A democratically elected president has lost control of his country and fears for his safety. He flees and seeks refuge in a more powerful neighbouring State. He writes a letter as the legitimate President, inviting his host State to take military action against the insurgents who have forced him into exile. The host State does so. Will such a situation meet with condemnation or support from the international community? Does it depend on whether the President’s name is Yanukovych or Hadi, and the intervening State is Russia or Saudi Arabia?
Russia’s Sputnik news agency has been quick the draw the parallels between the Russian intervention in Ukraine in 2014 (the jus ad bellum aspects of which have previously been discussed on this blog, including by myself – see here, here and here) and the continuing Saudi-led intervention in Yemen in 2015, seeking to highlight the divergent reaction to two seemingly very similar situations to skewer alleged Western hypocrisy. In contrast, the US State Department’s spokesperson, Marie Harf, denied the parallels between the two cases when quizzed about the issue at a press briefing:
QUESTION: … People have been asking why is it that the president, the Yemeni president, who fled from his capital, remains legitimate in your eyes.
HARF: Well, I think —
QUESTION: Whereas, like another president who fled. (Laughter.) […]
. . .
HARF: It’s completely different.
QUESTION: My question is the same. The similarities between the two cases are striking.
HARF: In that there aren’t many? […]
QUESTION: There are a lot, I think, but anyways —
HARF:Okay. We can agree to disagree.
This blog post is a tentative exploration of the issues raised by a comparison of the two cases. Are there clear standards for identifying the government of a State, for the purpose of determining who can validly consent to military action on the State’s behalf, or are these standards malleable enough that powerful States can produce whatever legal outcome they want? Read the rest of this entry…