The UK Government’s Position on Unwilling & Unable

by Jens David Ohlin

Happy Thanksgiving.  As those of us in the United States celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday, it is of course imperative to remember that many people outside our country are facing serious problems and perilous circumstances.

In response to the terror attacks in Paris (and in Mali), the government of UK Prime Minister David Cameron has once again called on British lawmakers to authorize the use of military force in Syria. Cameron released a document that not only articulates the strategic necessity for military action against ISIS, but also outlines the Cameron administration’s legal position regarding the legality of the proposed strikes under international law. Unsurprisingly, the argument relies on the fact that the Syria government is unwilling or unable to stop the ISIS threat.

The following excerpt is taken from a longer document released by Cameron and sent to the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Here is the critical section dealing with international law:

There is now a UN Security Council Resolution. Resolution 2249 (of 20 November 2015) has now made a clear and unanimous determination that ISIL “constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security”, and called upon Member States to take “all necessary measures … to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL… and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria.” There is a clear legal basis for military action against ISIL in Syria. The legality of UK strikes against ISIL in Syria is founded on the right of self-defence as it is recognised in Article 51 of the UN Charter. The right to self-defence may be exercised individually where it is necessary to the UK’s own defence, and collectively in the defence of our friends and allies. This reflects the multi-faceted and evolving threat that ISIL poses, and the response that is required to bring that threat to an effective end.

Collective Self Defence of Iraq

On 20 September 2014 the Government of Iraq wrote to the President of the UN Security Council seeking international assistance to strike ISIL sites and military strongholds, in order to end the constant threat to Iraq, protect Iraq’s citizens and, ultimately, arm Iraqi forces and enable them to regain control of Iraq’s borders. The main basis of the Global Coalition’s actions against ISIL in Syria is the collective self-defence of Iraq. The UK is already supporting the Coalition’s efforts to degrade ISIL in Syria as a necessary aspect of effectively bringing an end to ISIL’s armed attack on Iraq. On 21 October 2014, the Defence Secretary announced to Parliament that he was authorising flights of manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft over Syria to gather intelligence against ISIL. There is a solid basis of evidence on which to conclude, firstly, that there is a direct link between the presence and activities of ISIL in Syria and their ongoing attack on Iraq and, secondly, that the Assad regime is unwilling and/or unable to take action necessary to prevent ISIL’s continuing attack on Iraq.

In light of these considerations and the scale of the threat posed by ISIL, military action that is necessary and proportionate to bring an end to ISIL’s attack on Iraq is justified in accordance with the right of collective self-defence that is preserved in Article 51 of the UN Charter. The Coalition has relied on this legal basis for military action in Syria. Numerous States, including the USA, Australia, Canada and France have written to the UN Security Council explaining that they are taking action on the basis of the right of collective self-­defence. In accordance with the requirements of Article 51 of the UN Charter, the UK notified the UN Security Council that it was taking military action as part of the Coalition’s efforts in the collective self-defence of Iraq by a letter of 25 November 2014. The underlying considerations which justified collective self-defence of Iraq for UK activity in Syria in 2014 remain today. The collective self-defence of Iraq provides a clear legal basis for the UK to increase its contribution to the Coalition’s efforts against ISIL in Syria by taking direct military action itself, provided such activity meets the ongoing requirements of necessity and proportionality.

ISIL’s threat to the UK and its attack on our Allies and partners

The threat from ISIL continues to evolve and now goes far beyond Iraq and Syria, as is all too clear from the external attack planning disrupted by the precision UK strike of 21 August (as I reported to the House on 7 September) and the tragic events of 13 November in Paris. For several months now, UK security agencies have been monitoring the development of ISIL’s external attack planning capacity, which seeks to target both the UK and our allies and partners around the world. Resolution 2249 (2015) both condemns the ISIL’s horrendous attacks that have taken place and notes ISIL’s intent and capability to carry out further attacks. It then calls upon States to take lawful action to prevent such attacks. It is clear that ISIL’s campaign against the UK and our allies has reached the level of an “armed attack” such that force may lawfully be used in self-defence to prevent further atrocities being committed by ISIL. As well as the collective self-defence of Iraq, there is therefore an additional legal basis to take action in our own self-defence and that of other allies and partners as well, where they request our assistance. The use of force in self-defence is of course limited to what is necessary and proportionate and we have made clear that we will act at all times in accordance with the law.

http://opiniojuris.org/2015/11/26/the-uk-governments-position-on-unwilling-unable/

7 Responses

  1. Response…

  2. Thanks Jens David. Collective self-defense works fine, but why does the UK cling to a long discredited “Bush doctrine” of “evolving threat”?
    An evolving threat is not yet a real threat, much less a threat of imminent attack (which would be relevant regarding minority claims to use anticipatory self-defense before an armed attack is underway). More disturbing, perhaps, they mean it!
    This view should be widely denounced!!

  3. UK and the rest of Europe face a credible and imminent threat from the IS. The IS is hostis humani generis and as such no state need wait for a resolution authorising it to take action against the IS.

  4. is there a link to the document, I couldn’t find it…

  5. Kumar: You “stepped in it” — an imminent threat is not yet a threat. Perhaps you mean threat of imminent attack.

  6. Yes Jordan a imminent threat of attack which states can counter with pre-emptive action.

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