UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2249, aimed at rallying the world behind the fairly obvious notion that ISIS is an “unprecedented threat to international peace and security.”
“It’s a call to action to member states that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures against (ISIS) and other terrorist groups,” British UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters.
There are a lot of laws that seek to govern and prevent wars, but the Western nations looking to launch airstrikes in Syria have made things easy for us – they have cited the law that they believe justifies their military intervention: specifically, Article 51 of the UN Charter. It reads, in part:
Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.
So doesn’t France, for instance, enjoy the inherent right to bomb ISIS targets in Syria as an act of self-defense – in order to prevent further attacks?
And don’t members of the US-led coalition, who cite the “collective self-defense” of Iraq (the Iraqi government has formally made this request), have the right to prevent further ISIS attacks from Syrian territory into Iraqi areas?
Well, no. Article 51, as conceived in the UN Charter, refers to attacks between territorial states, not with non-state actors like ISIS or Al-Qaeda. Syria, after all, did not attack France or Iraq – or Turkey, Australia, Jordan or Saudi Arabia.
Ostensibly, Syria is ‘unable’ to sufficiently degrade or destroy ISIS because, as we can clearly see, ISIS controls a significant amount of territory within Syria’s borders that its national army has not been able to reclaim.
This made some sense – until September 30 when Russia entered the Syrian military theater and began to launch widespread airstrikes against terrorist targets inside Syria.
As a major global military power, Russia is clearly ‘able’ to thwart ISIS –certainly just as well as most of the Western NATO states participating in airstrikes already. Moreover, as Russia is operating there due to a direct Syrian government appeal for assistance, the Russian military role in Syria is perfectly legal.
This development struck a blow at the US-led coalition’s legal justification for strikes in Syria. Not that the coalition’s actions were ever legal – “unwilling and unable” is merely a theory and has no basis in customary international law.
About this new Russian role, Major Patrick Walsh, associate professor in the International and Operational Law Department at the US Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Virginia, says:
The United States and others who are acting in collective defense of Iraq and Turkey are in a precarious position. The international community is calling on Russia to stop attacking rebel groups and start attacking ISIS. But if Russia does, and if the Assad government commits to preventing ISIS from attacking Syria’s neighbors and delivers on that commitment, then the unwilling or unable theory for intervention in Syria would no longer apply. Nations would be unable to legally intervene inside Syria against ISIS without the Assad government’s consent.
From “the dictator is killing his own people” to the “regime is using chemical weapons” to the need to establish “No Fly Zones” to safeguard “refugees fleeing Assad”…propaganda has been liberally used to build the justification for foreign military intervention.
Article 2 of the UN Charter states, in part:
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.
It’s hard to see how Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has not been systematically violated throughout the nearly five years of this conflict, by the very states that make up the US-led coalition. The US, UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, the UAE and other nations have poured weapons, funds, troops and assistance into undermining a UN member state at every turn.
Why than does it always seem the US and NATO allies are always exempt from international laws when it comes to interventions?