Recent Posts

Crisis in The Gambia: How Africa is Rewriting Jus ad Bellum

by Mohamed Helal

[Dr. Mohamed Helal is an Assistant Professor of Law, Moritz College of Law & Affiliated Faculty, Mershon Center for International Security Studies – The Ohio State University.]

Academic writing and political commentary on jus ad bellum are overwhelmingly focused on the policies, practices, and positons of major military powers. Countries such as the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, and regional pivotal states that have been belligerents in major armed conflicts, such as India and Pakistan, Iran and Iraq, Israel and its Arab neighbors, Turkey, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and a few others, have attracted the most attention in scholarship on the law governing the use of force by states. One region that has received lesser attention is Africa.

This is unfortunate because recent developments in Africa are challenging some of the cardinal principles of jus ad bellum. The unfolding crisis in The Gambia is one example. Adama Barrow, a real estate developer, defeated long-term incumbent Yahya Jammeh in the presidential election held on December 1st, 2016. Unexpectedly for an eccentric Gaddafi-like authoritarian leader, who vowed to rule The Gambia for a billion years and claimed the ability to cure AIDS and infertility, President Jammeh conceded defeat and promised a peaceful transfer of power. However, on December 9th, in an equally surprising volte-face, Jammeh declared that he was rejecting the election results citing what he called “serious and unacceptable abnormalities.”

President Jammeh’s power-grab was roundly condemned by the international community. In addition to the customary criticism and expressions of concern from international and regional organizations, a summit of the leaders of the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) adopted a resolution on December 17th recognizing the results of the December 1st election, pledging to attend the inauguration of President-elect Barrow on January 19th, 2017, and deciding to take “all necessary measures to strictly enforce the results of the 1st December 2016 elections.” The phrase: “all necessary measures,” is universally recognized as international law-speak for the authorization of the use of force.

After mediation efforts failed, ECOWAS issued an ultimatum to President Jammeh: either relinquish power by midnight on January 19th, or ECOWAS will forcefully intervene to install President-elect Barrow. Signaling that it meant business, ECOWAS forces from Senegal and Nigeria were mobilized on the border with The Gambia, and warned that they will intervene if President Jammeh failed to comply with the organizations’ ultimatum. On December 21st, a statement by the President of the Security Council noted that the Council welcomed and was encouraged by the decisions of the ECOWAS summit. Similarly, the African Union Peace and Security Council endorsed the election results and announced that it would not recognize Jammeh as President of The Gambia after January 19th.

As the January 19th deadline elapsed, events kicked into high-gear. Adama Barrow was sworn into office in The Gambia’s Embassy in Dakar, Senegalese forces crossed into The Gambia to enforce the ECOWAS resolution of December 17th, apparently pursuant to a request by-now President Barrow, and the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2337, its first for 2017. The resolution, tabled by Senegal, does not authorize the use of force by ECOWAS. Rather, acting under Chapter VI, the Council endorsed the decision of ECOWAS and the AU to recognize Adama Barrow as President, welcomed ECOWAS’ decisions of December 17th, and expressed support for ECOWAS’ commitment to “ensure, by political means first, the respect of the will of the people of The Gambia.” With ECOWAS troops already in his country, on Saturday January 21st President Jammeh left The Gambia, apparently after shipping a number of his luxury cars and pocketing $11 million from the treasury.

The situation in The Gambia and international reactions to the crisis challenge certain aspects of jus ad bellum. Because Opinio Juris readers are probably familiar with the basic contours of jus ad bellum, suffice it to say that the UN Charter establishes a blanket prohibition on both the threat and use of force by states. The Charter does, however, admit two exceptions to this general prohibition: force used in self-defense against an armed attack, and forceful action authorized by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter.

If based on a request by President Barrow, the Senegalese-led ECOWAS intervention beginning on January 19th fits – albeit imperfectly – within the established rules of jus ad bellum. As the International Court of Justice (ICJ) confirmed in the Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo Case, jus ad bellum permits governments to invite foreign states to militarily intervene on their own territory. In fact, previous ECOWAS interventions, such as in Sierra Leone and Liberia were justified on requests by the governments of those states. The potential trouble with ECOWAS’ ongoing intervention in The Gambia, however, is that it was undertaken pursuant to a request from what is essentially a government-in-exile. In fact, Adama Barrow probably does not even qualify as a government-in-exile, but rather, should be considered a president-in-exile. The right of a president-in-exile, who has never exercised governmental authority or effective control over the territory of the state, to authorize foreign armed intervention is, at best, questionable and unsupported by ample precedent. (See: Intervention by Invitation).

Moreover, the run-up to ECOWAS’ intervention in The Gambia also challenges the prohibition on the threat of the use of force. Ian Brownlie defines a threat of force as “an express or implied promise by a government of a resort to force conditional on non-acceptance of certain demands of that government.” Accordingly, the decision of the ECOWAS summit on December 17th, which demanded that President Jammeh relinquish power and authorized the use all necessary measures to enforce the election results, combined with the mobilization of ECOWAS forces in the weeks before January 19th, constitutes a threat of force. As the ICJ opined in its Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, the test of the legality of threats of force is: “if the use of force itself in a given case is illegal – for whatever reason – the threat to use such force will likewise be illegal.” The problem here is that enforcing election results or installing a democratically elected leader into office are not legitimate grounds for the use of force according to jus ad bellum. Despite attempts by a few governments and some scholars to advocate the so-called doctrine of pro-democratic intervention, which permits the resort to force to promote democratic government or prevent illegitimate takeovers of power, the overwhelming opinion is that this practice violates the UN Charter. Interestingly, however, the UN Security Council appears to have endorsed this threat of force by ECOWAS against President Jammeh. As aforementioned, the Presidential Statement of December 21st welcomed the actions of ECOWAS, and Resolution 2337, while falling short of authorizing the use of force and expressing its preference for the use of political means to settle the conflict, welcomed the decisions of the ECOWAS summit.

The chain of events and outcomes of a single conflict probably do not suffice to fundamentally alter rules as foundational to the international legal order as the prohibitions on the threat and use of force. The ongoing crisis in The Gambia does, however, pose some difficult legal questions and challenges certain aspects of jus ad bellum. Moreover, ECOWAS’ willingness and preparedness to threaten and use force to promote democracy is only one example of African practice that challenges the traditional rules of jus ad bellum. Another interesting development in Africa that has attracted limited academic attention (See here) is the ability of the African Union to authorize armed intervention to prevent genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. This right, enshrined in Article 4(h) of the AU Constitutive Act, is essentially an African version of the Responsibility to Protect. What is notable, however, is that the African Union is not required to seek Security Council authorization before approving such an intervention. This directly challenges Article 52 of the Charter, which obliges regional arrangements to acquire Security Council authorization before engaging in enforcement action.

As Jeremy Levitt noted, “most policymakers, international lawyers, and legal academics outside of the continent consider African states to be objects rather than subjects of international law … The geopolitical, Eurocentric, and linear bias in Western legal academia, among others, is truly unfortunate.” Events in The Gambia and other developments in Africa suggest that African practice in jus ad bellum, and indeed in all fields of international law, deserves greater scholarly and policy attention.

The Unknown Unknowns

by Deborah Pearlstein

While I would like to be able to offer some meaningful insight into what we might expect from the foreign policy of Donald Trump, I don’t think it’s possible to overstate at this stage the depth of current uncertainty surrounding what he will actually do. Part of this uncertainty is a function of his preternatural ability to take every position on every topic. (Latest case in point: After Trump repeatedly criticized NATO as overpriced and obsolete over the course of his campaign, we learned from President Obama today that Trump assured the President in their oval office meeting that “there is no weakening” in America’s commitment “toward maintaining a strong and robust NATO alliance.”) Another part of the uncertainty flows from the apparent depth of Trump’s own ignorance of the possibilities of the executive branch. (Again only the most recent example, the Sunday Wall Street Journal reported of Trump’s meeting with President Obama: “Mr. Trump seemed surprised by the scope [of the duties of running the country], said people familiar with the meeting. Trump aides were described by those people as unaware that the entire presidential staff working in the West Wing had to be replaced at the end of Mr. Obama’s term.”)

And then there is the scope and strength of the federal bureaucracy – the career professional staffs of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, the intelligence agencies, and more – who, to judge by both newspaper reporting and my entirely non-scientific and idiosyncratic Facebook feed, are grappling mightily with whether to stay or go in the face of extraordinary new leadership. As U.S. Presidents have found time and again (and as I’ve written about in the context of the military in particular, e.g., here), this apparatus makes it difficult sharply to turn the ship of state even with the clearest of intentions and the greatest of bureaucratic skill. There is little indication (as yet) that the incoming administration has either. This is hardly intended to offer comfort or reassurance; I am incapable of greeting with anything but dread the election of a President who has, for example, openly advocated policies that would violate the law – including torturing prisoners with waterboarding “and a lot worse,” and killing the families of those he thinks threaten the United States. It is intended as a check on my own worst speculative instincts. And as a plea to those who are part of that apparatus to start out, at least, by trying to stay.

Homage to California? (More on What Calexit Teaches Us About Secessionist Movements)

by Chris Borgen

Law professors should not be political prognosticators.  That’s probably something on which we can all agree.  Nonetheless, here’s my prediction: despite the current buzz (see also, this), California will not secede from the United States. Sorry, Silicon Valley Hamiltons.  However, the “Yes California” movement, spurred on by a Trump presidential victory can be instructive on the law,  psychology, and incentives behind more robust secessionist movements around the world.

As Julian mentioned in a post earlier today, the “#Calexit”  movement is seeking a referendum on secession in 2019.  The  group’s website states:

“As the sixth largest economy in the world, California is more economically powerful than France and has a population larger than Poland. Point by point, California compares and competes with countries, not just the 49 other states.”

In our view, the United States of America represents so many things that conflict with Californian values, and our continued statehood means California will continue subsidizing the other states to our own detriment, and to the detriment of our children.

Although charity is part of our culture, when you consider that California’s infrastructure is falling apart, our public schools are ranked among the worst in the entire country, we have the highest number of homeless persons living without shelter and other basic necessities, poverty rates remain high, income inequality continues to expand, and we must often borrow money from the future to provide services for today, now is not the time for charity.

This statement, and much about the movement, is like a study in secessionist politics, albeit with a sun-kissed white wine and Jacuzzis twist.  OK, that Jacuzzi quip may be snarky, but I wanted to attach an image to this idea: the yearning for Calexit, such as it is, is an example of a wish for a “secession of the successful” (to use a term political geographers John O’Loughlin, Gerard Toal, and Rebecca Chamberlain-Creanga used to describe the attempted  Transnistrian secession from Moldova, actually). These types of separatist movements, in which the separating group wants to stop paying rents to the central government and/or keep resources within their own territory for themselves, are generally called “tax exits.”

The Transnistrian, Slovenian, and Croatian separations or or attempted secessions all had elements of tax exits. (See P. Collier & A. Hoeffler, ‘The Political Economy of Secession’, in H. Hannum & E. F. Babbitt (eds), Negotiating Self Determination (2006), 46 (concerning Slovenia and Croatia)). This is not even a solely a phenomenon of nation-building.  In the U.S., we have even had new towns made up of wealthy neighborhoods that separated themselves from exiting municipalities over tax allocations.

Perhaps the best analogy, though, is Catalonia.  Relatively wealthy,  a large export economy, and the hub of creative industries in Spain, Catalonia even looks like parts of California (or vice versa). A common complaint is that wealth generated in Catalonia is redistributed by the national government to regions that are economically weak.

Now, here’s what the Calexiters argue:

Since 1987, California has been subsidizing the other states at a loss of tens and sometimes hundreds of billions of dollars in a single fiscal year. As a result, we are often forced to raise taxes and charge fees in California, and borrow money from the future to make up the difference. This is partly why California presently has some of the highest taxes in the country, and so much debt. Independence means that all of our taxes will be kept in California based on the priorities we set, and we will be able to do so while repaying our debts and phasing out the current state income tax.

You can’t state more clearly that a tax exit is a significant motivating factor for Calexit.

So, if a majority of Californians say “yes to California,” do they have a right to become their own country under domestic law or international law?

Julian answered the domestic law question in his post.

As for international law, the right to self-determination is described in Article 1 of both the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights Covenant and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:

All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

However, while Catalans, for example, can make a credible argument that they are  a distinct people with its own language and culture and a heritage as a significant nation in European history, Calexiters are mainly upset about the recent election and would like to hang on to more tax revenues.  Those are disputes over policy, but not claims of an independent national identity.

Regardless, since the birth of the United Nations, diplomats and jurists emphasized that a right of self-determination does not provide a remedy of secession outside of the context of decolonization. A broad right to secession would have clashed with a cornerstone of the UN, the territorial integrity of states. Outside of the context of decolonization, the right of self-determination for communities that are within already existing states is understood as a right to “internal” self-determination: the pursuit of political, cultural, linguistic, and other rights within the existing state (in this case, the U.S.).

However, secession is not in and of itself illegal under international law (although it may be linked to an act that is breach in international law, such as a military intervention by another state: think Russia invading Georgia to assist South Ossetia.)

While secession may be neither a right nor illegal under international law, secessionist acts are usually illegal under domestic laws.  Taken together, whether or not a secession is successful begins as a domestic political struggle, framed by the legal system of the pre-existing country and sometimes implicating international law due to intervention by other countries (or if the secession becomes a non-international armed conflict, but that’s another story).

All this sounds quite exotic in the context of some tech industry founders applying their credo of “disruption” to national politics. (I’m just waiting for the first Calexiter to say he or she aims to “break shit.”)  The short answer is that there is no right for California to secede under either domestic or international law.

However, the rhetoric of self-determination is enticing to would-be nation-builders and Calexiters make many of the same mistakes as other tax exit secessionists:

First, they assume there is a clear path to secession, when that is rarely the case.  Talk to the Catalans about this.  They have mustered hundreds of thousands of people in the streets in (more…)

Would Secession by California and Oregon Be Legal?

by Julian Ku

imgresFollowing Donald Trump’s stunning election victory, ballot measures are already being proposed in California and Oregon to secede from the United States.  Ordinarily, one can just chuckle at these measures as the actions of a radical fringe, but it would be hard to overestimate the depth of anger and opposition to a President Trump in states like California, where he lost by probably 20 percentage points.  If such a measure got on the ballot, we might see a serious campaign akin to Scotland’s 2014 referendum on staying in the United Kingdom.

But it seems settled under US constitutional law that unilateral secession from the United States is unconstitutional.  In the 1869 case Texas v. White, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled:

When Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States.

Some might argue, however, that a unilateral secession by California is authorized by the international law right of self-determination.  This is a much more difficult point to analyze, but I think that neither California nor Oregon would qualify to exercise this murky international law right, at least with respect to seceding.  The Canada Supreme Court’s decision in the Quebec case is probably most on point here.

A state whose government represents the whole of the people or peoples resident within its territory, on a basis of equality and without discrimination, and respects the principles of self-determination in its own internal arrangements, is entitled to the protection under international law of its territorial integrity.

In other words, international law guarantees to every state its “territorial integrity” and it can’t be overridden by “self determination” unless serious freedoms or discrimination against residents in the seceding region are being infringed.  Moreover, this right has generally only been exercised by states under colonization or foreign occupation.  The right might also exist if the state is facing the threat of egregious human rights violations (e.g. Kosovo), but the right in even that circumstance is controversial globally.

But I will admit I am not an expert on the international law of self-determination. If anyone has a good argument for why California or Oregon qualifies to exercise this right under international law, please feel free to share in the comments.

So I am going to go out on a limb here to say that a referendum to secede California or Oregon from the United States is both unconstitutional and unauthorized by international law.  Still, just getting such a measure on the ballot would be significant because they would force the U.S. government to take a position on the legality of such measures. This could affect US government positions on foreign self-determination movements in places like Hong Kong, for instance.

We live in interesting (and dangerous) times.

Opinio Juris and the Trump Presidency

by Chris Borgen

A couple of weeks ago a group of Opinio Juris bloggers held a round-table discussion at St. John’s University Law School about the international law and policy issues facing the next American President. In front of a full room, we considered issues ranging from relations with China and Russia, to the future of national security policy, human rights, international trade agreements and the UN.  We fielded questions from the audience, went past our scheduled closing time, and still had not answered all the questions in the room. It was clear that there is a need and a desire for intelligent discussion on these and other issues of international law and U.S. policy. There were, and are, significant questions of law and policy before the American public.

Now we know who the next President will be. Sustained and informed commentary about international law and the United States’ role in the world has never been more relevant.  We founded Opinio Juris as a forum for engaged and intelligent discussion on a broad range of international legal issues.  We have fostered a dialogue with voices from varying political, legal, and national perspectives. Among the hundreds (if not thousands) of issues we have covered, we have had commentary by sitting Department of State Legal Advisers on Bush Administration policies in the War on Terror and also concerning the U.S. operation against Osama Bin Laden during  the Obama Administration, as well as expert observations from the negotiations in Paris leading to the climate change agreement (see, for example, 1 and 2), examinations of the development of international criminal law, analyses of the  work of international courts and tribunals, emerging technologies and international law, and conversations about U.S. policy on the conflict in Syria. For the last eleven years we have tried to reflect upon the breadth and depth of international law and policy.

As the U.S. begins its transition into what will be the Trump Administration, we will continue to provide commentary that is informed by expertise in international law and is engaged with the policy debates of our time. A brief scan of the list of initiatives Donald Trump listed in October as the priorities for his first 100 days in office is full of international legal implications. He stated that on his first day in office, among other things:

* FIRST, I will announce my intention to renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from the deal under Article 2205

* SECOND, I will announce our withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership

* THIRD, I will direct my Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator

* FOURTH, I will direct the Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative to identify all foreign trading abuses that unfairly impact American workers and direct them to use every tool under American and international law to end those abuses immediately…

* SEVENTH, cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure

Additionally, on the first day, I will take the following five actions to restore security and the constitutional rule of law:

* FIRST, cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama

* SECOND, begin the process of selecting a replacement for Justice Scalia from one of the 20 judges on my list, who will uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States

* THIRD, cancel all federal funding to Sanctuary Cities

* FOURTH, begin removing the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back

* FIFTH, suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting.

This is only part of the list. For example, other statements from President-elect Trump or his surrogates have concerned whether the new administration would honor U.S. obligations under the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law, the future of NATO, and commitments to address climate change, to take three examples.  As the transition proceeds and President-elect Trump’s actual agenda takes shape, we will assess and address the international legal issues implicated by his proposals and stances. More generally, we will continue to thoughtfully consider the expansive international legal and policy issues facing the U.S. We hope to add to an informed public discourse.

We started this website as a forum for debate and discussion about international law and policy. Almost 10,000 posts later, this conversation has never been more important and we look forward to hearing what you have to say in the days and weeks to come.

How President Obama Gave President-elect Trump the Power to Undo the Iran Deal and Paris Agreement

by Julian Ku

As regular readers of this blog probably guessed, I did not support Donald Trump for President (I didn’t support Hillary Clinton either, but that’s another story). I did, however, take the possibility of his election seriously and published a couple of posts (see this one here) analyzing the legal issues raised by his campaign promises to withdraw from existing U.S. international agreements such as the Iran Nuclear Deal, the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In general, I concluded in my prior posts that President-elect Trump has the clear constitutional authority to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Paris Climate Change Agreement without seeking the approval of Congress.  It is somewhat less clear, but it is certainly possible that a President-elect Trump has the constitutional authority to withdraw from trade agreements like NAFTA without Congress, but that is less certain.

It is important to keep in mind that the reason a President Trump can unilaterally withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Paris Climate Change Agreement is that President Obama chose to avoid submitting either agreement to Congress or the Senate for approval.  Indeed, President Obama’s lawyers went even farther to clarify that the Iran Nuclear Deal was a nonbinding political agreement and that the emissions targets in the Paris Climate Change Agreement were also legally nonbinding.

This important concession was made to avoid any need to submit these controversial agreements to approval by a (very) hostile Congress.  At the time, the legal sophistication and dexterity of the Obama team’s strategy was lauded, and I supported their legal position even though I disagreed with the policies embodied in the agreements.  But I warned that the cleverness of their legal positions came at a price: a future President could unilaterally undue both agreements without the approval of Congress and without even incurring US violations of those agreements since both are largely legally nonbinding.

Well, the day to pay the cost of this strategy is at hand.  Trump has won the presidency and there is no legal obstacle to his unilateral reversal of two of President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievements.  No filibuster will save them. And President Obama will have no one to blame but himself and his legal team for this fact.

The larger lesson from this saga is that legal rules and processes matter more than even we lawyers acknowledge.  A smart political achievement that cuts the corners on the law will come at a cost.  Past and future presidents should probably keep this in mind.

New Report on European Counterterrorism Practice

by Deborah Pearlstein

Anthony Dworkin, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, has an interesting new report out about developing ways in which European governments are using force abroad to combat the threat of terrorism of various sorts. The study is full of useful data points so is worth reading in its entirety, but I write here briefly to emphasize a conclusion it does not reach. The way the study is pitched at the outset of Dworkin’s blog post about its issuance – emphasizing the convergence of U.S. and European counterterror legal theories – those reading quickly might imagine it to support the view that various European powers have at long last embraced the United States’ novel post-9/11 legal theory of a global, non-international armed conflict (NIAC) against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces. But the study itself makes clear that while France and Britain, for instance, have come to use force in Syria and Iraq for various reasons, it is not the case that their engagement in this conflict reflects an acceptance of the concept of a global NIAC. See, for example, this section:

“In one important respect, however, European governments involved in counter-terror wars have stopped short of the expansive legal position adopted by the United States. EU member states (including France, despite the rhetoric used by government officials) are united in rejecting the notion of a single transnational armed conflict with the ISIS or al-Qaeda network. In the words of one British official, they continue to treat these terrorist groups as presenting a series of ‘specific threats in specific locations….’ This approach reflects both a strategic view about the most effective approach to fighting terrorist organisations and a legal analysis that rejects the notion of a geographically unbounded armed conflict against a non-state group.”

Recent practice of a few European states to be sure bear on other important questions of, for example, the extent of the embrace of the U.S. “unwilling or unable” theory of overcoming sovereignty objections to the use of force; and, for example, how international human rights law is thought to inform state use of force in self-defense against terrorist groups. But those looking for evidence of European support for the existence of such a thing as a transnational NIAC won’t find it here.

International Law and the U.S. Election: Trumpxit, Syria and State Marijuana Laws

by Julian Ku

Those of us here in the US are pretty obsessed with tomorrow’s U.S. presidential election (and from what I can tell, those of you outside the States are pretty interested as well). International law has not been a huge issue in the election, but I do think tomorrow’s result could have at least three big impacts on the international legal system.

Trumpxit

As I have noted in earlier posts, Republican nominee Donald Trump has been notable for pledging to renegotiate and possibly terminate numerous U.S. international agreements.  Most clearly, he has pledged to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Iran Nuclear Agreement. He has also pledged at various times to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement, the US-Japan Defense Treaty, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

As a legal matter, there is no doubt in my mind that a President Trump would have the legal power to terminate the Paris Agreement and the Iran Agreement on his first day in office without any authorization by Congress.  Both of those agreements were concluded as sole executive agreements, and most of the provisions are also legally nonbinding political agreements.

I also think that under existing US precedent, a President Trump could unilaterally terminate US participation in NATO and the US-Japan Defense Treaty.  As I noted earlier, the US Supreme Court in Goldwater v. Carter refused to block a similar presidential termination of the US-Republic of China (Taiwan) Defense treaty and although that case is not entirely clear, it seems likely that the president can do this on his own.

As I also noted, however, it is much less clear if the President can unilaterally withdraw from NAFTA and other trade agreements because those agreements have been codified by statute.  This would raise the “Brexit” scenario currently embroiling the UK.

In any event, I think “Trumpxit” is probably one of the biggest consequences of electing the GOP nominee because his powers in this area are largely unilateral and do not require Congress.

US Military Action in Syria

As Deborah has explained on this blog in recent weeks, the US is currently engaged in some sort of “armed conflict” in Syria that doesn’t seem to clearly fit into the Geneva Convention’s categories for either international or non-international armed conflicts.  On a domestic legal front, the US Congress has not specifically authorized the action in Syria as well, making its domestic legality questionable at the very least.

The next President will have to decide how to frame the Syria conflict under international and US constitutional law. My guess is that both Clinton and Trump would follow the Obama approach of treating the conflict as a non-international armed conflict against the Islamic State that is authorized by the 2001 congressional authorization for the use of force.  But this is something the next President will have to engage with seriously, since there continue to be serious doubts about the legality of US actions in Syria.

More US Violations of Drug Control Treaty

Five more US states have referenda tomorrow to legalize recreational marijuana.  If approved, this would mean nine US states plus the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, and many more have legalized medical marijuana.

It seems clear that continued non-federal enforcement of marijuana prohibitions in these states would violate US obligations under drug control treaties.  There are at least three that arguably conflict with legalized marijuana: The 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.  As this fine Brookings Institution report notes, the US is going to be in clear violation of these treaties soon and needs to renegotiate them to accommodate US state laws.  Presumably, this is on the agenda of the next President (low on the agenda, but on there somewhere).

Ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty

Most projections indicate the US Senate will remain deeply divided (maybe even 50/50) between Democrats and Republicans.  If so, I don’t think there is a high likelihood that proponents of US ratification of the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea will have enough votes to push it over the 67 vote threshold.  We may see another effort, however, if the Democrats unexpectedly pick up a strong majority of seats (say in the 53 plus range).  There continues to be strong support in the US Navy and in US energy circles for US ratification so it is still on the agenda.

o o o

I am sure I am missing a few issues. Readers should feel free to add in the comments any other international law issues that are likely to be affected by tomorrow’s results.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, November 7, 2016

by Jessica Dorsey

Here’s your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

Asia

Europe

Americas

Oceania

UN/World

Events and Announcements: November 6, 2016

by Jessica Dorsey

Calls for Papers

  • To mark 15 years since the coming into force of the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 1 July 2002, the Journal of International Criminal Justice is pleased to announce a forthcoming symposium on ‘The International Criminal Court’s Policies and Strategies’ to be published in July 2017. The Court and its various organs have continually issued a number of documents explaining the Court’s policies on numerous distinct issues as well as its strategies for the future. The Journal’s Editorial Committee believes that the time has come to take a closer and systematic look at these documents, looking at the choices made thus far, the level of transparency and consistency, as well as suggesting avenues to strengthen the overall effectiveness and credibility of ICC investigative and prosecutorial strategies. The Journal calls for submission of abstracts not exceeding 500 words on the questions described above, or related areas of interest, no later than 15 November 2016. After the abstracts are reviewed, in early December, the Editorial Committee will invite a number of contributors to submit full papers of no more than 8000 words (including an abstract and footnotes) by 28 February 2017. For more information about the call, please visit the website here or contact the Executive Editor at jicj [at] geneva-academy [dot] ch.
  • The university of Michigan Law School will be hosting its Third Annual Young Scholars’ Conference on March 31 – April 1, 2017. This year, The Michigan Journal of International Law intends to publish selected papers from the conference. More information about the call for papers and the conference can be found here.
  • In advance of the 6th Conference of the Postgraduate and Early Professionals/Academics Network of the Society of International Economic Law (PEPA/SIEL) 2017, taking place in Tilburg, the Netherlands, 20-21 April 2017, and with SIEL’s Postgraduate and Early Professionals/Academics Network (PEPA/SIEL) being, among other things, interested in fostering collaboration and mentoring opportunities for emerging academics and professionals in International Economic Law (IEL). PEPA/SIEL fulfils these goals through various activities such as organising conferences at which emerging IEL academics and professionals can present and discuss their research in a supportive and welcoming environment, have issued a call for papers. More information can be found here.

Events

  • The Centre for Business and Commercial Laws of the National Law Institute University, Bhopal in collaboration with Trilegal, is organizing the second edition of NLIU-Trilegal Summit on Mergers and Acquisitions on 25th & 26th February, 2017. Participating authors are expected to submit either an article or an essay on Mergers and Acquisitions within the contours of the sub-themes. Authors are required to register themselves provisionally by sending an e-mail to trilegal [dot] nliusummit [at] gmail [dot] com outlining their intention of contributing to the summit. Provisional Registration is open up to 30 November, 2016. All papers, along with an abstract (not more than 300 words), must be submitted on or before 15 December, 2016 (11.59 pm). Further details can be found in the Brochure and Submission Guidelines. The brochure can be accessed here and submission guidelines can be accessed here.

Announcements

  • Fietta associates Ashique Rahman and Laura Rees-Evans, along with other public international law practitioners from within private practice and government, have established the Young Public International Law Group (YPILG).  The YPILG aspires to connect PIL practitioners to one another to facilitate knowledge-sharing in the PIL field.  The group will promote the next generation of PIL professionals.  Fietta, Debevoise & Plimpton, Clifford Chance, Matrix Chambers, Essex Court Chambers and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office are the initial co-sponsors of the YPILG.  A drinks reception to launch the YPILG will take place on 29 November 2016 at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.  Professor Vaughan Lowe will be the keynote speaker. Further information about YPILG, including how to register for the launch event, can be found on the YPILG website 
  • The WZB Berlin Social Science Center’s research area International Politics and Law, unit Global Governance (Director: Prof. Dr. Michael Zürn) is seeking to appoint two research fellows to be employed fulltime (39 hours/week) for up to five years, commencing on 16th January 2017 or as soon as possible thereafter. Main tasks involve the theory-based research of transnational and international institutions, their social and political prerequisites, and the repercussions on national processes. The successful candidates are to work within the framework of the research programme of the Global Governance unit. Please see the unit’s website for more information. Applications (motivation letter, CV, list of publications, references, if applicable) should be sent to the following e-mail address in the form of a single PDF file by 21.11.2016: Barçın Uluışık: barcin [dot] uluisik [at] wzb [dot] eu.
  • The British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL) is looking to appoint a strong candidate to the Arthur Watts Senior Research Fellowship in Public International Law (.pdf) to build on BIICL’s pre-eminence in this area. Public international law helps to address fundamental challenges facing individuals, businesses and governments, including international trade, investment, business, peace and security, armed conflict, terrorism and counter-terrorism, human rights, taxation, communications and the environment. The Fellowship and its activities are funded through the Arthur Watts Appeal,in memory of the late Sir Arthur Watts QC, one of the leading international lawyers of his generation. The Fellowship’s purpose is to ensure that the practical application of public international law remains securely at the heart of BIICL’s work. The Appeal is an active fundraising campaign led by Sir Frank Berman, KCMG, QC and Chair of BIICL’s Board of Trustees. Further details on the Appeal are available here.

If you would like to post an announcement on Opinio Juris, please contact us with a one-paragraph description of your announcement along with hyperlinks to more information.

Addressing the Urban Future

by Chris Borgen

Urbanization is our present and it is our future. Between the recently completed UN Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, and Iraqi Special Operations entering Mosul, starting what may be a complex urban battle, we face constant reminders that  much of the world’s population now lives in cities. How we protect rights, foster development, interact with the environment, organize politically, and fight wars is increasingly an urban story.

Consider the bleak picture of megacities and the future of combat in this leaked Pentagon video (at the link and also embedded above). Some key take-aways from the video:

  • By 2030 60% of world’s population will be in cities. Most of the urban growth will be in the developing world.
  • Illicit networks will fill the gaps left by overextended and undercapitalized governments.
  • Growth will magnify the increasing economic separation between rich and poor, even thought they may be in close proximity. Uneven growth means that slums and shantytowns will rapidly expand alongside ever increasing levels of prosperity.
  • Moreover, religious and ethnic tensions will be a defining element of these urban environments
  • Megacities are complex systems where people and structures are compressed together in ways that defy both our understanding of city planning and military doctrines.
  • Living habitats will extend from the high-rise to the ground level cottage to subterranean labyrinths, each defined by its own social code and rule of law.
  • Social structures will also be stressed. Criminal networks will offer opportunity for the growing class of unemployed  and will be part of the nervous system of non-nation state, unaligned, individuals and organizations that live and work in the shadow of national rule.
  • There will be increasing complexity of human targeting as proportionally smaller number of adversaries mix with an increasingly large population of citizens.
  • The interactions of governmental failure, illicit economies,  economic growth and spreading poverty, informal networks, environmental degradation, and other factors leads to an environment of convergence hidden within the enormous scale and complexity of megacities, which become the source of adversaries and hybrid threats.
  • Classic military strategy counsels either (a) avoiding the cities or establishing a cordon to wait out the adversary  or (b) draining the swamp of non-combatants and then engaging the adversary in high-intensity conflict. But megacities are too large to isolate or cordon in their entirety.  The U.S. military will need to operate within the urban environment and current counterinsurgency  doctrine is  inadequate to address the sheer scale of megacities
  • “This is the world of our future. It is one we are not prepared to effectively operate within and it is unavoidable.”

According to FoxtrotAlpha, this video was produced for a course at the Joint Special Operations University on “Advanced Special Operations Combating Terrorism,” it is focused on urbanization from the perspective of military planning. A 2010 issue of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s journal was devoted to humanitarian law and conflict in built-up urban areas. The ICRC also had recommendations for the UN’s Habitat III conference that just ended.

The topics covered, though, are very much the province of law and lawyers, including the needs of the urban poor, the operations of criminal networks, environmental degradation and climate change, the law of armed conflict and targeting in built-up areas, informal rulemaking in communities (“order without law”), informal markets and economies,  and the role of non-state actors, to name only some of the topics that crop up. While this video is (understandably) focused on the implications on combat operations, what I also see is the need for sustained  engagement in the protection of human rights, the distribution of public goods, the fostering of inter-communal dispute resolution, and the spurring of bottom-up economic development in megacities.

The video emphasizes that the future is urban. But, as the writer William Gibson has said, “The future is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

 

How Dualism May Save the United Kingdom from Brexit

by Julian Ku

Early in my international law education here in the U.S, I learned that dualism was an unfortunate concept that led to the U.S. violating international law obligations by failing to enforce those obligations (usually treaties) domestically.  But today’s blockbuster decision from a UK court in Miller v. Secretary of State on Brexit should remind us that dualism can also work to protect international law. How?  Well, if a country has many international obligations but is now seeking to withdraw from those obligations, dualism makes it harder to withdraw from those obligations.

In Miller,  the court noted that although the UK Prime Minister usually has the unilateral authority to enter into and withdraw from treaties, that power cannot be used in anyway that would affect or change domestic UK law. Quoting an earlier decision, the High Court today noted that under the UK constitution, the Crown (through her ministers) has the sole and unreviewable power to make treaties. No Parliamentary assent or approval is needed. However,

[T]he Royal Prerogative, whilst it embraces the making of treaties, does not extend to altering the law or conferring rights upon individuals or depriving individuals of rights which they enjoy in domestic law without the intervention of Parliament.  Treaties, as it is sometimes expressed, are not self-executing.  Quite simply, a treaty is not part of English law unless and until it has been incorporated into law by legislation. 

(Citing J.H. Rayner (Mincing Lane) Ltd. v Department of Trade and Industry [1990] 2 AC 418).

This basic principle seems to me crucial to the UK court’s holding today that the Crown (through her ministers) does not have the power to give notice under Article 50.  Although the Crown would ordinarily have this power, the fact that triggering Article 50 would alter the domestic law of the UK makes this a question for Parliament.

In the US system, the President holds similar powers as the Crown and has similarly exercised unilateral powers to withdraw from treaties.  But because treaties in the US have a vaguely monist character — they are self-executing and they have been approved by the Senate — it is harder to argue that the President cannot terminate treaties even if that termination would affect domestic US law. Why?  Because if the treaty was “monist” and self-executing when made, then it is less troubling to unmake that treaty without going back to Congress.  Unlike the UK, treaties are the supreme law of the land and directly preempt state law and earlier in time federal statutes.  The kind of argument wielded by the Court in Miller just wouldn’t have any purchase here.

In any event, I don’t want to stretch this argument too far.  The US may be facing its own Brexit moment soon if a President Trump makes good on his threat to withdraw the US from NAFTA.  And if that happens (god forbid), expect pro-NAFTA folks to raise the case for congressional approval of any termination.  But all in all, I think the dualist nature of the UK system aided the cause of the anti-Brexiteers in this case, which is a somewhat surprising result if you grew up learning that dualism was one of the great obstacles to a stronger international legal system.