The Legality of a Syrian Military Intervention: Russia, France, and the UK Weigh In
It looks like the tragic events surrounding a likely chemical weapons attack in Syria will spark a military intervention by the United States, France, and Britain without the authorization of the U.N. Security Council. We have already heard President Obama publicly state that international law is a factor in the decisionmaking process in the U.S. and the NYT suggests U.S. officials are looking at Kosovo as a precedent for an intervention. Now other leading powers are weighing in. First to the plate, Russia:
“Using force without the approval of the UN Security Council is a very grave violation of international law,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.
Speaking at a news conference urgently convened just a few hours before, he added that the West was currently moving towards “a very dangerous path, a very slippery path”.
Next into the fray, France, whose foreign minister seems to concede Russia’s point about legality, but then makes a mysterious reference to bypassing the UNSC.
France’s foreign minister said on Monday no decision had been made yet on whether to take military action against Syria, but doing so outside the auspices of the U.N. Security Council would be problematic.
“It is a problem that will be difficult,” Laurent Fabius told Europe 1 radio.
“International law is defined by the United Nations, but at same time there are countries (on the council) that are blocking (military action)- China and Russia have blocked and would probably block again so it would be a problem…
“In certain circumstances we can bypass it, but international law does exist,” he said without elaborating.
I have no idea what he is talking about in terms of “international law is defined by the United Nations.” I am also wondering what circumstances would allow France to bypass the UN Charter, given that it is defined by the U.N. itself.
It may be that France is following the UK’s lead, as the UK’s foreign minister is also hinting that an attack without UNSC authorization is going to happen.
Mr Hague said diplomatic methods to resolve the civil war in Syria had “failed so far”.
He said the UN Security Council, split over Syria, had not “shouldered its responsibilities”.
The council is made up of 15 members including permanent members China, Russia, France, the US and the UK which have the power to veto any resolution.
But any action could be taken “without complete unity on the UN Security Council”, he said.
He said a response could be “based on great humanitarian need and distress” and “in accordance with international law”.
It sounds like the UK and France are both going to need to come up with some international law theory to justify their support for an attack, and the UK seems interested in the “humanitarian intervention” justification. If the U.S. goes along with this, it would be interesting to see if the “invisible college of international lawyers” will endorse this legal theory.