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28.04.2017 - 10: 01

Chatham House: US Strike on Syria was contrary to international law

International obligations are increasingly losing its legitimacy, opening the door, "a self-proclaimed global sheriffs."

The recent missile attack on the base of the Syrian Air Force in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons - sarin - in the Syrian city of Khan Shaykhun, which killed at least 87 people, was very well received from the political point of view, but it was contrary to international law, that raises difficult questions about the adequacy of international standards for the prevention of crime and about how to achieve reform, writes Ben Sol article for Chatham House.

So, the author notes, the United States did not act in self-defense against attack by Syria, as provided by article 51 of the UN Charter. Security Council, the international organization did not give mandate for Washington to use military force to restore security under Chapter VII of the Charter.


US navy

Apart from cases of self-defense and the UN Security Council mandate, no other internationally recognized exceptions to the use of military force, as referred to in Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter. No country has the right to unilaterally put into practice UN military means resolution, whether in response to a violation of Syria of its obligations under the two Conventions, prohibiting the use of chemical weapons (1923 and 1993 years), or for the violation of UN Security Council resolution 2118, which prohibits the use of Syria toxic substances.

As there is no right to use force to stop, deter or punish violations of international humanitarian and criminal law, including the use of chemical weapons. There is also no universally recognized right to carry out humanitarian intervention against such crimes. The doctrine of "responsibility to protect", supported by the UN member countries, does not create a new legal foundation for military intervention, as in any part of its violent response must be approved in the usual way, through the Security Council.


Start ESSM missiles Moh launcher Mk 29 on an aircraft carrier CVN-70 «Carl Vinson"

It can be assumed that the US strikes were "illegal but legitimate". As is the case with the NATO intervention in Kosovo in the year 1999, which was illegal, but was seen by many as something morally required to prevent atrocities.

In this case, if only a fraction of countries condemned the US strikes or cast doubt on their validity, and most also have refrained from criticism, there was a significant number of countries - for the most part of the West and its allies - which supported the strikes. Thus, the EU pointed to the "clear intention to prevent and contain the spread of the deadly chemical weapons", stressing that the strikes were "limited and targeted."

The advantage of the approach according to which the blows were "illegal but legitimate" is said to be that it supports the normative force of the ban on the use of force - if one avoids the danger of misuse of force - at the same time it is carried out exclusively in response to humanitarian needs. In turn, his weakness is that he is essentially subjective, can lead to abuse and error. Thus, intelligence may turn out to be erroneous - as evidenced by Chilcott's investigation into the invasion of Iraq in 2003, especially if force is applied before an independent investigation is conducted. He also undermines the ban on the use of force, giving collective action to a one-sided victim and opening the door to self-styled "global sheriffs."


Syrian checkpoint

US strikes is surprisingly obvious absence of any serious efforts by the US or their supporting countries to harmonize their activities with international law. US simply told that when "the international community has repeatedly fails to fulfill its duty to implement the collective action, there comes a time when the United States are forced to make their own actions."

Time will tell whether this was the example of the violation of international agreements reason to change them. To date, the legal narratives, promoted by countries, too narrow or non-transparent, to provide the basis for meaningful reform.

The incident nevertheless once again raises uncomfortable questions about the adequacy of international law in the context of crimes against humanity - a problem that has not solved the limited doctrine of "responsibility to protect". Strike on Syria also raises questions about the ability of the UN Security Council in the current political climate, to respond effectively to humanitarian crises.


Damascus, Syria

Strokes can not be justified solely nor the fact that thanks to them the West, to make at least something started to feel better, or that they have softened the shock of President Trump, of which he had so much to say, the scenes of death of children on television and no the fact that - as stated by the publication of the New York Times - they restored the reputation of the United States in the world.

So why should the use of force be limited only to the protection of states, and not of the civilian population against whom the attack is carried out, in cases where the Security Council does not respond and when the sole effective way to prevent casualties can be exclusively military force? The fact that people are again concerned about the need to enforce the key principles of protecting civilians in international law is always welcome. The eternal question nevertheless is whether the use of military force - from time to time - without the mandate of the UN Security Council to become an acceptable means, and if so, where this feature will pass.

Discussion of humanitarian intervention is not new, has repeatedly addressed the issue of what should be the conditions for their application - the seriousness of the situation, the use of force as a last resort (including the absence of peaceful alternatives, and the failure of collective action), the use of effective and appropriate funds, as well as the prospects of success and what is considered a reasonable purpose.


President Donald Trump

If such discussions are resumed, there will immediately appear a barrier of complexity created by Trump's blow. Why can I bomb to prevent a chemical attack, but not as a punishment for the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs dropped from helicopters, or artillery, rocket or mortar shelling, which killed more in Syria than in a chemical attack. Yes, chemical weapons are prohibited, but the same can be said about the indiscriminate use of military means. Why not strike at the "torture industry" and "assassination complexes" of Assad? Why stop at Syria, if, for example, Sudan is also accused of using chemical weapons in 2016 in Darfur. Strength can also be applied against Myanmar, continuing the ethnic cleansing of the Muslims of Rohinya.

One key issue is always what will the expansion of the admissibility of the use of force effective. In the case of a blow to Syria raises very troubling questions about why the US bombed the airbase and aircraft Syrian air force - something that can be replaced by an official Damascus - rather than on the most chemical weapons, which was the source of the threat. And how much force is needed to make the change the behavior of a country.


US Air Force on Syria

Another key issue is whether the expansion of the scope of the admissibility of the use of force will not cause more harm than the problem itself, the solution of which is called the frame and extend - whether through escalation, collateral damage or unintended consequences. The use of military force rarely leads to the desired, or to predict the consequences, as evidenced by the disaster of Vietnam, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

Maintaining the status quo - a statement that the UN Charter is sufficient, except in the most egregious cases - becomes less feasible. International law is increasingly losing its legitimacy by being permanently unable to stop the unimaginable crimes. Those who violate the law, but saves lives, can - as strange as it may sound - to gain legitimacy due to the weakening of international law.


Unmanned aerial vehicle of the US Army

Under these conditions, a conservative assumption was one-sided action on the narrowly defined category of threats, such as the use of chemical or biological weapons, rather than to open the door wider, ambiguous and risky categories human intruders.

Always nevertheless preferable to strengthen collective action. Even if it often seems a battle lost in advance, it is important to proceed with caution in the reform of the UN Security Council. The only way to save the confidence in the legitimacy of the law and ensure its observance.

A source: A REGNUM

Author: Maxim Isayev

Tags: US war in the Middle East, Syria, Politics, Research, International Relations and chemical weapons