Strike against Syria can be illegal but moral
30 August 2013
There is no legal right to use military force to prevent future chemical weapons attacks, even if their use makes the moral and political case for action more compelling, writes Professor Ben Saul.
"NATO's intervention in Kosovo in 1999 to prevent ethnic cleansing was illegal.
"The "responsibility to protect" doctrine adopted after Kosovo also does not endorse unilateral intervention.
"There is also no right of self-defence in the current circumstances because Syria has not attacked the US or any other country.
"As was the case in Iraq in 2003, military intervention in Syria would constitute the crime against peace of aggression, in principle attracting international criminal responsibility for political leaders who order an attack.
"International law prohibits countries from unilaterally using military force on the assumption that the Security Council will act on their behalf to ensure global public order.
"Collective action is less open to abuse than unilateral action, and on balance that is often good for preventing a spiral of violence.
But collective action can also be impossible to secure, as the current impasse shows.
"Individual Security Council members do not always act disinterestedly for the global public good, but may vote to preserve their own geo-strategic interests, client states, or spheres of influence.
"The law is not sacred, but fallible too."
Contact: Greg Sherington
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