 2nd picture, 5th scene ( archive.org ).
  2. ^ Heribert Prantl : War as a last resort . In: Kai Ambos , Jörg Arnold : The Iraq War and International Law. Berlin 2003, ISBN 978-3-83050-559-4 , p. 31 ff. First as an editorial in the Süddeutsche Zeitung , February 24, 2003.
  3. Criminal law principles and criminal proceedings on the website of the Federal Agency for Civic Education of April 27, 2010, accessed on March 15, 2017.
  4. Johannes Wessels , Werner Beulke : Criminal Law General Part . In: CF Müller, Heidelberg etc. 2010, ISBN 978-3-8114-9752-8 , p. 3, Rn. 9.
  5. Jörg Wolff, Andrzej Marek: Education and punishment: Juvenile criminal law in the Federal Republic of Germany and Poland - basic questions and description of the state . Forum publ. Godesberg, Bonn 1990, in a series of publications by the juvenile courts and juvenile court assistance eV, p. 72 ( Google books ).
  6. Bernd Rüthers, Martin Henssler: Labor law . 17., rework. Edition Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-17-019955-2 , p. 171 ( Google books ).