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Home Archive for category "Arms Control"

Appealing the High Court’s Judgment in the Public Law Challenge against UK Arms Export Licenses to Saudi Arabia

Published on November 29, 2018        Author: 
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In May of this year, the Court of Appeal granted leave to appeal the 2017 High Court ruling in Campaign Against the Arms Trade v Secretary of State for International Trade.

The case and the High Court’s 2017 judgment have already received some commentary (see here). Simply put, the case concerns a public law challenge against the government’s continued approval of licenses for arms exports to Saudi Arabia, on the grounds, inter alia, that the Secretary of State’s conclusion that there is not a ‘clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law’, in the context of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, was irrational (criterion 2(c) of the Consolidated Criteria set out in European Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP and adopted by the Secretary of State as the policy to be followed in granting or refusing export licenses). The High Court found against the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, concluding that the determinations made by the Secretary of State permitting continued export of arms to Saudi Arabia were rational.

The present post focuses on what is submitted is an error of law made both by the government in its determinations as to whether to grant or refuse export licenses and by the High Court in its judgment. Specifically, both the government and the High Court appear to have mistakenly taken the view that a certain subjective mens rea threshold necessarily applies before one can say that there has been a serious violation of international humanitarian law. Read the rest of this entry…

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What on Earth is Happening to Space Law?

Published on July 31, 2018        Author: 
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In 2015 and 2017, respectively, the United States of America and Luxembourg enacted bills granting property rights on resources collected in outer space. The potential beneficiaries of these laws are hi-tech companies investing in the exploration and exploitation of space resources. Even though robotized mining of precious metals, rare earths and other raw materials on the Moon or on near-Earth asteroids is said to be at least 20-25 years away, an economy of space resources is already developing at a brisk pace. The stakes are in fact high: mining a few large asteroids may change world market conditions for some crucial raw materials. One may be tempted to see these new developments as intimations, not only of a new space race, this time driven by private actors, but also of the space law to come – and possibly as an occasion to let space law flow back into the main stream of international legal scholarship.

Space law began to take shape as a branch of public international law some time around the late 1950s. In the next two decades it struggled to define its identity by analogy with the law of the sea and the legal regimes of other remote places (yet not as remote) like Antarctica or the deep ocean seabed. The law-of-the-sea analogy has always been a powerful motif in the making of and theorizing about the law of outer space. But it is also potentially misleading, as Rolando Quadri was ready to point out in 1959. Epitomized by the adoption in 1979 and subsequent failure of the Moon Agreement, space law’s arrested development left it with an uncertain, coarse-grained legal ontology that compares unfavourably to that of the law of the sea. While the latter distinguishes between low-tide elevations, islands, and uninhabitable rocks, space law works with an inchoate notion of ‘celestial body’ encompassing anything between the Sun and the tiniest asteroid. The legal status of space resources, both living and non-living, is likewise uncertain and no agreement has as yet been reached as to the exact boundary between airspace and outer space, let alone on the limits of humanity’s jurisdiction to prescribe or on protocols governing the encounter with other sentient beings. Tomorrow’s spacefarers will not be leaning over a legal void. It is clear, though, that some rethinking of the fundamentals is required, as well as some change.

Unilateral initiatives like those recently taken by the US and Luxembourg may well set in motion processes of legal change, no matter if these States describe their acts as fully compliant with the existing law of outer space. Although understandable as a matter of diplomatic tactics, this defensive stance is nonetheless based on a disputed interpretation of the law in force (for overviews and detailed analyses of the different positions see Pop, Tronchetti, De Man, Jakhu et al.Su and Hofmann).

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Customary International Law and the Addition of New War Crimes to the Statute of the ICC

Published on January 2, 2018        Author: 
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In addition to the activation of the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression (see previous post), the recently concluded Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Statute of the ICC, also adopted three amendments adding to the list of war crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court. These new war crimes relate to the use of prohibited weapons in international as well as non-international armed conflicts. However, in the lead-up to the ASP there was controversy regarding the wisdom and even the legality of adding to the list of war crimes. One of the concerns was that there would be fragmentation of the Rome Statute system with different crimes applicable in differing situations to different individuals. This is because under the amendment procedure to the Rome Statute (Art. 121(5)) these new crimes would not apply to nationals of, or conduct on the territory of, non-ratifying states parties. Another concern was that the new crimes (or at least some of them) are, in the view of some states, not criminalised under customary international law and thus not suitable for addition for inclusion in the ICC Statute. It is this latter issue that I focus on this post, though as I will explain later, the issue overlaps with the question of fragmentation of the Rome Statute regime. In this post, I discuss the implications of criminalising conduct under the ICC  Statute which do not amount to customary international law crimes. I take no position on whether the crimes that have been added are, or are not, crimes under customary international law (though I think few would doubt that the use of biological weapons is such a customary international crime), but explain why this is an important question that states are right to pay attention to.

The new war crimes to be inserted into the Rome Statute are as follows (see Resolution ICC-ASP/16/Res.4):

  • Employing weapons, which use microbial or other biological agents, or toxins, whatever their origin or method of production [to be inserted as Art. 8(2)(b)xxvii) and Art. 8(2)(e)(xvi)]
  • Employing weapons the primary effect of which is to injure by fragments which in the human body escape detection by X-rays [to be inserted as Art. 8(2)(b)(xxviii) and Art. 8(2((e)(xvii)];
  • Employing laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices [to be inserted as article 8(2)(b)(xxix) and Art. 8(2)(e)(xviii)].

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A “Compliance-Based” Approach to Autonomous Weapon Systems

Published on December 1, 2017        Author:  and
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A Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on the topic of Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWS) concluded its first meeting in Geneva on 17 November 2017. The meeting was held under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) and built upon on three informal meetings of experts held between 2014 and 2016 (for reports of those meetings, see here). In December 2016, the Fifth Review Conference of the High Contracting Parties of the CCW had tasked the GGE “to explore and agree on possible recommendations on options related to emerging technologies in the area of LAWS” (see Decision 1 here and the agreed recommendations contained in this report).

At the heart of the debate is the question how States should respond to the emergence of such weapons. While some highlight legal, ethical or moral concerns of delegating life and death decisions to machines and advocate for a preventive prohibition of autonomous weapons systems, others pinpoint potential benefits for the way wars are fought in the future and deem any policy options, including regulation, to be premature.

As often in such multilateral discussions, it is hard to make progress and to get all States to agree on a common approach. The topic of autonomous weapon systems is no different. Indeed, perhaps it is particularly difficult because we do not yet fully understand what robotics and artificial intelligence truly harbor for the future of warfare, and for humanity in general. In an initial step, the GGE in its first session affirmed that international humanitarian law (IHL) applies to all weapons, including the potential development and use of autonomous weapon systems, and that responsibility for their deployment remains with States (see report here). This is a welcome step but obviously cannot be understood to exhaust the topic.

In an effort to generate momentum and identify common denominators, Switzerland presented a working paper at the beginning of the GGE, in which it is argued that ensuring compliance with international law, notably IHL, could and should be common ground among States and that this could form a constructive basis for further work. Accordingly, it should, at least as one element, be central to discussions of the GGE about autonomous weapon systems and should figure prominently in the report of the GGE as well as in the way forward. In the following, we recapitulate requirements for compliance with IHL and on that basis identify elements for a “compliance-based” approach aimed at advancing the debate within the CCW in an inclusive and constructive manner. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Relationship of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons with other Agreements: Ambiguity, Complementarity, or Conflict?

Published on August 1, 2017        Author: 
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As discussed in Dan Joyner’s recent blog entry, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted by 122 States at a United Nations diplomatic conference in New York on 7 July 2017. Article 18 of the Treaty addresses its “relationship with other agreements”. There is, though, an ongoing debate as to the implications of this provision. On 7 July 2017, following the adoption of the Treaty by participating states in the United Nations diplomatic conference, Singapore (the sole abstention) stated in its explanation of vote that phrasing in the article was “ambiguous”. In this blog entry, I argue that this claim is unfounded.

Article 18 is based on a corresponding provision in Article 26(1) of the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the intent of which was to ensure that ATT states parties could adopt, or be party to, treaties and other binding agreements governing the trade in conventional arms and ammunition but that they could not lawfully implement any provisions under these other agreements if the obligations therein were inconsistent with their obligations in the ATT.

In the first draft of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (22 May 2017), it was stipulated in Article 19 that it “does not affect the rights and obligations of the States Parties under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons”. Thus, it was apparent from the outset that the relationship between the future Treaty and the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) could be a bone of contention during the negotiations. This was borne out in practice in the June–July 2017 diplomatic conference.

With respect to relevant “obligations”, Article 1(b) and (c) of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, as adopted, is taken verbatim from Articles I and II of the NPT, respectively. In addition, although the precise formulations differ, there are clear prohibitions on assisting any of the prohibited activities in both the NPT and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Read the rest of this entry…

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Filed under: Arms Control, Nuclear Weapons
 
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The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Published on July 26, 2017        Author: 
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On July 7, 2017 a vote was held by a United Nations treaty conference to adopt the final text of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Of the 124 states participating in the conference, 122 states voted for adoption, one state (the Netherlands) voted against adoption, and one state (Singapore) abstained. This vote brought to a successful close the second and final negotiating session for a United Nations nuclear weapons prohibition convention, the mandate for which had been given by the General Assembly in December 2016. The treaty will now be opened for signature by states on September 20, 2017, and will come into force 90 days after its 50th ratification.

The TPNW provides for a complete ban on development, possession, and use of nuclear weapons by its parties. It is difficult to overstate the significance of the TPNW within the framework of treaties on nuclear nonproliferation. It is the first multilateral nuclear weapons disarmament treaty to be adopted since the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1968. So we are witnessing a generational event of significance. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Legality of the UK / Saudi Arabia Arms Trade: A Case Study

Published on July 20, 2017        Author:  and
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On 10 July 2017 the UK High Court delivered its open judgment in a high-profile challenge to the UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia, brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade. A separate closed judgment was delivered based on the confidential evidence. As readers will be aware, the case involves various domestic and international law considerations.

The primary question was whether the Secretary of State for International Trade (the Government) was legally obliged to suspend extant and cease granting new export licences to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Such an obligation would stem from the requirement to deny such licences where there is “a clear risk that the arms might be used in the commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law”.

This condition is contained in Criterion 2 of the Common Rules Governing the Control of Exports of Military Technology and Equipment (European Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP, December 2008). The Government adopted much of the Common Position as Guidance under s.9 of the Export Control Act 2002 and it accordingly represents the policy that will be applied when considering the grant of export licences. The Consolidated Criteria are thus intended to ensure the UK’s compliance with the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), and the text of Criterion 2 links to its Article 7.

This blog post sets out initial thoughts on the open judgment, specifically focusing on its approach to ‘serious violation’ and ‘clear risk’, before examining the deference granted to the executive and its implications for the fulfilment of the ATT’s overarching purpose. Ultimately unsuccessful, the claim underscores the narrow ambit of judicial review and the unwillingness of UK courts to become embroiled in the merits of certain government action. Read the rest of this entry…

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EJIL Talk! Book Discussion: Djemila Carron’s Response

Published on June 2, 2017        Author: 
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This post is part of our book discussion on Djemila Carron’s “L’acte déclencheur d’un conflit armé international“.

Introduction

I am grateful to the editors of EJIL: Talk! for organizing this discussion – the first one around a book in French! I also would like to warmly thank Professor Julia Grignon and Doctor Tristan Ferraro – whose articles, books and reflections were very important while writing L’acte déclencheur d’un conflit armé international – for their thoughtful comments on my work. In this contribution, I consider some of the questions they raise in each of their pieces, mainly on the capture of a soldier as a triggering act of an IAC (response to Julia Grignon) and on the classification of transnational armed conflict (response to Tristan Ferraro).

Animus belligerendi

I will not respond in detail to Julia Grignon’s development of my rejection of a criteria of animus belligerendi for the existence of an IAC (Part II, Question VI). She perfectly summed up my main arguments. The intent of a State to be in an IAC or in a state of war has no influence on the existence of an IAC. Once again, to exclude subjective elements from the definition of an IAC was one of the key reason for the shift in 1949 from the notion of war to the one of IAC. This said, as explained in the book, for such a conflict to take place, a State must nevertheless have the intent to use force against another one. I propose to defend this element through the objective requirements on the origin of an IAC (Part II, Question IV). In other words, if a State uses force against another one through its organs, acting in their capacity, following instructions and not mistakenly, the animus to use force is considered fulfilled. Read the rest of this entry…

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Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia in the High Court: what is a “serious violation of international humanitarian law”?

Published on April 3, 2017        Author: 
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As readers will be aware, the UK High Court is presently considering a high-profile case challenging UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Arguments in the judicial review proceedings brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade were heard in February and judgment is awaited.

Although brought under English law, the case potentially implicates various international law questions. This post focuses on the interpretation of the expression “serious violation of international humanitarian law” (“IHL”) which the government appears to be advancing in the case. By narrowing the concept to include only war crimes, its position has significant implications for the international law regulation of the arms trade in general. This post will argue that the proposed definition should be rejected.

For further information on this and other international law issues arising in the case, the claimant has posted much of the open documentation produced by both sides on its website. This post draws heavily on those documents, and on the author’s notes of the open hearings.

The Issue Before the Court

The claimant challenges the government’s decisions to continue granting licences (and not to suspend existing licences) for arms exports to Saudi Arabia. That challenge is based primarily on alleged breaches of IHL by Saudi forces involved in the ongoing armed conflict in Yemen. Criterion 2(c) of the UK statutory guidance applicable to arms exports (the “Consolidated Criteria”) prohibits granting a licence “if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law”. The claimants argue that given the evidence of previous breaches, the government should have concluded that such a clear risk existed. Read the rest of this entry…

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North Korea and the Law on Anticipatory Self-Defense

Published on March 28, 2017        Author: 
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Media reports over the last few weeks indicate that the already tense relationship between North Korea and the United States is getting worse. Now that North Korea is nearly ready to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, the United States has said that it will get more confrontational. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson even suggested that U.S. military action against North Korea is “on the table.” Such talk is sometimes part of a broader strategy to pressure other countries to negotiate, whether at the Security Council or elsewhere. But it can also be a precursor to war. And it comes at an acute time for the law on anticipatory self-defense.

As readers of this blog no doubt know, Article 51 of the UN Charter recognizes that states have an “inherent” right to use force in self-defense “if an armed attack occurs.” There is an ongoing debate about whether and, if so, when Article 51 permits states to use force to avert an attack that has not yet occurred. Claims for interpreting Article 51 expansively—to permit defensive force even if the attack is only speculative—have been made with respect to “rogue” states that are developing nuclear weapons. In this post, I situate the North Korea case within that debate and explain why the United States might find it to be a particularly challenging case in which to press its expansive claim.

I. The Law on Anticipatory Self-Defense

A. A Restrictive Position

 The majority view on anticipatory self-defense is probably a restrictive one: that anticipatory self-defense can be lawful only if an attack is truly “imminent”—as in, about to occur. Under this view, states may not use force unilaterally to nip in the bud latent threats or attacks that are still conjectural. They must instead address those situations using non-forcible means or by obtaining the UN Security Council’s authorization. Read the rest of this entry…

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