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Home Archive for category "Arms Control"

Tears in Our Eyes: Third State Obligations in International Law

Published on July 30, 2015        Author: 

In early January 2015 the Republic of South Korea sold 1.9 million tear gas canisters to Turkey. With this sale came much campaigning against it. Amnesty International’s “Korea, do not sell us tear gas” campaign received over 50,000 signatures of support. The goal of this campaign was to highlight how the Turkish police force has been and continues to be to this day reckless and excessive in its use of tear gas on certain domestic demonstrations. Reckless and excessive use which, according to data collected by the Turkey Human Rights Joint Platform, led to the death of 19 Turkish citizens between 2006 and 2013 — including four children.

The sale of such large quantities of tear gas to a country that has a proven track record of using it frequently and recklessly raises important questions of international law. It raises questions in particular with regard to the responsibility of third states for internationally wrongful acts and the standard of proof required to establish such responsibility. Put simply, did South Korea commit an internationally wrongful act when it sold tear gas to Turkey?

Tear gas and international law

The name tear gas encompasses a group of substances that irritate mucous membranes and cause stinging sensations and tears. The effect of tear gas is normally considered temporary for a healthy adult so long as they are able to breathe fresh air shortly after exposure. Fatalities have been caused when tear gas has been used in closed spaces, on unhealthy adults or the elderly, or when canisters have been fired directly at protesters.

The use of tear gas is prohibited in wartime both by the 1925 Gas Protocol and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.  The 1993 Convention, however, explicitly includes a clause in Article 1(5), inserted at the insistence of the United States, stating that “Each State Party undertakes not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare.” Article II(7) of the 1993 Convention further defines a “Riot Control Agent” as “Any chemical not listed in a Schedule, which can produce rapidly in humans sensory irritation or disabling physical effects which disappear within a short time following termination of exposure.” This clause, by implication, signals a regime of permissibility for riot control agents — including tear gas — during peacetime. Read the rest of this entry…

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Security Council Resolution 2231 and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program

Published on July 27, 2015        Author: 

Last week I did a couple of posts elsewhere on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), agreed on July 14 between the P5+1 and Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program. See here and here. These posts may be of interest in explaining the essential agreement contained in the JCPOA, and in examining some of its key legal implications.

The JCPOA is the culmination of twenty months of negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran, since the initial Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) was agreed by the parties in November 2013. I wrote a post discussing the JPOA here at EJIL:Talk! at the time it was agreed.

I’d like to focus this post on the unanimous passage by the U.N. Security Council on July 20 of Resolution 2231, which can be found here. Resolution 2231 comprises 104 pages of text, inclusive of two annexes, one of which is the entire JCPOA text. I mention this because my primary impression in reading over Resolution 2231 and is annexes for the first time, was frankly astonishment that the parties had been able to agree on such an amazingly complex, thorough and comprehensive diplomatic accord. I was also impressed by the precision of the text of Resolution 2231 itself (apart from a couple of typos) in implementing, in what appears to be a very sophisticated and, as far as I can tell, correct way, the agreement reached by the parties on July 14.

The JCPOA itself and Resolution 2231 appear to represent a major success of international diplomacy, as well as a significant achievement of international law in facilitating the implementation of the diplomatic accord. Again, it is difficult to overstate the complexity of the issues that had to be resolved among the parties to arrive at both the JCPOA and Resolution 2231. And the specificity with which these issues were addressed in both documents – down to weights and measures and dates of implementation – is frankly astonishing, and far exceeds my expectations.  And so I compliment all of the diplomats and lawyers involved. Read the rest of this entry…

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Lethal Automated Robotic Systems and Automation Bias

Published on June 11, 2015        Author: 

Lethal Autonomous Robotic Systems (LARS) are machines that are capable of initiating a lethal attack on individuals or other targets. Based on its programming, a LARS can determine whether an individual is a valid target and whether engaging that target is a proportional action, and act upon its own assessment. Such sophisticated systems have long been in the realm of science fiction, but today they are not only a possibility, but a reality. For example, Samsung has developed the SGR-A1, which is currently deployed in the Korean demilitarised zone. Although, for now, that device leaves the final decision to engage to a human.

The debate on the use of such systems is heating up (see for instance the various reports by Human Rights Watch, the Oxford Martin Policy Paper, or discussions on the topic in relation to the CCW). These systems have been criticised from moral, political and legal perspectives. Leaving aside the moral and political objections, the development of a LARS is extremely problematic from the perspective of international humanitarian law. In particular, questions have been raised about the ability of such systems to make distinctions between civilians and combatants, as well as computing the proportionality of an attack. Furthermore, there are complex responsibility questions that are as yet not fully answered.

In response to these problems, the US has issued a directive that all robotic systems of this type will in fact not be operated in a fully autonomous mode, but will always function with a ‘human in the loop’. This statement is apparently intended to undermine at least the legal, and possibly the other criticisms relating to the deployment of LARS.

Human in the loop

It could be argued, however, that the deployment of a LARS with a human in the loop is just as problematic as a fully automated version. While the decision to engage a target will always be overseen by a human being, I will argue that it is not a given that this will in fact influence the functioning of the system sufficiently to adequately safeguard against the problems associated with the fully automated settings.

Firstly, the term ‘human in the loop’ is not very specific. There are a variety of ways in which a system can operate with a human in the loop. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Budapest Memorandum and Beyond: Have the Western Parties Breached a Legal Obligation?

Published on February 18, 2015        Author: 

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, brought renewed attention at the Munich Security Conference this month to the Budapest Memorandum, an instrument adopted some twenty years ago by Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States.  The Chancellor said that the Russian Federation, by invading eastern Ukraine and annexing Crimea, “has broken its commitment to the Budapest Memorandum.”  Merkel asked, “Who would give up their nuclear capability if their territorial integrity were not respected?”

The Budapest Memorandum, or to give its long form title, Memorandum on Security Assurances in Connection with Ukraine’s Accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), was adopted in connection with Ukraine’s agreement at the time to relinquish the nuclear weapons in its territory, these having formed a substantial part of the arsenal of the former USSR.  In its Declaration at time of accession to the NPT, Ukraine further stated that “[t]he threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and inviolability of borders or political independence of Ukraine from a nuclear power… will be considered by Ukraine as exceptional circumstances which jeopardize its interests.”  The Russian Federation in 2014/2015 clearly is in breach of the terms of the Budapest Memorandum.  The Russian Federation, under paragraph 1, “reaffirm[ed]” its commitment “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”  Even if crediting the Russian Federation’s arguments for use of force against Ukraine, forced annexations and separations of territory constitute breach, and of a serious character—points further addressed in my forthcoming book, Aggression against Ukraine: Territory, Responsibility and International Law. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ECJ and (Mis)interpretation of Security Council Resolutions: The Case of Sanctions Against Iran

Published on December 23, 2013        Author: 

On 28 November 2013, the ECJ set aside the judgment of the General Court of the EU in case T‑509/10, Manufacturing Support & Procurement Kala Naft v Council, which had annulled, in so far as they concerned the applicant (an Iranian company owned by the National Iranian Oil Company), the various EU restrictive measures targeting persons and entities listed as being engaged in nuclear proliferation (including Council Decision 2010/413/CFSP). However, in my view, the ECJ was wrong in considering that the UNSC Resolution 1929 (2010) provided a basis for the challenged EU measures as the Court wrongly interpreted the SC resolution as enabling the European Council to conclude that trading in key equipment and technology for the gas and oil industry was ‘capable of being regarded as support for the nuclear activities of [Iran]’.

In its judgment, the ECJ, recalls that the effectiveness of judicial review requires that the Courts of the EU are to ensure that the decision challenged ‘is taken on a sufficiently solid factual basis’ (at para. 73), and observes that in order to assess the lawfulness of the General Court’s review of the measures, it shall examine ‘the way in which the General Court identified and interpreted the general rules of the relevant legislation’ (para. 74). The ECJ held that “there is nothing in the judgment under appeal to indicate that the General Court took into account the changes in European Union legislation after Security Council Resolution 1929 (2010) (para. 75, emphasis mine). Read the rest of this entry…

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The New Deal Between the P5+1 and Iran

Published on November 26, 2013        Author: 

Dan Joyner is Professor of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law in the U.S.  He is the author of two books on nuclear non-proliferation law, and of a monograph currently under contract with Oxford University Press, entitled Iran’s Nuclear Program and International Law. He blogs regularly at www.armscontrollaw.com

Like many, I stayed up late Saturday night following the Twitter updates of what was developing in the Geneva negotiations between Iran and the P5+1.  And like most, I was thrilled to hear that an initial accord had been reached. A historic agreement that potentially signals a thawing in relations between Iran and the West – the best such indication since 1979. It was a night of high drama.

I’ve now had a chance to read over the product of this agreement – a four page document entitled Simply “Joint Plan of Action.”

I would observe first of all that I agree with Duncan Hollis in his assessment over at Opinio Juris that this agreement is intended by the parties to be non-legally-binding. Duncan provides a review of the reasons for this conclusion. As I noted in a comment to his post, I think the diplomats in Geneva had enough trouble reaching agreement on a text in this politically binding form, and would have shuddered at the thought of having to get it approved by their respective legislatures.

However, legally non-binding international agreements can still have significant legal, as well as political, implications.

The document lays out in detail Iran’s commitments under the accord. They comprise a very significant list of concessions, cumulatively limiting Iran’s nuclear program and preventing any further development of the program for the six month duration of the agreement. I think it is worth noting that all of these steps together comprise a more significant list of concessions than was expected by most observers. Nevertheless, it is also important to note that none of them, and not even their sum, is beyond what Iran had already offered in past negotiations, going back at least to 2005. Read the rest of this entry…

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Syria and the Law of Humanitarian Intervention (Part II: International Law and the Way Forward)

Published on October 4, 2013        Author: 

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on Just Security.

My first post for Just Security explained why, despite some bungled politics, President Obama’s proposed military action in Syria could have been lawful under U.S. domestic law.  This post discusses why President Obama did not violate international law by threatening to use force in Syria in the face of a persistent Russian veto, and how the Syria crisis might best evolve from here.

Obviously, we cannot fully evaluate the lawfulness of any state’s use of force until we know the precise factual circumstances under which it chooses to take action.  But let’s start by distinguishing the legal question—is the option of military force available under domestic or international law?—from the policy question: would it be wise to use military force in Syria for the limited purpose of discouraging a repeat use of chemical weapons?  No one denies that the policy question presents a vexing judgment call, even if the intended use were very limited and even if a decision-maker like President Obama had far more information than that available to the general public. As Nick Kristof rightly cautioned, “[l]et’s be humble enough to acknowledge we can’t be sure of the answer and that Syria will be bloody whatever we do.”  The shifting balance of power in the Syrian civil war; the proliferation of questionable armed groups on both sides, the risk of mission creep, and the uncertainty of follow-on consequences from any military strike all demand caution, particularly if one starts from the premise, “first, do no harm.”

3. Was the Proposed Military Action Lawful Under International Law? That said, a prior and distinct legal question remains: would the policy option to use military force ever be available under either domestic or international law? My last post explained the circumstances under which U.S. domestic law allows policymakers that policy option.  But does international law nonetheless bar it? I believe that international law has evolved sufficiently to permit morally legitimate action to prevent atrocities by responding to the deliberate use of chemical weapons.

Among international legal commentators, the emerging party line seems to be that President Obama was threatening blatantly illegal military action in Syria, for the simple reason that the Russians were not on board. The conventional argument, set forth by among others, my Yale friends and colleagues Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro, is “per se illegality:” in their view, Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter permits individual and collective self-defense but bars any and all other forms of intervention without express Security Council authorization. They see the Syrian crisis as a moment to reaffirm that acting without an UN Security Council Resolution is per se illegal.  But is that really what international law requires? Read the rest of this entry…

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Syria, Security Resolution 2118 (2013) and Peace versus Justice: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back?

Published on October 3, 2013        Author: 

Chemical weaponsOn 27 September 2013, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2118 (2013). The resolution broke the diplomatic impasse over Syria in the Security Council. It was celebrated as a diplomatic success and as a ‘precedent-setting’ resolution. It marks fundamental progress, on at least two fronts: (i) It shifted the debate on the use of force from claims of unilateral intervention to collective security action (which is in line with the spirit of the Responsibility to Protect idea under the World Summit Outcome Document); and (ii) it reinforced of the normative regime regarding the ban of the use of chemical weapons. (photo: mustard gas shells, credit)

As has been aptly noted,  the text of resolution has not been expressly adopted under Chapter VII. But this does not detract from its binding force (Article 25 of the UN Charter) and its legal significance. The most immediate consequence of Resolution 2118 (2013) is that averted the threat of unilateral military strikes. The text of the resolution makes it makes it clear that military action to enforce compliance with obligations under the Resolution needs to be channelled through the Security Council. The wording differs from Security Council Resolution 1441 (2002) which afforded Iraq ‘a final opportunity to comply with … disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Council’ (para. 2), and recalled that ‘Iraq […] will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations’ (para. 13). Resolution 2118 (2013) maintains the prerogative of the Council to decide on future action. It states that the Security Council ‘decides’ on measures ‘in the event of non-compliance with’ the resolution (para. 22). This makes it hard to justify unilateral strikes, based on the interpretation of the Resolution, as argued in the context of Iraq, where Resolution 1441 was invoked in conjunction with Resolution 678 (1990) to justify the use of force. The wording of Resolution 2118 adopts a different approach. It suggests that the burden lies on the Council to reach agreement.  It leaves some choice as to the type of measure to be adopted (e.g., sanctions or other measures under Article 41, or coercive measures under Article 42). But the wording (‘The Security Council ‘[d]ecides […] to impose measures under Chapter VII’)  seems to reflect an implied pre-commitment to act which is visibly designed to prevent risks of future inaction by the Council.

Secondly, the resolution marks new ground since it proclaims a ‘new’ norm regarding the universal ban on the use of chemical weapons. It clarifies that ‘the use of chemical weapons anywhere constitutes a threat to international peace and security’ (para. 1).It thus embraces a new commitment by the Security Council to the prohibition of the use of chemical weapons ‘anywhere’, ‘anytime’ and ‘under any circumstances’. As argued by Marko Milanovic, this universal ban bears resemblance with the generic finding in the preamble of Resolution 1373 (2001) that ‘acts, like any act of international terrorism, constitute a threat to international peace and security’. It puts pressure on the Council to deal with such incidents in the future. It coincides with parallel developments in international criminal law, i.e. the extension of the war crime of employing poison, poisonous weapons or prohibited gases, liquids, materials or devices to non-international armed conflicts at Kampala, as discussed by Dapo Akande.

But like the preceding discourse on intervention, the resolution contains a fundamental contradiction. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Few Thoughts on Resolution 2118 (2013)

Published on October 1, 2013        Author: 

The official final text of Security Council resolution 2118 (2013) on Syria is now available, as is the full proces-verbal of the Council’s discussion after the adoption of the resolution (text available here; ODS search strangely still showing it as under embargo; S/PV.7038). The main points of the resolution have of course received much attention from the press, and there is also commentary by John Bellinger on Lawfare and Ryan Goodman on Just Security, here and here). There are a couple of features of the resolution that I find particularly interesting.

First, there’s the fact that in its last preambular paragraph the Council unanimously endorsed the view that all Council decisions, and not just Chapter VII resolutions, are legally binding. This was of course due to careful diplomacy between the US and Russia, with the former wanting a legally binding instrument and the latter refusing to agree to a Chapter VII resolution. The compromise between the two is reflected in the preambular paragraph when the Council is ‘underscoring that Member States are obligated under Article 25 of the Charter of the United Nations to accept and carry out the Council’s decisions’ and then in a number of operative paragraphs which use the verb ‘decides’ to impose legally binding obligations.

In other words, while decisions under Chapter VII are legally binding (even though resolutions under this chapter will frequently include non-binding recommendations as well), they are not the only decisions with binding force. This is I think the first time that the Council so openly adopted this view, which was endorsed before it by the ICJ in the 1971 Namibia advisory opinion. Doctrinally of course the issue was not settled and continued to be debated; for an overview see John Bellinger’s post as well as this excellent report linked to by Ryan. But now the matter does seem to be finally settled, with the ICJ’s interpretation of the Charter garnering unanimous support of the Council.

The PV of the meeting, at which many delegations stressed the legally binding nature of the resolution, only supports the resolution’s text. I think Ryan is wrong when he argues that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov ‘took a swing at the legal strength of the Resolution’ when he stated that it was not passed under Chapter VII. As I see it, Russia is in full agreement with the US and the UK that the resolution did create binding obligations – this is at least implicit in his following statement on p. 4 of the PV:

Particular responsibility lies with those who back and sponsor the opposition; they have to ensure that chemical weapons do not fall into the hands of extremists. We draw attention to the fact that the resolution contains requirements set by the Security Council that apply to all countries, especially Syria’s neighbours. They must report to the Council any attempts by non-State actors to obtain chemical weapons. It would be even more unacceptable for them to support such attempts. All similar cases will be immediately considered by the Security Council with the objective of taking the necessary measures. (emphasis mine)
What Chapter VII brings to the table is not necessarily the binding nature of the measures enacted, but telling us what the measures can substantively be under the Charter, e.g. the authorization to use force. And this is what the Russians are (rightly) concerned about; they don’t want there to be any plausible argument that the Council has implicitly authorized force, and this is what they achieved. But that does not mean that they do not consider the decisions made within the resolution, e.g. for Syria not to use chemical weapons, to cooperate with the OPCW, etc., to be non-legally binding.

The second striking thing about the resolution is its determination in the first operative paragraph ‘that the use of chemical weapons anywhere constitutes a threat to international peace and security.’ In other words, any use of chemical weapons by anyone anywhere is ipso facto a threat of international peace and security, and justifies the Council’s intervention. The Council has previously made such determinations only rarely, as e.g. in resolution 1368 (2001) in which it found that any act of international terrorism was a threat to international peace and security.

Also of note is op. para. 19, in which the Council ‘demands that non-State actors not develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery, and calls upon all Member States, in particular Member States neighbouring the Syrian Arab Republic, to report any actions inconsistent with this paragraph to the Security Council immediately.’ Note how the demand is addressed to non-state actors directly and is very precise in scope; this of course raises the issue whether the Council can create legally binding obligations for non-state actors, and whether it has done so in this particular instance (cf. the ICJ’s Kosovo advisory opinion). The Council buttressed this ‘demand’ (but not a ‘decision’?) by deciding in op. para. 20 that ‘all Member States shall prohibit the procurement of chemical weapons, related equipment, goods and technology or assistance from the Syrian Arab Republic by their nationals, or using their flagged vessels or aircraft, whether or not originating in the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic.’

Finally, the Council’s decision in op. para. 21 to impose Chapter VII measures in case of non-compliance is also I think a novelty – although it clearly wouldn’t prevent a veto regarding the adoption of a further resolution, it would render that veto even more politically suspect.

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Iran’s (Non-)Compliance with its Non-Proliferation Obligations Revisited

Published on June 22, 2013        Author: 

A recent statement issued by the EU entitled ‘Common messages regarding EU sanctions against the Iranian nuclear programme’, posted on the websites of various EU embassies in Tehran (and translated into Farsi), attempts to sum up the reasons which have allegedly justified not only the sanctions on Iran decided by the UN Security Council, but also those adopted by the EU itself, which, as the document make clear, are ‘autonomous sanctions, beyond the ones imposed on Iran by UNSC Resolutions’. However, the recent EU statement, like others making allegations against Iran with respect to its nuclear programme, is vague and imprecise in terms of content of the obligations allegedly breached by Iran. It states that ‘[s]anctions are a response to Iran’s violations of its international obligations’, but it fails to give a precise indication of exactly what obligations would have been breached. In fact, it is noteworthy that the statement limits itself to pointing to the violation by Iran ‘of several resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and IAEA Board of Governors resolutions’, and does not state explicitly that Iran would have breached either its Safeguards agreement with the IAEA, or the NPT itself (which mandates in its Article III the implementation of such safeguards). I have shown previously (here and here on EJIL:Talk!) that it is very dubious that EU sanctions on Iran agreed in 2012, including the comprehensive oil and gas embargo and the freezing of assets of the Iranian central bank, actually comply with both procedural and substantive conditions applicable to countermeasures under the 2001 ILC Articles on State Responsibility.

The purpose of this post is to make two further points. First, the IAEA, in making findings (in Sept 2005) of non-compliance by Iran, has not applied properly applicable rules (both procedural and substantive) in its assessment of Iran’s conduct with respect to its obligations under Iran’s NPT Safeguards Agreement’ (CSA). This implies that the legal validity of such finding is, to say the least, very doubtful.

Second, an authoritative legal determination of the issue of Iranian compliance (or non-compliance) with the obligations assumed under the CSA, or a pronouncement on the existence and the materiality of a breach by Iran (in the meaning of ‘material breach’ under Article 60 of the Vienna Conventions) of the latter, has not yet been made and would indeed require the involvement of the ICJ or of an arbitral tribunal. Read the rest of this entry…

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