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Announcements: New additions to the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law

Published on January 15, 2017        Author: 

New additions to the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law. The Codification Division of the UN Office of Legal Affairs has added new lectures to the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law website, which provides high quality international law training and research materials to users around the world free of charge. The latest lectures were given by Professor Alain Pellet on “The Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties” in English and French.

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis
 

Initial Thoughts on the UK Attorney General’s Self-Defence Speech

Published on January 13, 2017        Author: 

This is part of a series of posts discussing the UK Attorney General’s speech on the Modern Law of Self-Defence. See also the other posts in the series by Monica Hakimi and Marko Milanovic.

It’s a pleasure to be able to contribute to this EJIL:Talk! discussion of the speech this week by the UK Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC MP, on “The Modern Law of Self-Defence”. There are two elements of the speech that strike me as especially notable, and on which I’d like to give my initial thoughts here: the invocation of the so-called ‘unwilling or unable’ test and, particularly, the meaning of ‘imminence’ in relation to anticipatory self-defence.

Unwilling or Unable

The explicit acceptance by the UK of the ‘unwilling or unable’ concept, while brief, is a conspicuous feature of the Attorney General’s speech. The speech roots itself in tradition, with nods to the power and weight of history (stretching right back to the 1795 Jay Treaty, as well as, of course, including the obligatory self-back-patting over Britain’s role in the end of the international slave trade). However, there’s no hiding the novelty of the UK’s acceptance of the hugely controversial notion of responding to armed attacks (actual or imminent) even in cases where there is no ‘host state’ involvement whatsoever, simply on the basis of the unwillingness or inability of the state to prevent a non-state actor attack. The US has espoused the ‘unwilling or unable’ doctrine for years, of course, but the UK has not, at least not explicitly.

Admittedly, the Attorney General’s speech is not the first British invocation of unwilling or unable. In November 2015, David Cameron, then Prime Minister, argued before Parliament that the UK’s action in Syria was justified because “the Assad regime is unwilling and/or unable to take action necessary to prevent ISIL’s continuing attack on Iraq” (as well as making the same assertion, the same week, in a memorandum to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee). However, these statements by the Prime Minister were the first clear articulations of the British acceptance of an unwilling or unable test, and were expressed very specifically in relation to action taken against ISIS in Syria. To my knowledge, the Attorney General’s speech acts as the first unequivocal confirmation that the UK has adopted unwilling or unable in genere. This is not a surprising fact, of course, but – to my mind – it is not a positive one either.

Put simply, and leaving aside policy, like Kevin Jon Heller (and many others) I remain unconvinced that state practice supports an unwilling or unable test in relation to self-defence actions taken against non-state actors (and, by unavoidable extension, the state(s) on/from which they are operating). The question of whether the law should allow for military action in such circumstances is a different matter: one that I will unapologetically sidestep. As the law stands, though, for my money, it does not. Read the rest of this entry…

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What Is An Imminent Armed Attack? A Hopefully Helpful Hypo

Published on January 12, 2017        Author: 

Yesterday we had the privilege to publish the speech by the UK Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC MP, setting out some of the UK Government’s views on the law of self-defence. The speech focused in particular on the criteria for assessing the imminence of an armed attack by a non-state actor, and essentially endorsed some of the principles set out in Daniel Bethlehem’s 2012 AJIL article. Thus, the Attorney stated in particular (following a speech by the US State Department Legal Adviser, Brian Egan, at last year’s ASIL meeting) that:

[Bethlehem’] Principle 8 on imminence, as part of the assessment of necessity, is a helpful encapsulation of the modern law in this area.

Sir Daniel’s proposed list of factors was not exhaustive, but included (at Principle 8), the following:

  • The nature and immediacy of the threat;
  • The probability of an attack;
  • Whether the anticipated attack is part of a concerted pattern of continuing armed activity;
  • The likely scale of the attack and the injury, loss or damage likely to result therefrom in the absence of mitigating action; and
  • The likelihood that there will be other opportunities to undertake effective action in self-defense that may be expected to cause less serious collateral injury, loss or damage.

It is my view, and that of the UK Government, that these are the right factors to consider in asking whether or not an armed attack by non-state actors is imminent and the UK Government follows and endorses that approach.

In each exercise of the use of force in self-defence, the UK asks itself the questions that flow from that articulation. Questions like – how certain is it that an attack will come? How soon do we believe that attack could be? What scale of attack is it likely to be? Could this be our last clear opportunity to take action? And crucially – is there anything else we could credibly do to prevent that attack?

I don’t think the Attorney broke any new ground here, nor do I wish to dispute the accuracy or normative desirability of this analysis. But what struck me most about it is the lack of conceptual clarity, in particular the lack of clear delineation between the concepts of imminence, necessity and proportionality and the legal role that these concepts are playing. (I would highly recommend, in that regard, this piece in the AJIL by Dapo and Thomas Liefländer). For example, what is the work that the idea of imminence does here? Is its main purpose to delineate between permissible anticipatory and prohibited preemptive self-defence, which goes around the Article 51 Charter language ‘if an armed attack occurs‘? Or is imminence an aspect of the broader concept of necessity? And can a word such as imminence encompass non-temporal elements? Conceptual clarity matters because without a common understanding of the words we are using we cannot actually properly debate the soundness or desirability of any given approach. Without it, it is hard to even have a conversation.

So here’s a hypo that I hope might be helpful in this regard. Again, the point of the hypo is not to argue for any particular interpretation of self-defence, whether expansive or restrictive. It is only to help us understand how people use particular words, such as imminence, and for what precise purpose.

Dr. Evil is a very capable terrorist, who has decided to attack the United Kingdom, even though he has never done so before. He manages to get his hands on a mid-range cruise missile with a 150 kt thermonuclear warhead, in perfect working order. He places the missile launching system in a building in a Paris suburb, and uploads a video of himself to YouTube showing him arming a very specific firing mechanism. The missile is aimed at London, and will launch in exactly 30 days; there is no off-switch, code or remote signal that can disarm it. Absent forcible intervention in the causal chain, there is complete certainty that the missile will fire in 30 days and that it will destroy a substantial part of London.

Is this armed attack ‘imminent’ in any legally relevant jus ad bellum sense?

Note that this hypo is specifically designed to eliminate most of the real-world uncertainties about armed attacks – the reliability of the intelligence, the likelihood of the attack, not knowing the exact time, location or scale of the attack. In this hypo, we know everything with absolute certainty. And if you have a problem with the non-state actor nature of the attacker, we can easily turn him into a French state agent. Again, the main point here is that a causal chain has been set in motion which, without some further action, as its certain end has the destruction of London. Does this mean that the attack is ‘imminent’? If so, would it be imminent even if the timer was set to 60 days, 120 days, or 10 years? At what point (if any) is there a switch from an anticipatory to a preemptive scenario? When does imminence end, and necessity begins?

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The UK’s Most Recent Volley on Defensive Force

Published on January 12, 2017        Author: 

The legal position that Attorney General Wright presented yesterday is similar to the one that the United States has advanced in recent years. Here’s what I take to be the core elements of the UK claim:

  • The use of force is sometimes permissible to defend against an imminent attack. For an attack to be imminent, the threat must actually be operational: “It is absolutely not the position of the UK Government that armed force may be used to prevent a threat from materialising in the first place.”
  • The attack’s imminence is part of why defensive force is necessary. But imminence alone does not make it necessary. For defensive force to be necessary, other options for defending against the anticipated attack, including law enforcement options, must be inadequate.
  • Defensive force is permitted against an imminent attack, even if the perpetrators are not state agents. Where non-state actors are involved, the relevant inquiry is whether the attack is being planned in another state that is unable or unwilling to prevent it.

I have three initial reactions to Wright’s speech. First, I applaud him for articulating an official UK position on this area of international law. The United States has, of course, pushed hard to advance novel legal positions to justify its counterterrorism operations. But other states have repeatedly responded to the U.S. claims and practice with silence, at least publicly. That dynamic undercuts the law’s (perceived or actual) relevance. International law can’t adequately serve its functions if states stop using it to engage with one another and communicate their expectations—and to do so even, perhaps especially, when they disagree. So, I would encourage other states to follow Wright’s lead and be more forthright about their own legal positions on the contours of the right to use defensive force.

Second, I think the devil is very much in the details here—in the application of the UK’s position to concrete cases. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Modern Law of Self-Defence

Published on January 11, 2017        Author: 

Text of the speech delivered this evening by United Kingdom’s Attorney-General, the Rt Hon. Jeremy Wright QC MP, at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London on “The Modern Law of Self-Defence”:

Introduction

Thank you to the International Institute for Strategic Studies for hosting us today.

The Institute’s Mission Statement sets out its aim to promote ‘the development of sound policies that further global peace and security, and maintain civilised international relations.’

For my part, I welcome the opportunity to speak to you on an international question which is one of the most serious any government can face – when is it lawful for a state to use force – always a last resort and only where it is necessary.

Today I want to talk specifically about when it is lawful to use force in self-defence – whether of the UK, or of our allies. And I want to set out, in greater detail than the Government has before, how the UK applies the long-standing rules of international law on self-defence to our need to defend ourselves against new and evolving types of threats from non-state actors.

I don’t need to remind this audience that the UK is a world leader in promoting, defending and shaping international law. In the 19th Century as modern international law was being formed, it was the UK (in 1807) that helped outlaw and end the international slave trade and then slavery itself.[1] It was diplomatic correspondence between the United Kingdom and the United States which followed the Caroline Incident of 1837 that defined the parameters of the concept of imminence, as it was understood at that time and to which I will return.[2] It was the UK, with the US, which agreed to international arbitration as a means for the settlement of international disputes in the Jay Treaty of 1795.[3]  Our commitment to defending and shaping international law is undimmed since then. The UK was a founding member of the League of Nations and the United Nations, as well as an original signatory to the Kellogg-Briand Pact[4], Ottawa Treaty[5] and the Rome Statute.[6] And we are one of the biggest contributors of funding to the International Criminal Court.[7] We are also the only permanent member of the UN Security Council that recognises the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice[8], and we remain one of the largest contributing states to the International Committee of the Red Cross[9], supporting it in its endeavours to promote and strengthen international humanitarian law.

As the latest in a long line of Attorneys General, I follow in a tradition of advocating, celebrating and participating in a rules-based international order. On several occasions in its history, the United Kingdom has subjected itself voluntarily to the jurisdiction of various international tribunals. My predecessors and I have appeared before a variety of international tribunals on behalf of the UK. And while we do not win every point in every case, I believe this personal investment demonstrates the commitment to international law of those who have done my job.

Of course, consistent with our commitment to that rules-based international order, the UK may on occasion decide to withdraw from a particular international agreement. You may have noticed that the British public has asked us to do so recently, with regard to one such set of agreements. The government is acting on that mandate, through the process of withdrawal from the European Union, and is doing so in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union – in other words, in a manner fully compliant with international law. That is the nature of the country we are, and the nature of our commitment to the Rule of Law.

There are few more fundamental rules of international law than the prohibition of the use of force and the right of self-defence, defined in customary international law and codified in important respects in the UN Charter.[10]

The UK should and will only use armed force, and will only act in self-defence, where it is consistent with international law to do so. International law sets the framework for any action taken by Sovereign States overseas, and the UK acts in accordance with it.

Today, I want to spell out how we ensure that we do so. Read the rest of this entry…

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The UK Attorney-General on the Modern Law of Self-Defence

Published on January 11, 2017        Author: 

Later today, the United Kingdom’s Attorney-General, the Rt Hon. Jeremy Wright QC MP will deliver a speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in London, on “The Modern Law of Self-Defence”. The speech will be significant as the advert indicates that the Attorney General will “set out the UK’s position on the application of international law on self-defence, in particular the concept of ‘imminence’ in the context of the ongoing and developing threat that we face from non-state-actor terrorist groups.”

As readers will likely know from the Chilcott Inquiry relating to the war in Iraq, as well as developments regarding the UK’s use of force in Libya and Syria, the UK Attorney-General has the ultimate responsibility for advising the government on the legality, under international law, of the use of force. It has also become standard practice since the war in Iraq for a summary of the Attorney-General’s advice to be presented to Parliament before Parliament votes on whether to authorise the use of force (a vote which is now required by constitutional convention).

I am happy to report that the text of the speech will be posted on this blog as soon as the AG has finished delivery of the speech at 6pm UK time. In addition, over the coming days there will be discussion on EJIL:Talk! of the issues raised by the speech, with a number of contributors weighing on the significance of the points made by the AG.  Read the rest of this entry…

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How Much Public International Law Scholarship is There?

Published on January 10, 2017        Author: 

Two years ago I started to try and keep track of and categorize all of the PIL books published in a year. That yielded a figure of about 400 in English, French, and German. I wanted to count journal articles too but soon realized it was too big a job and one I couldn’t justify spending time on. Add to that the increasing number of well-researched blog posts and even for professional scholars just keeping up with all that is published must be daunting.

untitled1In the hope of providing a solution we have been developing a web-based tool to help scholars spend less time finding out what has been published on a topic and more time analysing and assessing it. The fruit of our labour is called ResearchTrack which provides information about newly published scholarship with links to the originals where access to the full content may be available, and will cover outputs from all publishers. We are opening it up to the public from today. The current version is a free “beta” version i.e. it is being used for a pilot study (running to the end of February 2017) during which we will hope to get lots of feedback about the overall usefulness of the idea and how we can improve it for a permanent version (should there prove to be sufficient interest). The pilot phase has two disciplines: Public International Law and International Relations.

Coverage

In terms of coverage we track books, journal articles, and substantive blog pieces. During this pilot phase it only covers English language materials systematically but I would like to hear from any teams who might be interested in helping us to broaden out. Our team of external editors decide whether something merits inclusion based purely on whether it is potentially of interest to a PIL researcher; inclusion does not reflect an assessment of quality.

Antecedents

I should acknowledge the existence of other projects which have also attempted to fill this need. One is the now defunct Weekly International Law Digest produced by Don Anton which listed in a weekly PDF everything that had come out in PIL, and the other of course is the still active International Law Reporter run by the indefatigable Jacob Katz Cogan.

untitled2ResearchTrack differs from the latter in that our team of editors tags everything with subjects from our taxonomy of 300+ items and adds filters for geography. Users register and then personalize their data feed by choosing which topics they wish to track. You can choose as many topics as you want and easily add or remove new ones. Whenever you log in you will see a number showing you how many new items have been published in your areas of interest. Our hope is that in addition to being useful for tracking the latest scholarship it will over time become a way of building up a literature review on any given topic.

Pilot Phase

During the pilot phase which will run until the end of February 2017 we invite all PIL researchers to register, try it out, and tell us what you think. We are particularly keen on feedback about coverage (are we missing anything), types of content (what, besides books, blogs, and journals would you like to see tracked), usability of the site, and of course bugs. There is a feedback page (accessed by clicking on the arrow at the bottom of the page which opens up a small panel of options) or feel free to email me directly at john.louth {at} oup(.)com.

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Legal Bindingness of Security Council Resolutions Generally, and Resolution 2334 on the Israeli Settlements in Particular

Published on January 9, 2017        Author: 

As I have read commentary on the recently adopted resolution by the U.N. Security Council (Resolution 2334) addressing Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, I’ve noticed a number of commentators who appear to assume that, since this resolution was not explicitly adopted in exercise of the Council’s Chapter VII powers, therefore all of its operative provisions are per se legally non-binding. Orde Kittrie, writing over at Lawfare, seems to make this assumption clear when he writes:

“Resolution 2334 was not adopted under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter and is not legally binding. The resolution does not create additional legal requirements on Israel, nor does the resolution require (or even explicitly encourage) U.N. member states to impose sanctions on Israel in response to Israeli settlement activity.”

I thought this would be a good opportunity to write briefly to clarify that the legal obligation for U.N. Charter states parties to comply with the decisions of the Security Council, contained in Article 24 and 25 of the Charter, is not contingent upon the Council’s acting in exercise of its Chapter VII powers. Any decision of the Security Council is legally binding upon all U.N. member states, whether or not the text of the resolution explicitly references Chapter VII.

Rather, the key question for determining whether a particular provision of a Security Council resolution is legally binding on member states (i.e. whether the provision is a “decision” of the Security Council), including the specific addressee of the resolution, is whether the Council has chosen to use words within the provision indicating its intent to create a legally binding obligation.

The International Court of Justice made these points clear in its 1971 Namibia advisory opinion, in Paragraphs 108-114. Read the rest of this entry…

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Announcements: Workshop on the Use of “Authorities” in International Dispute Settlement; CfP – Solidarity and the Promotion of Peace and Security

Published on January 8, 2017        Author: 

1. Workshop on the Use of “Authorities” in International Dispute Settlementc. Young scholars and PhD candidates interested in empirical methods in international law are invited to submit expressions of interest for this workshop on the use of “authorities” in international dispute settlement. The workshop will not involve the publication of papers, although works-in-progress will be discussed by the participants. By bringing together young and established scholars using empirical methods, this workshop aspires to provide inspiration and practical guidance. The workshop, funded by the British Academy, is organised by Dr Michael Waibel and will take place on 20 March 2017, at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at the University of Cambridge. Expressions of interest shall be sent to Damien Charlotin (dc655 {at} cam.ac(.)uk) by 10 January 2017 with a description of your research interests and how they relate to the theme of the workshop, plus a CV with a list of publications. The organizer will let applicants know by 20 January 2017 about the outcome of their application. 

2. Call for Papers: Solidarity and the Promotion of Peace and Security. The ESIL Interest Group on Peace and Security will submit a proposal for a panel on “Solidarity and the Promotion of Peace and Security” during the 13th ESIL Annual Conference in Naples (7 – 9 September 2017). This panel will invite papers that address the following questions: 1. What is the nature and what are the ethical foundations of the principle of solidarity? 2. What are the implications of the constitutional reading of the principle of solidarity? 3. What specific responsibilities are attached to the principle of solidarity?; 4. How does solidarity contribute to the effective realisation of public goods? 5. What are the specific expressions of solidarity in the fields of jus ad bellum and jus in bello? Please submit an abstract in PDF (in English or French) of no more than 800 words by 24:00 on 16 January 2017 (London-UK time) to: theodore.christakis@univ-grenoble-alpes.frstarski {at} mpil(.)denicholas.tsagourias@sheffield.ac.uk. Applicants will be informed of the selection committee’s decision no later than 27 January 2017.  The following information must be provided with each abstract: the author’s name, contact details, affiliation and as well as brief CV listing relevant publications.

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Filed under: Announcements and Events
 

Identifying the Language of Peace: Developing the Practical and Theoretical Framework of Peace-Making

After a year which saw an unprecedented number of people displaced by violent conflict, and peace processes suffering setback after setback, from the repeated ceasefire violations reported in Yemen to the difficult process of bridging differences in Syria, faith in peace-making appears to be at its lowest. But when faced with the devastating impact of conflicts around the world, there can be no question of the need to redouble the efforts directed at achieving negotiated peace; as illustrated by the case of Colombia, peace is attainable even in the most entrenched of conflicts. In most cases, redoubling efforts requires going back to the drawing board, reframing issues and suggesting different approaches in order to create novel solutions to seemingly intractable problems. In such cases, the ability to draw on the practice of previous agreements drafted in similar situations may prove invaluable to the process; but without a consolidated and issue-based digest of such previous practice, this means having to spend days combing through possibly hundreds of documents (often on very short notice) each time, while there is still a chance of missing at least some of the relevant results.

Furthermore, identifying the range of options utilised in previous practice is only the first step; the negotiating parties must then consider whether these approaches comply with, or appear to depart from, international law. This in itself can be a cause of great controversy within peace-making processes: for instance, is it legal for peace agreements to grant blanket amnesties, including to (suspected) war criminals? Such controversies, as well as the ever-growing attention to concepts such as lex pacificatoria and jus post bellum, highlight the need to clarify the underlying relationship between peace and international law in specific areas.

It is in response to these concerns that the Language of Peace research tool – launched at the UN Secretariat in New York on Tuesday, 6 December 2016 – was developed, allowing instant search capability across the provisions of around 1,000 peace agreements, categorized according to the issues they address, from negotiating agendas through human rights to power-sharing arrangements. This post identifies two areas in which Language of Peace seeks to contribute to the development of international peace-making. Read the rest of this entry…

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