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Home Archive for category "Self Defence" (Page 5)

The Constructive Ambiguity of the Security Council’s ISIS Resolution

Published on November 21, 2015        Author: 
Security Council Adopts Resolution on Fighting ISIL

UN Photo/Loey Felipe

On Friday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2249 (2015), condemning a series of recent terrorist attacks by Islamic State (IS, ISIS or ISIL). The text of the resolution, together with statements of Council members, is available here. This resolution was proposed by France and superseded two competing earlier drafts by Russia. The resolution determines that IS constitutes “a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security.”

But the resolution itself is, perhaps, an equally unprecedented measure by the Security Council. The resolution is clearly designed to provide legitimacy for the measures being taken, and to be taken, against IS by giving the Council’s imprimatur to such measures. In particular, the resolution is worded so as to suggest there is Security Council support for the use of force against IS. However, though the resolution, and the unanimity with which it was adopted, might confer a degree of legitimacy on actions against IS, the resolution does not actually authorize any actions against IS, nor does it provide a legal basis for the use of force against IS either in Syria or in Iraq.

The main operative paragraph of the resolution is para 5, in which the Council:

“5.   Calls upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter, as well as international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Da’esh, in Syria and Iraq, to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL also known as Da’esh as well as ANF, and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the United Nations Security Council, and as may further be agreed by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and endorsed by the UN Security Council, pursuant to the statement of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) of 14 November, and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria;”

Before we attempt to decipher what this paragraph actually means, it is important to note that the resolution was not adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter. Or rather, the resolution does not use the “acting under Chapter VII” formula that is usually used to signal that the Security Council intends to take binding action, despite a couple of determinations in the preambular paragraphs about the existence of a threat to international peace and security, which (determinations) presumably are made under Article 39 of the Charter. In op. para. 1 of the resolution, the Council similarly “regards all such acts of [IS] terrorism as a threat to peace and security,” which again implicitly invokes Article 39. As the ICJ’s Namibia Advisory Opinion makes clear, the lack of reference to Chapter VII in a resolution does not mean that it is not to be regarded as binding nor does it mean that the resolution does not have operative legal effect. However, for the resolution to have those effects the Council must actually decide to do something or to authorize something.

Read the rest of this entry…

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From Passive Consent to Self-Defence after the Syrian Protest against the US-led Coalition

Published on October 23, 2015        Author: 

Since September 2014, the US and some Arab States have conducted air strikes against Islamic State (IS) in Syria. They have recently been joined by some Western States, including the UK, Canada, Australia and France. The justification given by those States and the US for their military operations in Syria is based on the right of self-defense, enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. Such justification has been contested by some scholars. Yet, this does not mean those air strikes should be considered unlawful. It is argued that they could be justified by the “passive consent” of Syria.

  1. The end of passive consent

Contrary to their reaction to air strikes conducted by States such as Turkey, Syrian authorities did not formally oppose air strikes by the US-led coalition after they occurred – although some limited objections have been formulated in the media. The Assad regime even seems to have welcomed this international effort to fight against IS and expressed its readiness to cooperate with such effort. As a result, although consent has never been expressly given by the Assad regime to the US-led coalition’s airstrikes, the absence of protest by this regime could be interpreted as “passive consent” thereto. Such interpretation could find some support in the DRC v. Uganda case (para. 46), in which the ICJ inferred the DRC’s consent to the presence of Uganda troops on its soil from the absence of any objection to such presence.

Yet, regardless whether “passive consent” is a valid legal basis for justifying the airstrikes conducted by the US-led coalition against IS in Syria, such legal basis seems now to be in great trouble. Read the rest of this entry…

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Corbyn, Trident, and the Letter of Last Resort: Legality of Use of Nuclear Weapons

Published on October 6, 2015        Author: 

Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the leadership of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom by a landslide victory last month has renewed discussions in the UK about the ‘nuclear deterrent’. Corbyn, a long time anti-war activist and Vice-Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has, for many years, taken a very public and unequivocal stance against the use of nuclear weapons and in favour of scrapping the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system. The Trident system is composed of submarine-launched ballistic missiles carried by four Vanguard-class submarines: HMS Vanguard, HMS Victorious, HMS Vigilant, and HMS Vengeance. One of those submarines is constantly on patrol somewhere around the globe. During the recent Labour Party conference, the party failed to take a position in favour of scrapping Trident, but its leader clearly and unequivocally stated that should he become Prime Minister of the UK, he would not use nuclear weapons. For this he was criticized both from within his own party, and beyond, as his statement would mean that were he to become Prime Minister, the UK would have effectively given up the possibility of any deterrent value of its nuclear arsenal.

It might be thought that even if Corbyn were to become Prime Minister the circumstances in which he would have to make a call as to whether to use nuclear weapons are very remote. Far from it! Each new Prime Minister of the UK must decide on the use of nuclear weapons in his or her first few days in office! This is when each new UK Prime Minister must draft the so-called ‘Letter of Last Resort’. This letter contains an instruction from the Prime Minister (indeed the final instruction) to the commanders of the Royal Navy submarines carrying the Trident system. The letter sets out what the commander is to do in case Britain has suffered a nuclear attack that has effectively destroyed the British state, resulted in the death of the Prime Minister and his or her nominated deputies, and led to a loss of contact between the submarine and the UK. There are a number of checks that must be carried out before the commander can presume that the UK has been attacked so devastatingly that nothing of the state and the chain of command remains. Apparently, one of those checks is to establish that BBC Radio 4 is no longer broadcasting! At that stage, the commander of the submarine is to obtain and fulfill the order stated in the letter of last resort, which is kept in the ship’s safe. No letter of last resort has been published. Each one is destroyed when a new PM takes office and issues a new letter of last resort. However, we do have some idea of the options available to the PM, which range from ‘scuttle the ship’, to ‘find and join the US or Australian Navy’, ‘retaliate’ or perhaps even ‘use your judgement’. (For a serious discussion of the Letter, listen to this BBC Radio 4 programme, for a more humorous discussion of the nuclear deterrent, watch this) .

Presumably, Corbyn’s letter of last resort will not involve a command to use the nuclear weapons aboard the vessel. However, it is interesting to consider whether an order to retaliate, in the circumstances in which a letter of last resort is actually opened, would be legal under public international law. To be sure, if such horrendous circumstances were to occur, we would be right at the vanishing point of the utility of law. Indeed, law, as well as other frameworks for organizing human society, would have failed us. However, thinking about whether a use of nuclear weapons (indeed any use of force) would be lawful in those circumstances helps us to understand what we think the purpose of the right of self-defence is, and how it ought to operate in international law. Read the rest of this entry…

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On Preventive Killing

Published on September 17, 2015        Author: 

If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path to action. And this nation will act.

George W. Bush, 17 September 2002.

It seems to me that there are two different ways of understanding the targeted killing of UK citizens Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin by a Royal Airforce-piloted drone on 21 August 2015, in Raqqa, Syria. (Khan was the target of the strike, and Amin was also killed by it. Both Khan and Amin are described as “ISIL fighters.”)

The first poses some difficult constitutional and public law questions for the UK government, but does not require any kind of radical re-interpretation of international law governing the use of force.

The second way of understanding the strike amounts to a sea change in the UK’s legal position, and indeed aligns it with several US legal positions in the “war on terror” which, hitherto, no European state has formally embraced.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Embedded Troops and the Use of Force in Syria: International and Domestic Law Questions

Published on September 11, 2015        Author: 

Editor’s Notes: This post was written before the announcement earlier this week that the UK had conducted a drone strike against members of Islamic State in Syria in August. Commentary on that latest development will follow later.

As Rob McLaughlin noted in his post, UK military pilots, (as well as other UK military personnel), embedded with US and Canadian forces have taken part in air strikes in Syria against Islamic State (or ISIL) targets. It has also been reported that Australian pilots embedded with US forces are also due to start taking part in that campaign in Syria. In a written Ministerial Statement of 20 July, the UK Secretary of State for Defense confirmed that: “A small number of embedded UK pilots have carried out airstrikes in Syria against ISIL targets: none are currently involved in airstrikes.”

The involvement of UK military personnel in air strikes in Syria would ordinarily raise a number of international law questions: (i) Is the UK to be considered as using force in Syria, and, if so, what is the legal basis for such action?; (ii) is the UK to be regarded as a party to one or more of the armed conflicts taking place in Syria?; (iii) would the UK bear responsibility if any violations of international law, occur in the conduct of those air strikes? Although these are all important questions of international law, they have not been all that significant in this case. These questions have not been of great importance in the context of the air strikes conducted by embedded personnel largely because (in the case of the first two) they arise apart from the participation in those airstrikes, and because (in the case of the third), it has not been suggested that violations of international humanitarian law occurred in the conduct of those strikes.

In the UK, the significance of UK forces acting in Syria has arisen largely because of domestic political and legal considerations that I set out below. However, as will be seen those domestic legal considerations are intertwined with questions of international law and in particular, with the question whether the UK pilots who have acted in Syria are to be considered as part of the armed forces of the UK, or rather as part of the armed forces of the countries in whose forces they are embedded (the US or Canada). This question, which is important domestically, raises the international law question that Rob McLaughlin refers to: are the acts of those UK pilots attributable, as a matter of international law, to the UK, or attributable only to the US and Canada?

The UK and the Legality of the Use of Force in Syria

The UK has already indicated that it would be prepared to use force against Islamic State in Syria and it has been rumoured that the government would seek parliamentary approval for such a use of force this autumn, perhaps even, this month. In any case, even prior to the revelation that UK embedded personnel had acted in Syria, the UK had already engaged in acts which amount to a use of force in Syria as it is involved in training and equipping Syrian rebel forces Read the rest of this entry…

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Is Israel’s Use of Force in Gaza Covered by the Jus Ad Bellum?

Published on August 22, 2014        Author: 

On any account, the conflict in Gaza is depressing. It is clear that Hamas’ firing of rockets which are incapable of distinguishing between military and civilian targets is a violation of international humanitarian law. However, the question whether Israel’s actions in Gaza, which have reportedly resulted in the death of over 2000 people, comply with international law generates much more heated debate. As Professor Geir Ulfstein has pointed out, in a recent post on Just Security, in discussions about whether Israel has violated international law, “the focus is only on violations of international humanitarian law (jus in bello), not on breaches of restrictions following from the right of self-defence (jus ad bellum).” An example is this post by Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association on Huffington Post. One of the key questions that arise in connection with Israel’s actions in Gaza is whether its actions are proportionate. In a later post I will focus on proportionality and what it might mean in this conflict. Suffice it to say for now that as Geir Ulfstein notes (and as pointed out by Marko in this post) the “requirements of proportionality are different in international humanitarian law (IHL) and as a restriction on the right of self defence”. One may also note that even if every individual acts of targeting by a party to a conflict is proportionate under IHL, the overall campaign might still be disproportionate under the law relating to self defence in the jus ad bellum. Prof Ulfstein ends his post by saying that “the restrictions on self-defence for Israel’s military operations should receive more attention”. This posts responds to that call.

In this post, I wish to address the question whether Israel is bound by the law relating to self-defence in the action it is taking in Gaza. Put differently, the question is whether the international law limitations on the right of self-defence apply to Israeli action in Gaza? As Israel’s actions in Gaza are taken in response to Hamas’ actions and Israel claims to be acting in self defence, our intuitions might suggest that we ought to assess whether Israel’s actions comply with the international law limits on self defence. In particular, one may ask whether Israel’s actions are proportionate in the jus ad bellum sense.

Despite first impressions, it is not at all obvious that the jus ad bellum applies to Israel’s use of force in Gaza. When one scratches beneath the surface, the question appears more complicated. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Legality of Turkey’s Possible Self-Defence Action against ISIS: A Response to Ashley Deeks

Published on June 25, 2014        Author: 

SinaSina Etezazian is a PhD Candidate at Monash Law School.

In a recent blog post at Lawfare, Professor Ashley Deeks analyses the manner in which Turkey may lawfully protect the Turks taken hostage by the jihadist group ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).  She contends that ‘if the Maliki government loses total control of the country, Turkey almost certainly would be legally justified in using force in Iraq to rescue its nationals’ in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter.  She also takes the view that the forcible protection of citizens abroad may be equated with permissible self-defence when:

(1) the nationals in question face imminent threat of (or have suffered actual) injury;

(2) the host state is unwilling or unable to protect or rescue them; and

(3) the action of the intervening state clearly is limited to the goal of rescuing its nationals – that is, it is not engaging in pretextual intervention.

However, Deeks is on shaky legal ground concerning the ‘unwilling or unable’ and ‘last resort’ requirements. I do not aim here to consider the legal status of the protection of nationals abroad; I have discussed it elsewhere  (and it has also been addressed in length on this and other blogs and forums since the Russian intervention in Crimea). Instead, I want to explore a distinction that can be drawn between forcible responses to territorial and non-territorial attacks with respect to the ‘unwilling or unable’ and ‘last resort’ tests, clarifying why – contrary to what Deeks asserts – Turkey might not be allowed to undertake unilateral forcible measures to protect its nationals in Iraq on the basis of the right of self-defence.

The ‘Unwilling or Unable’ Test and a Distinction between Responses to Territorial and Extraterritorial Attacks

The point that Deeks makes regarding the ‘unwilling or unable’ test can hardly be said to reflect existing law, as it is founded on the claim that ‘unwilling or unable’ extends to the protection of nationals abroad, which is itself a very controversial issue in modern jus ad bellum. Let us suppose for the sake of argument that ‘unwilling or unable’ qualifies as a new norm of customary international law that allows for the exercise of the right of self-defence against non-state actors when the host state is unwilling or unable to prevent its territory being used as a base for launching attacks against the victim state’s soil. Even allowing that position, it is extremely unlikely that its scope has been so widened as to include the military rescue of nationals threatened extraterritorially.

It is true that the ‘unwilling or unable’ test has attracted some level of support from the international community since 9/11, especially when the attack has been directed against the territory of the victim state (as was apparent from states’ reaction to the September 11 attacks). Nonetheless, the most recent trend in state practice clearly demonstrates that the argument for ‘unwilling or unable’ would be uncertain at best in scenarios where Article 51 has been invoked to rescue nationals allegedly at risk outside their territory. Read the rest of this entry…

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Ending the Forever War: One Year After President Obama’s NDU Speech

Published on May 24, 2014        Author: 

Originally published on JustSecurity.org on May 23, 2014.

May 23, 2014 marked the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s important speech at the National Defense University (NDU) setting forth his proposed framework for post-9/11 counterterrorism strategy.  The President’s historic move in that speech was to call for the eventual repeal of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) and the end of what I had called at the Oxford Union the “Forever War.” The President cogently summarized why we should reject indefinite war in favor of an “exit strategy” to bring this protracted conflict with Al Qaeda, like all wars, to an end.  Last October, I argued that despite public skepticism, without fanfare, President Obama has made slow but steady progress toward achieving three key elements of his effort to end the Forever War: (1) disengaging from Afghanistan; (2) closing Guantanamo; and (3) disciplining drones.

The latest moment to assess progress in ending the Forever War came on May 21 this year, when as others have noted (see Goldsmith posts here and here; Lederman post here; Human Rights First video here), the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony from four current and past government lawyers regarding the authorization for use of military force after Iraq and Afghanistan (video): Mary McLeod, Principal Deputy Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State; Stephen Preston, General Counsel, U.S. Department of Defense; myself (Harold Hongju Koh); and Michael B. Mukasey, Debevoise & Plimpton, former U.S. Attorney General. Putting aside some aggressive questioning, there was far more agreement among all participants than may come through from reading the statements or watching the hearing. I would take away five basic messages.

First, we should keep trying to end the Forever War. Our eventual goal should be to repeal the AUMF. Almost thirteen years after 9/11, it is increasingly problematic to rely on the 2001 AUMF to conduct all of America’s counterterrorism operations.  We should not use a broadly worded 13-year old AUMF text drafted for a prior situation to conduct perpetual armed conflict against a mutating group of terrorist networks.

Second, at the right moment, AUMF repeal would leave no legal gaps. If Al Qaeda can be defeated on the ground, there will come a time when the President will no longer need AUMF authority, because the remnants of Al Qaeda will be better represented by the idea of a “continuing and imminent threat” to which the United States could respond with self-defense authorities than an organized armed group engaged in ongoing conflict of a particular intensity and duration. Only the latter characterization warrants treating the members of Al Qaeda as continual belligerent combatants with whom we remain in daily war. The President would then not need the current breadth of AUMF authority to deal with that group of individuals, because they can be dealt with through other law, particularly as threats who can be addressed by the domestic and international law of self-defense, not as an organized armed group with whom we remain in daily struggle. Read the rest of this entry…

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Oxford University Press Debate Map on Ukraine

Published on March 14, 2014        Author: 

Over the past couple weeks, there has been a flurry of writing on this blog  (see here, here, here and here) and elsewhere about events in Crimea/Ukraine. Oxford University Press have produced another of their ever so useful Debate Maps on Ukraine.

“The  . . . index maps scholarly commentary on the legal arguments regarding the public international law (and some domestic constitutional law) aspects of the use of force in Ukraine, published in English language legal blogs and newspapers, and free content from OUP’s online services.

Use this map to review scholarly arguments and to keep track of which issues have been covered and who has said what.”

I could not recommend this Debate Map, and the other OUP maps (here, here, here),  more highly. There is so much writing on topical international law issues that it can be difficult to stay abreast of what has been written, particularly over a short space of time. The Debate Map is an excellent way of doing so.

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Crimea and the Limits of International Law

Published on March 10, 2014        Author: 

The situation in Crimea has left many an international lawyer in shock. It seems to transport us back to past times when the superpowers did what they pleased and the others suffered what they must. The end of the Cold War, so we hoped, had ushered in a different era in which international law found greater respect. The post-9/11 years sowed doubts about this; now we’re getting closer to certainty that the times haven’t changed that much.

For some, like Eric Posner or Julian Ku, Crimea is yet another piece of evidence that international law is weak. Of course it is, but this weakness is entirely unsurprising. Who would have thought that the rules on the use of force could be effectively enforced against a great power, a regional hegemon, in its own backyard? Great powers – including Western ones – have always treated the law on the use of force somewhat liberally. They have evaded censure, or didn’t care too much about it when the stakes were high. And the UN collective security system is explicitly designed in a way that makes action against them impossible. This tells us something about the limits of international law, and, as Erik Voeten rightly points out, it should give us reason to worry if a legal system allows powerful actors to ignore it so openly. But for international law, this is nothing new. When it comes to the use of force, some states have always been more equal than others.

Read the rest of this entry…

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