opinion on the Airstrikes on Syria

15th April 2018.

The international community should be reminded that:

  • Jus ad bellum, the use of force by states is regulated by both customary international law and treaty law.
  • UN Charter Article 2 (4): Members shall refrain from the threat or use of force.
  • UN Charter Article 24 and 25: Members shall carry out the decisions of the Security Council.
  • UN Charter Chapter VII: Security Council may authorise collective action to maintain or enforce international peace and security, including the use of force.
  • UN Charter Article 51: States have the right to self-defence.

And to that ends:

  • Individual or collective use of force is permitted if it has been granted through UN Security Council Resolution or if it is an act of self-defence. The US/UK/France did not get authorisation from the UNSC to launch 110 missiles towards Syrian targets.
  • Use of force is permitted by a third state with the consent of the host state. There is no such consent with regards to Syria from the UK/France/USA. Consent was given to Russia.

Which means that:

  • Use of force is not permitted on Syrian targets by the UK/France/USA. Striking Syrian targets without expressed consent of Syria breaches their territorial integrity.
  • The UK’s legal basis for air strikes was humanitarian intervention. This is controversial both when it does and does not happen. There is no international regulator of humanitarian intervention. Humanitarian intervention’s strength comes from past conflicts, as Kofi Annan said: “if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, a Srebrenica – to gross and systematic violations of human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity?”     

But to be reminded that:

  • Sovereignty matters.
  • Sovereignty does not grant unlimited power that a state can do whatever it wants with its population.
  • Sovereignty is a balance of respect for territorial integrity and the rights and dignity of its peoples.
  • Sovereign states have a responsibility for their population.
  • Irresponsible actions of a sovereign state of its own population cannot be judged unilaterally by another state, it must go through the United Nations.  

The situation:

  • Military force should always be a last resort and carried out in a way that is legitimate and legal. If it isn’t, it sets a precedent for other countries and non-state actors that they can do it too. It becomes part of the reasoning for its perpetuance: if x doesn't comply to these principles, why should we?
  • Airstrikes were the result of a chemical weapon attack. There is nothing in the Chemical Weapons Convention that designates use of force is permitted by an alliance of states without UN authorisation if chemical weapons are used. 

Understanding that:

  • The airstrikes came after seven years of conflict, 12 vetoes at the Security Council and systematic obstruction of diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. This does not make the airstrikes legal.
  • The need for a respected United Nations Security Council, taking decisions that applies to all.

The solution:

  1. Continue efforts at the UN Security Council.
  2. If the Security Council fail to act, hold an emergency meeting at the General Assembly invoking the “Uniting for Peace” Resolution 377A(V).
  3. After the conflict, work on reforming the UNSC. As Kofi Annan uttered in an RT interview in 2015 from Worlds Apart: “I was still pressing for expansion of the council, to bring around the table some of the emerging powers because I believe if you have the emerging powers around the table…let’s assume, and I’m not supporting any countries’ candidacy, let’s assume as new members you had India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, South Africa, Egypt and countries like that…for one country to veto and ignore the whole world with all that group of people representing large populations around the table would be much more difficult that it is today.”