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Pigs, Positivism, and the Jus ad Bellum

Published on April 27, 2018        Author: 
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Now that the dust from the U.S.–U.K.–French operation against Syria has settled, I want to follow up on something I said when news of it first broke. Like most commentators, I argued that the operation did not satisfy the formal legal doctrine on the use of force. By this I meant that it was inconsistent with the longstanding interpretation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter and not justifiable under any of the recognized exceptions. Yet I also contended that the doctrine was not the end of the legal inquiry. Given how the jus ad bellum actually operates, I argued, “the best answer to the question of whether the Syria strikes were lawful is not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”

Many international lawyers took issue with that claim, so I want to defend it—and use it to expose what I consider to be a fairly fundamental flaw in how the jus ad bellum is usually analyzed. To do this, I’ll take a detour through one of my all-time favorite law review articles: Hendrik Hartog’s Pigs and Positivism.

Pigs and Positivism

Hartog’s article is not about international law. It uses the 19th century practice of keeping pigs in New York City as a case study for thinking about law and legal analysis. Here is the background: pigs were once an ordinary and integral part of life in New York City. People ate the pigs, and the pigs ate the waste that lined city streets. But pigs were “mean, dangerous, and uncontrollable beasts” (p. 902). In 1819, after various efforts to legislate against them had failed, a court determined, in a case called People v. Harriett, that loose pigs in public streets were a public nuisance and, for that reason, prohibited. The decision established that “[t]o keep pigs on municipal streets was to commit a crime” (p. 920). Read the rest of this entry…

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Protean ‘National Security’ in Global Trade Wars, Investment Walls, and Regulatory Controls: Can ‘National Security’ Ever Be Unreviewable in International Economic Law?

Published on April 2, 2018        Author: 
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National security seems to be the protean norm du jour in international economic law these days.  On 23 March 2018, the United States’ Trump Administration imposed a 25% tariff against around US$60 billion of imports from China, 15 days after the United States imposed tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum (25% on steel imports, and 10% on aluminum imports) from around the world.  US President Trump accused China of “economic aggression”, and is leaving the door open for negotiations with all States to force them to take measures to eliminate the United States’ “$800 billion trade deficit with the world”.  Chinese President (for life) Xi Jinping’s administration subsequently announced preliminary retaliatory tariffs against over $3 Billion in American products such as apples, steel, and pork, even as US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stated that the tariff wars are part of the United States’ negotiation strategy with China. (Both sides are reported to be quietly negotiating, even amid the climate of mutually announced tariffs. China has started making concessions, such as relaxing its foreign investment rules and expanding imports of US semiconductors.)  Even as World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General Roberto Azevedo cautioned against the impact of such a trade war on the global economy, the WTO did not deny that under GATT Article XXI(b)(iii) (Security Exceptions), the United States could take “any action which it considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests…taken in time of war or other emergency in international relations.”  President Trump’s two presidential proclamations declaring tariffs against aluminum imports and steel imports heavily refer to the impairment of the United States’ national security interests as the basis for imposing tariffs.  The United States provisionally exempted NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico from the steel and aluminum tariffs, using the bludgeoning effect of threatened tariffs in the pending NAFTA renegotiations.  Last weekend, South Korea acceded to the United States’ demands to revise their KORUS Free Trade Agreement, which US President Trump is now tying to the outcome of its forthcoming summit with Kim Jong Un of North Korea. Trade is now more deliberately leveraged as a national security issue.

Significantly, no State in the international community seriously challenges that the security exception in GATT Article XXI is a self-judged matter that takes a governmental measure out of the ambit of WTO law. (Qatar’s pending complaint against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the World Trade Organization – previously featured here – seeks review of any Member’s assertion of national security under GATT Article XXI, but it appears other Members such as the United States have taken the opposing view that “national security issues are political and not appropriate for the WTO dispute system.”)  Even the European Union, which threatened tariffs against the United States if it was not exempted from the US tariffs on steel and aluminum (it eventually got the exemption for all EU Members), did not challenge the factual basis behind the United States’ use of the national security justification in its presidential proclamations on tariffs against steel and aluminum imports.  The United States had invoked, as its factual basis for invoking national security, the supposed “weakening of (its) internal economy, leaving the United States almost totally reliant on foreign producers…that is essential for key military and commercial systems”.  Considering that President Trump had just boasted about the tremendous strength and independence of the United States economy at the World Economic Forum in January 2018, it was baffling that the United States made this seeming volte face to invoke GATT Article XXI.  The Trump administration has also invoked the President’s self-judged discretion to decide when national security is impaired in the case of foreign investment into the United States, most recently to block Singaporean company Broadcom’s US$117 billion takeover of Qualcomm, thereby increasing the number of blocked proposed acquisitions of United States businesses (by countries such as Germany, China, and Singapore) on national security grounds. 

And yet, it is not only the United States that has resorted to national security reasons in the past year for retaliatory trade measures, investment restrictions, and other international economic measures.  The European Commission anchors its new proposal to tax digital business activities; the forthcoming implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (ensuring data privacy and protection rules applicable to all companies processing data of EU nationals, whether located in the EU or elsewhere); as well as the recently opened investigation of the massive data leak from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, ultimately on the Commission’s many concerns about EU Members’ regional, national, and economic security.  China has set up its own national security review of foreign investments into China, mirrored by Australia’s recently strengthened national security review of foreign investments (China-sourced or otherwise) into critical infrastructure.  India and Sri Lanka have also raised national security concerns over China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) program.  Nigeria demurred from joining the recently-launched 44-member African Continental Free Trade Area, citing economic and security implications of the agreement.

Such muscular and frequent assertions of ‘national security’ as justifications for international economic measures does bring to the forefront the timeless debate on whether international courts and tribunals can review a State’s assertion of ‘national security’.  In this post, I maintain my key argument in 2012 that modern international law still does not subscribe to the classical view of ‘national security’ as a Schmittian exception – e.g. one that takes a measure justified by national security outside of the purview of any law – but instead continues to regulate the safety-valve functions of national security or national emergency clauses as exceptions, to the point that the mere assertion of national security cannot completely take out an economic measure from the purview of international economic regulations either.  Whether a State invokes ‘national security’ to impose or threaten measures for bargaining leverage in negotiations or to force reductions of trade deficits; or to impose new economic regulations, review, or restrictions against foreign businesses – the current framework of international law and international economic law has at least developed to the point that there will be some review of a State’s asserted national security justification, even if it is only for international tribunals to preliminarily decide whether they have jurisdiction over the disputes before them.  I refer to dispute settlement under the WTO, foreign investment arbitral tribunals, international investment court proposals such as China’s investment court for OBOR projects and the EU’s multilateral investment court, as well as traditional court adjudication under the International Court of Justice.

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Would a Multilateral Investment Court be Biased? Shifting to a treaty party framework of analysis

Published on April 28, 2017        Author: 
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I have recently been pondering a common complaint voiced against the EU and Canada’s proposal for a multilateral investment court, which is that it would be biased against investors because all of the judges would be selected by states (see, for example, the ABA’s Report here and Judge Schwebel’s speech here). In my view, this criticism is misguided because it confuses the role of states as disputing parties and as treaty parties. States have dual roles in the investment treaty system: they are treaty parties with a legitimate interest in the interpretation and application of their treaties and they are disputing parties with a desire to avoid liability in particular cases. When it comes to questions of institutional design, I think that we need to adopt a treaty party framework of analysis, not a disputing party one.

In a particular dispute, an investor can appoint one arbitrator and a state can appoint another. Once a case is filed, it is hardly surprising that both disputing parties would seek to appoint arbitrators who are broadly sympathetic to their positions. This tends to generate polarization within the field with arbitrators often being thought of (whether accurately or not) as having either a “pro-investor” or a “pro-state” bias. This division helps to explain why, when judged from the perspective of the dispute resolution framework, investors and members of the arbitral community have raised concerns that having tribunals selected by states only would lead to biased results. This is so even though neither the claimant investor nor the respondent state would appoint the particular tribunal members tasked with hearing the case.

When it comes to institutional design, however, we need to shift our focus from the disputing party framework to the treaty party framework. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Clearly Illegal US Missile Strike in Syria

Published on April 7, 2017        Author: 
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Yesterday, the United States launched a missile strike against an airbase of the Syrian armed forces, in response to the recent chemical attack that the US claims was launched from this airbase. This is the first time that the US has directly used force against the Syrian regime. It is also the first time that its use of force in Syria is clearly illegal. Clearly, in the sense that I can’t imagine even a remotely plausible argument (let alone a persuasive one) as to why this act is not a breach of Article 2(4) of the Charter. (And arguably of US constitutional rules on the use of force – for which see Marty Lederman’s post on Just Security).

While the US use of force against ISIS on Syrian territory also implicates Article 2(4) of the Charter, the US at least has a reasonably plausible claim to collective and/or individual self-defense in that respect, even if this issue is hugely controversial. In this case, however, no self-defense claim can be made, since the Assad regime targeted its own population (assuming that the facts as alleged by the US are correct). Nor is the US publicly making such a claim. The official statement of the Pentagon quoted in Marty’s post states that ‘[t]he strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.’ Its purpose was therefore clearly retaliatory or deterrent, rather than defensive.

International law does not permit forcible reprisals that would breach Article 2(4), even if the purpose of the reprisal is to induce the other party to comply with its legal obligations. The US also has no Security Council authorization to do this act. Nor is the US claiming, or has ever espoused, a doctrine of humanitarian intervention (like the UK government does, for instance). And even if there was a customary humanitarian intervention exception from the prohibition on the use of force (and there isn’t), its requirements would clearly not be met in this instance. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in Syria even without the use of chemical weapons, and thousands of people will continue to die even if the Assad regime never uses such weapons again. There is, in other words, nothing legally or morally unique about the use of chemical weapons as opposed to other war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria which did not (and will not) provoke an interventionist response.

In short, this is a situation in which the US government doesn’t have even a colourable argument that its conduct is lawful. It may, of course, decide to break the law (as it did), by thinking that the breach of the law is justified by higher moral considerations (‘illegal but legitimate,’ etc), and by thinking that under the circumstances it is unlikely to pay a high political cost for its breach. At a moral or political plane, this argument rests on an (at this time untestable) assumption that the strike will do more good than harm. But the Charter has nonetheless been broken, and at that with a rare clarity.

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The Jus ad Bellum and the Airstrikes in Yemen: Double Standards for Decamping Presidents?

Published on April 30, 2015        Author: 
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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…

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Filed under: Featured, Government, Use of Force
 

A Really, Really Foggy Report

Published on April 15, 2015        Author: 
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Eirik Bjorge has written an excellent critique of the Policy Exchange report Clearing the Fog of Law: Saving Our Armed Forces from Defeat by Judicial Diktat, by Richard Ekins, Jonathan Morgan, and Tom Tugendhat. I now write only to add a few additional (and apologetically undiplomatic) comments which I think the report warrants. I do so not because it may be substantively wrong in its conclusions and prescriptions, although some of these may be subject to reasonable disagreement. In fact, when it comes to one of the report’s main recommendations, that the UK (and other states parties) should derogate from the ECHR in (extraterritorial) situations of armed conflict, I at least am on the record as arguing that extraterritorial derogations are both permissible and that they can be a good idea.

My problem with the report is hence not with (some of) its conclusions, but with the quality of its analysis, leading to the misdiagnosis of the chief ailment that it identifies – allegedly extravagant judicial overreach. I have to say, regretfully, that the report’s analysis is crude and unsophisticated. It is in fact so crude and unsophisticated that it does a disservice to the overarching position it advances. The report is moreover manifestly clouded by the politics of its authors. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong, mind you, with the report of a right-of-centre (or left-of-centre, or whatever) think-tank demonstrating a distinct political bent. The problem here is rather that the authors allow their political predilections to solidify into a type of confirmation bias that all too easily leads to errors in judgment, argument, and method. Let me explain how and why.

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What is the Meaning of “Consensus” in International Decision Making?

Published on April 8, 2013        Author: 
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On 28 March, the negotiators at the Final UN Diplomatic Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty failed to adopt the Arms Trade Treaty (see BBC report here) by consensus.  A few days later the Arms Trade Treaty was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (by a vote of 154 in favour, three against and 23 abstentions – for a really useful account of the negotiations see the Arms Trade Treaty Legal Blog). At the Diplomatic Conference, the rules of procedure required that the treaty be adopted by “consensus”. However, at the end of that conference, Syria, Iran and North Korea objected to the text. According to the bloggers at the ATT Legal Blog there then ensued a discussion of whether the objection by these three States could stand in the way of the adoption of the treaty by consensus, with some States taking the view that acceptance of the text by the overwhelming majority of States was sufficient to establish consensus despite the expressed opposition of three States. However, the President of the Conference ruled that there was no consensus and that the treaty could not be adopted.

The wranglings about the meaning of “consensus” have a broad importance for decision-making with regard to treaties and in other international conferences. Since the 1970s it has become standard practice in many important diplomatic conferences that decisions are taken, where possible, by consensus. Although this procedural device is ubiquitous, as well as being important for the way in which international law is made, the arguments at the ATT conference lay bare the ambiguity that lies at the heart of this concept. There is no consensus on the meaning of “consensus”. The consensus procedure is an important device for achieving broad based agreement on international treaties. It is therefore important to have some clarity on what it means. Lack of clarity on the procedure might well have an adverse impact on the process by which treaties and other international decisions are reached with the result that the substantive outcomes might be less desirable.

The ATT Legal Blog reports that:

Mexico said that the overwhelming majority of States were in a position to adopt the treaty text. Mexico suggested to proceed to the adoption of the text as there is no established definition of the term “consensus” in the United Nations. Nigeria supported Mexico. Japan also supported Mexico. Costa Rica then supported Mexico’s statement. Chile then supported Mexico’s statement. Colombia “resolutely” supported Mexico. Read the rest of this entry…

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Obama Administration to consider prosecution of lawyers for Torture: But why just the lawyers?

Published on April 23, 2009        Author: 
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On Tuesday, President Obama suggested that the United States might consider prosecution of some of the individuals who are connected with the harsh interrogations techniques used by the CIA on Al Qaeda detainees (see here). Earlier, the US President had made it clear previously that those CIA personnel who had relied in good faith on the legal memos written by the Office of Legal Counsel in the US Dept of Justice would not be prosecuted. On Tuesday, he reiterated that stance though using slightly different language. He stated it would not be appropriate to prosecute those “who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House” (see the White House transcript here). This statement and what appeared to me to be an emphasis on those who acted strictly within the confines of the opinion (Obama even used his hands to draw a rectangular box as he said the words “four corners” of the opinion) suggests that Obama is open to the prosecution of some of the CIA interogators. It also also highlights the significance of the revelation that some of the interrogations went beyond the limits set out the memos (see the story in the New York times and the discussion by Kevin Jon Heller at Opinio Juris). In an earlier post on this blog, I stated that there are reasonable (though not undisputable) grounds for arguing that under international criminal law, CIA officials who conducted the interrogations in reliance on the advice of US government lawyers might be able to rely on the mistake of law/superior orders defence codified in Art. 33 of the ICC Statute.

Even more significant is Obama’s refusal to rule out prosecution of those lawyers who authored the opinions that justified the interrogation techniques. Obama stated the US Attorney General will make a decision on the investigation or prosecution of those who formulated the legal opinions. One question that arises here is: why focus on the lawyers? Much of the discussion has centered on their role. Obama’s response was to a question asking for clarification on the position of those who devised the policy on enhanced interrogation techiques. However, his answer which did not rule out prosecutions only referred to “to those who formulated those legal decisions.” But what about the others? The people who actually suggested the techniques and pushed for their use. Are they subject to investigation too? No doubt, answering that question is politically difficult given that questions will be raised as to how high up the chain one goes. And we know from recent reports that the approval of those policies was at the very highest levels of government. However, if the administration is to consider prosecutions at all, there seems to be little reason to stop with the lawyers. Indeed the Torture Convention, to which the US is party imposes an obligation on US to submit cases of torture to its prosecuting authorities.

Perhaps the reason that the focus is just on lawyers is because US criminal law recognises a mistake of law defence in circumstances where international criminal law does not.  Read the rest of this entry…

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Featured, Torture