A Brief Reply on the Legal Bases for Intervention in Syria
In response to Julian Ku’s post here on the potential legal justifications for the U.S. to use force against Syria in the event Assad turns to chemical weapons, Daniel Bethlehem sent along the following. Daniel Bethlehem practices in London and served as Principal Legal Advisor to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 2006-2011.
Julian Ku suggests that “[a]ssuming no Security Council approval, I think the U.S. would be in technical violation of the UN Charter [were it to intervene in response to an apparent Syrian chemical weapons threat]. Although this may be correct as a matter of international law, it seems like a silly result.”
I agree that this would be a silly result and, with the caveat that a legal assessment would ultimately be fact specific, suggest that the analysis might be broadened to include an examination of the following possible legal bases.
First, the recent request by Turkey under the framework of NATO, now agreed, to be provided with Patriot missile batteries to protect against the risk of a Syrian use of chemical weapons, suggests the possibility of a collective self-defence rationale for military intervention to address such a threat.
Second, with many thousands of deaths and injuries in Syria already, as well as some millions of refugees and internally displaced persons, and the realistic prospect of a significant increase in these numbers if chemical weapons are used, there would seem to be a strong basis for a reasonable assertion of a humanitarian intervention rationale for any action.
Third, there is a line of commentary that suggests that the provision of aid and assistance to one side in a civil war in response to a request is legally defensible – akin to intervention pursuant to request by a government.
A focused Chapter VII authorisation by the UN Security Council would no doubt be the preferable way in which to proceed. But it is not the only available legal framework for action to address a real and substantial threat of the use of chemical weapons.