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Dapo Akande Promoted to Professor of Public International Law at Oxford

by Kevin Jon Heller

I want to congratulate my friend — and friend of Opinio Juris — Dapo Akande on his promotion to Professor of Public International Law at Oxford University. It’s a massive accomplishment, and one richly deserved. Here is a snippet of Dapo’s impressive bio:

Dapo Akande is also Yamani Fellow at St. Peter’s College and Co-Director of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC) & the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations. He has held visiting professorships at Yale Law School (where he was also Robinna Foundation International Fellow), the University of Miami School of Law and the Catolica Global Law School, Lisbon. Before taking up his position in Oxford in 2004, he was Lecturer in Law at the University of Nottingham School of Law (1998-2000) and at the University of Durham (2000-2004). From 1994 to 1998, he taught international law (part-time) at the London School of Economics and at Christ’s College and Wolfson College, University of Cambridge.

He has varied research interests within the field of general international law and has published articles on aspects of the law of international organizations, international dispute settlement, international criminal law and the law of armed conflict. His articles have been published in leading international law journals such as the American Journal of International Law, the British Yearbook of International Law and the European Journal of International Law . His article in the Journal of International Criminal Justice on the “Jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over Nationals of Non-Parties: Legal Basis and Limits” was awarded the 2003 Giorgio La Pira Prize.

Dapo has advised States, international organizations and non-governmental organizations on matters of international law. He has worked with the United Nations on issues relating to international humanitarian law and human rights law; acted as consultant for the African Union on the international criminal court and on the law relating to terrorism; and also as a consultant for the Commonwealth Secretariat on the law of armed conflict and international criminal law. He has also provided training on international law to diplomats, military officers and other government officials. He has advised and assisted counsel, or provided expert opinions, in cases before the International Court of Justice, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, international arbitral tribunals, WTO and NAFTA Dispute Settlement Panels as well as cases in England and the United States of America.

There are four scholars who write in my areas that I am afraid to disagree with — because when we do disagree, odds are that they are right and I am wrong. The first three are Marko Milanovic, Steve Vladeck, and my co-blogger Jens Ohlin. The fourth is Dapo. He is, quite simply, one of the finest scholars writing today.

Congratulations, Dapo!

Mike Lewis Is Wrong About the Nature of Self-Defence

by Kevin Jon Heller

Mike Lewis has a guest post at Just Security today responding to Ryan Goodman’s recent post exploring what the US’s claimed “unwilling or unable” test for self-defence against non-state actors means in the context of Syria and ISIS. Ryan, careful scholar as always, rightly points out that the test “remains controversial under international law.” Mike doesn’t seem to have any such qualms, but that’s not what I want to respond to here. Instead, it’s important to note that Mike makes a basic error concerning how the “unwilling or unable” test functions — assuming for sake of argument it is a valid approach to self-defence under Art. 51 of the UN Charter (emphasis mine):

It is important to note that this interpretation does not give the US unlimited license to act in violation of the sovereignty of other states as some opponents of the standard claim. There are limits and dangers associated with taking such a course of action. First of all, an intervening state can only take such actions after giving the host/target state a meaningful opportunity to prevent its territory from being used by the non-state actor to launch attacks. In the case of Syria, there is no question that it is unable to control the territory under ISIS control so further delays are unnecessary. Secondly, the intervening state does so at its own peril. Syria can rightfully interpret any strikes as aggression by the US and it is justified in taking steps to prevent such attacks and to destroy the drones/aircraft conducting such attacks.

Um, no. The entire point of arguing self-defence — in any form, including pursuant to the controversial “unwilling or unable” test — is that it cures any violation of state sovereignty under Art. 2(4) of the UN Charter. So if the US attacked ISIS in Syria because Syria was unwilling or unable to prevent ISIS from using its territory as a base for attacks, the US would not violate Art. 2(4) and Syria would have no right whatsoever to act in self-defence against that armed attack. Indeed, any attempt to “prevent such attacks and to destroy the drones/aircraft conducting such attacks” would represent an act of aggression by Syria against the US, thereby opening the door to legitimate acts of self-defence against Syria itself.

Again, I don’t accept that the “unwilling or unable” test reflects current customary international law. But it’s important not to let that debate obscure how self-defence functions under Art. 51 of the UN Charter.

Matrix Chambers Application Deadline Extended

by Kevin Jon Heller

Matrix Chambers has extended the deadline for applying to September 26 — two weeks from today. I hope readers with the appropriate credential will consider applying.

You can find the original post, with details of the Matrix vacancy, here.

On the Theory that ISIL is Al Qaeda

by Deborah Pearlstein

At the prompting of Marty Lederman and Steve Vladeck, let me take a moment to consider another possible reading of the Administration’s novel view that the 2001 AUMF authorizes its incipient campaign in Iraq and Syria. Recall that the AUMF authorizes the use of “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” responsible for 9/11 and those who “harbored such organizations or persons.” The Administration and the lower courts have thus interpreted the AUMF to authorize the use of force against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and “associated forces.” My earlier post examined the notion that ISIL was an “associated force” of Al Qaeda. Marty and Steve suggest that the Administration isn’t arguing that ISIL is an “associated force” of Al Qaeda, but rather, that ISIL is Al Qaeda. As Marty explains it:

In 2004, ISIL (then known as al Qaeda in Iraq) was part of al Qaeda proper–subject to its direction and control–in which capacity it attacked U.S. persons and was subject to U.S. combat operations. (Indeed, it was engaged in an armed conflict with the United States.) As such, ISIL was then covered by the 2001 AUMF as a component of al Qaeda. More recently, ISIL and al Qaeda “Central”–its “senior leadership”– have split apart. But ISIL has continued to attack U.S. persons, even after the split; and each of these two groups claims the mantle of al Qaeda–indeed, ISIL’s position (“supported by some individual members and factions of AQ-aligned groups”) is that it, not AQ Central, “is the true inheritor of Usama bin Laden’s legacy.” Accordingly, there are now, in effect, two al Qaedas, each of which was a component of the earlier, consolidated organization, and each of which continues its attacks on the U.S.

In other words, picture an upside-down letter “V” or “Λ.” At the single, sharp point of the Λ is the organization called Al Qaeda, which is responsible for the attacks of 9/11, and which at one point included all of what we now call core al Qaeda (led by Osama bin Laden, now Ayman al-Zawahiri), as well as what was once called al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) (led by Abu Musab al Zarqawi). Over time, the unity at the top of the Λ has given way to a disunity at the bottom – with both core Al Qaeda (Zawahiri’s group) and AQI (now called ISIL, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) seeking to, as Marty puts it, “claim the mantle of al Qaeda.”

While identifying a variety of problems with the notion as a matter of statutory interpretation that the AUMF authorizes the use of force against both groups at the bottom of the Λ, both Marty and Steve argue that in key respects the validity of the theory depends on facts that are still not entirely known to the public. Is it accurate as a matter of fact to suggest that both core Al Qaeda and ISIL are both claiming or should be seen to have equal claims to “the mantle of al Qaeda”? One can imagine several ways of trying to take this theory seriously. One would begin by defining what the “Al Qaeda” at the top of the Λ (the group that attacked us on 9/11) was in the first place. One might define a terrorist group in a variety of terms, and I’m certainly open to definitional criteria. For present purposes, let’s take a handful: the organization’s name, its mission, its capacities and personnel, or any combination thereof. Then one would have to hold up each putative successor organization and see if there were any/sufficient commonality to call both AQ core and ISIL part of the same organization that attacked us on 9/11. Could ISIL in any sense assert a claim to carrying the mantle of Al Qaeda? What do we know? (more…)

Is it Legal? No.

by Deborah Pearlstein

Let’s start with the Administration’s newly minted theory (h/t Marty Lederman for posting the operative statement) that the statutory 2001 AUMF authorizes the President’s announced campaign to use force against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. The AUMF does not plausibly extend to ISIL.

In addition to the reasons my friends Jens Ohlin, Jen Daskal and others have already highlighted, let me add this: ISIL is not an “associated force” of Al Qaeda by the Administration’s own definition. In May 2013, former State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh gave a speech at Oxford setting forth the Administration’s definition of what counts as an “associated force” under the AUMF. (Let’s ignore all questions for now about whether this is an accurate importation of the concept of co-belligerency from international law and just accept the Administration’s version as a given.) Koh said: “The U.S. Government has made clear that an ‘associated force’ must be (1) an organized, armed group that (2) has actually entered the fight alongside al Qaeda against the United States, thereby becoming (3) a co-belligerent with al Qaeda in its hostilities against America.” Is ISIL organized? Surely. Has it “entered the fight alongside al Qaeda”? Absolutely not. Al Qaeda and ISIL are fighting each other. (See just about everywhere, but e.g., here.) Has it thus become a “co-belligerent with al Qaeda in [al Qaeda’s] hostilities against America”? Please.

So what about the constitutional theory, i.e. that the President has inherent authority under Article II of the Constitution as Commander in Chief to undertake the extended campaign he now contemplates? Here, too, this latest initiative takes the Administration several steps beyond even its own previously announced, already expansive understanding of the President’s constitutional authority – set forth in an Office of Legal Counsel memorandum in 2011 justifying the use of force in Libya without congressional authorization. Under the Obama OLC view, the President’s constitutional power permits him to use force without congressional authorization (1) if its use serves “important national interests,” AND (2) if the use of force doesn’t rise to the level of a “war” (based on the anticipated nature, scope, and duration of the planned operations), such that the power to launch it falls within Congress’ express constitutional power to “declare war.” Let’s set aside the troubling breadth of the first part of that standard (does the need to identify any broad “important national interest” really constrain presidential power?), and the inherent unpredictability of the second part (when was the last time a contemplated use of military force by the United States turned out just how we had “anticipated”). Let’s also assume that the broad standard “important national interests” is met here. At a minimum, the United States has an interest in supporting regional stability and protecting America’s various allies and interests ISIL has threatened.

But the ability to call the current engagement not-war pushes all envelopes. Here, unlike in Libya, the President himself has indicated defeating ISIL will be no short-term matter. Unlike in Libya, there is no pretense that the United States will be providing principally logistical support for an air campaign, with our allies doing the actual bombing. Here, according to the President, we will be leading the way, and we will be, in the administration’s own contemplation, engaged for some time. As for the prospect of not having “boots on the ground,” assurances on that matter already seem belied by the presence already of more than a thousand publicly known U.S. military and other personnel in the country – personnel whose safety has already been invoked to justify the use of escalated force. Call them “advisors” if one must, but they have feet, some of them undoubtedly clad in boots, all of them already on the ground. And more to come. The United States is engaged in an “armed conflict” in international law terms (already a non-international armed conflict in Iraq, and if we undertake bombing in Syria without that country’s consent, an international armed conflict as well). We will be using armed force. Many people will die. In other words, in any constitutional sense, this is war.

All this is before we’ve reached more difficult questions of international law, or questions of the Administration’s intention to comply, sooner or later, with the existing domestic War Powers Act, requiring Congress to authorize, sooner or later, any such prolonged entry of U.S. forces into hostilities. I’ll hope to address those separately. In the meantime, for all the uncertainty and challenge of the threat ISIL poses, the difficulty of the policy decisions that must have been involved here, the politics of the impending elections, the complexity of some legal questions in this field – this legal question is one of the easy ones. As a matter of law, the President needs additional authority from Congress. Asserting he has it already is wrong.

Obama’s Lame Justification for the ISIL Strikes (He Played the Wrong Card)

by Peter Spiro

I’ll pile on in deploring the legal justification for the expanded operation against the Islamic State. No one is buying the AUMF basis. In addition to Jens below, Jack Goldsmith and Jennifer Daskal have devastating critiques here and here.

The justification could have lasting negative consequences for interbranch relations in the war powers context. The 2001 AUMF involved a context in which congressional authorization was necessary, the response to the 9/11 attacks comprising real “war” for constitutional purposes. It has now been deformed beyond all recognition. This will deter future Congresses from authorizing the use of force even where such congressional authorization is necessary.

It’s a little like Tonkin Gulf. That resolution gave the President what he needed to respond to an (alleged) attack by North Vietnamese forces. But the ensuing conflict was beyond anything that Congress could have imagined at the time, and it felt burned for a generation thereafter for having written what turned out to be a blank check. Depending on how the ISIL operation goes, Obama’s justification could result a similar kind of institutional resentment and distrust, which will make cooperation even more difficult than it already is.

Part of the disappointment here is that he had a much better card to play: longstanding historical practice. (This typically comes under an Article II/Commander in Chief label, though I don’t think you need the constitutional text to get there). The ISIL operation would have comfortably fit into the tradition of Presidents undertaking limited uses of force without congressional authorization. There would have been continuity to that argument — many would have disagreed, but I think the critique would have subsided in due course, because it would have enjoyed a strong basis in the practice. I don’t know if the critique of the AUMF justification is going to subside so quickly. The early returns are not promising.

The 9/11 AUMF does not cover ISIS

by Jens David Ohlin

Last night I blogged about Obama’s speech that outlined the administration’s plan to contain and destroy ISIS. I noted that Obama announced his intention to ask for congressional authorization for the plan while steadfastly maintaining that he did not need this authorization. He was vague about why. In my blog last night, I presumed that he was asserting that he had authority under his Article II commander-in-chief power.

Marty Lederman notes in the comments, as well as on Just Security, that this was not a reference to an Article II argument. A senior administration official released a statement last night confirming that Obama is relying on the 9/11 AUMF as an enduring authorization that covers the new military initiative against ISIS.

I find this argument implausible. Here is the relevant text of the AUMF:

IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Since, al-Qaeda launched the 9/11 attacks, the AUMF covers al-Qaeda. It also covers organizations that planned, authorized, committed or aided the attacks, or organizations that harbored those organizations. Consequently, non-al-Qaeda organizations are covered by the AUMF insofar as they are connected to al-Qaeda in the right way.

This is a question of law application to fact, so it is necessarily a fact-dependent analysis. However, there appears to be little evidence that this link exists between ISIS and al-Qaeda. Of course, ISIS was once part of (or closely associated with al-Qaeda), and therefore at that time the AUMF arguably covered ISIS. Before its current manifestation, ISIS was considered an Iraq franchise of al-Qaeda, operating under the banner of Osama bin Laden and ostensibly subordinating itself under his operational control.

That relationship no longer exists. ISIS no longer operates under the banner of al-Qaeda, nor is it operationally subordinate to what is left of al-Qaeda core or any of the other al-Qaeda franchises. And famously, al-Qaeda effectively excommunicated ISIS for not following its central directives regarding target selection. Al-Qaeda officials correctly concluded that ISIS’s strategy was counter-productive because it alienated Muslims, and they promptly disassociated themselves from a group that was too radical even by al-Qaeda’s standards. So the operational link is broken, and has long-since been broken.

So what is the connection that the administration is asserting? They argue that

Based on ISIL’s longstanding relationship with al-Qa’ida (AQ) and Usama bin Laden; its long history of conducting, and continued desire to conduct, attacks against U.S. persons and interests, the extensive history of U.S. combat operations against ISIL dating back to the time the group first affiliated with AQ in 2004; and ISIL’s position – supported by some individual members and factions of AQ-aligned groups – that it is the true inheritor of Usama bin Laden’s legacy…

This is a weak argument. Yes, ISIS once had a relationship with al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, but that prior relationship no longer governs. What matters is the current relationship. Furthermore, the fact that ISIS is the “true inheritor” of Bin Laden’s legacy is neither here nor there. In what sense is ISIS the “inheritor” of Bin Laden’s legacy? The only one I can think of is that ISIS represents the gravest Jihadist threat to the peaceful world — a position once held by Osama Bin Laden. Also, the fact that they threaten U.S. personnel and interests is an argument that proves way too much — plenty of other groups do that as well, which isn’t terribly relevant. None of this makes ISIS fit into one of the AUMF categories (planning, aiding, haboring, etc). Simply put, ISIS is not al-Qaeda.

Don’t get me wrong. I think ISIS represents the biggest threat to regional and national security since 9/11, and military force is warranted for that reason. Congress should immediately pass a new AUMF authorizing force against ISIS. I just don’t think that the original AUMF can be stretched to cover ISIS today. It’s a weak argument that sounds like a pretext to avoid making an Article II constitutional argument (which Obama presumably disfavors).

Obama Walks a Thin Line on ISIS

by Jens David Ohlin

A few minutes ago, President Obama addressed the nation to explain his new policy to contain and destroy ISIS. He is walking a fine line: more airstrikes but no direct ground invasion. Instead, he will fund, equip, and train foreign troops to engage in the ground fighting themselves. While this is a politically popular view (ground troops are always risky), it has serious operational deficits. The U.S. has a history of training and equipping foreign troops and the results are usually unimpressive. Too often the money gets diverted and the weapons have a longer shelf life than the military organization that receives them. What happens when the political winds in the region shift? The weapons will still be there, used by actors in ways we can’t now imagine. It won’t be a pretty sight.

Obama’s view on Article II was somewhat schizophrenic. He said that he was asking for congressional authorization for the operation, though he took great pains to emphasize that he didn’t technically need congressional assent. So he is trying to have his cake and eat it too: appear sympathetic to congress while at the same time upholding a strong view of the Article II commander-in-chief power.

Of course, he said nothing about the War Powers Resolution and why he feels that he could go ahead with the operation even in the absence of congressional authorization. He has been sending multiple War Powers letters to Congress each time the military engages in a discrete operation — suggesting that he believes that he can segment military operations into small bits and pieces in order to avoid the 60/90-day limit in the War Powers Resolution. That’s a dangerous precedent, since every war is just an aggregation of small military engagements. If the segmentation move works in this case, it will work in every case, and the 60/90-day limit will be meaningless.

As for international authority, he said nothing. Well, almost nothing. He said that ISIS was not a “state” — a fact which implicitly negates the need for international authority. For operations conducted in Iraq, the U.S. will be operating with the consent of the new Iraqi government, so no sovereignty issues will be triggered. In Syria, the situation is more complicated. U.S. forces will be acting with the consent of the opposition there, though whether Assad will give his consent to operations in Syria seems unlikely. But perhaps the U.S. will rely exclusively on proxy forces in Syria. He was vague on this. There was no discussion of Security Council authorization, though he did discuss the need for a coalition to fight ISIS.

My view is that ISIS represents a far greater threat than al-Qaeda ever posed. ISIS currently controls a large swath of territory and they have even larger ambitions. With a radical ideology and the territory to implement it against a domestic population, ISIS could create a home base for international jihad. Combine those ideological commitments with foreign fighters with foreign passports, and you have a recipe for disaster. Beheading a couple of journalists was only the beginning. And western countries aren’t the only ones to fear. ISIS has shown particular contempt and anger towards fellow Muslims who reject their radical vision. So the need for a broad coalition to defeat ISIS, with western and Middle East partners, is clear. Whether the plan outlined today is enough, I don’t know. I sure hope it is. Otherwise we will be staring at the new face of violent jihadism for the next decade.

Is the AUMF Limited to the United States Armed Forces?

by Kevin Jon Heller

Bobby Chesney has responded at Lawfare to my most recent post on the CIA and the public-authority justification. It’s an excellent response from an exceedingly smart scholar. I still disagree, but Bobby’s post really hones in on the differences between us. I’ll leave it to readers to decide who has the better of the argument.

I do, however, want to discuss Bobby’s reading of the AUMF. In his view — echoing John Dehn’s comments — it is possible to read the AUMF to authorise the use of force by both the military and the CIA:

I’m not actually agreeing with [Kevin's] AUMF reading. Yes, Section 2′s title refers to the armed forces, but the actual text of section 2 is not so limited (in contrast to the similar section of the 2002 Iraq AUMF, for example, which did refer explicitly and only to armed forces). 

I confess that I find this argument baffling. It’s true that Section 2(a) of the AUMF does not mention the Armed Forces, providing only that “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those  nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11,  2001.” Read in context, however, I don’t see how it is possible to plausibly maintain that the word “force” in Section 2(a) does not specifically refer to force by the United States Armed Forces.

First, the AUMF is a Joint Resolution whose purpose, according to its very first line, is “[t]o authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.”

Second, Section 1 of the AUMF (“Short Title”) says the joint resolution “may be cited as the “Authorization for Use of  Military Force.” We do not traditionally associate with the CIA, even if the CIA occasionally engages in paramilitary activity. (And the “para” in paramilitary is important in this context.)

Third, Section 2 of the AUMF, which contains the “force” language upon which Bobby (and John) rely, is entitled “Authorization For Use of United States Armed Forces.” I know no theory of statutory interpretation nor any canon of statutory construction that would suggest “force” in the first paragraph of a section entitled “Authorization For Use of United States Armed Forces” should be read in context to refer to something other than the use of force by the Armed Forces.

Fourth, Section 2(b)(1) provides that “[c]onsistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.” Section 8(a)(1) of the WPR provides as follows (emphasis mine)…

Insta-Symposium on Scottish Independence Referendum

by Roger Alford

We have invited several academic luminaries to post here at Opinio Juris beginning early next week about the Scottish independence referendum that will be held next Thursday, September 18th. As we have done in the past with other symposiums, we also welcome other academics to submit guests posts for possible publication. We particularly welcome Scottish, British, EU and state succession experts. We will focus on the international legal aspects of the Scottish referendum, not the political or economic implications of the vote.

We can’t guarantee we will publish every post submitted, but we would love to broaden the discussion to include other voices. So if you want to write a 500 to 1500-word guest post for Opinio Juris about the Scottish independence referendum, please do so in the next few days and send it to Jessica Dorsey and An Hertogen (their emails are linked to the right). Our editorial team will review the posts and publish those selected.

On a personal note, given that the Alford clan hails from the town of Alford in Aberdeenshire, and my wife and I spent several glorious years in Scotland when I earned my LL.M. and she earned her Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh, our family has been following the developments in Scotland closely.

There’s an old Scottish saying: “Scottish by birth, British by law, Highlander by the grace of God.” Next Thursday will put that maxim to the test.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Russian Edition

by Jens David Ohlin

Russia has skillfully managed to devote military support to the separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Just how much support — and what kind of support — is unclear, since Russia formally denies that they are directly involved in the ongoing hostilities there. Ukrainian officials have insisted that they have specific proof that Russian troops and their equipment have not only crossed the border into Ukraine but have also engaged Ukrainian government troops. It is not unreasonable to speculate that, but-for the Russian assistance, the conflict would have concluded long ago with a Ukrainian government victory over the rebels.

In the face of mounting evidence of Russian involvement, the rebels have claimed that Russian soldiers deployed in Ukraine are there voluntarily while on vacation. This is an obvious attempt to deny Russian liability, under basic rules of state responsibility, for the actions of the troops. The question is whether this argument holds any water.

First, it is unclear whether the statement is accurate. The world community does not have access to the W2s, or the Russian equivalent, for the soldiers — so if the rebel leaders are lying, the world would have no idea. I also find it hard to believe that Russian troops, or any government troops for that matter, would voluntarily place themselves in harms way for no compensation whatsoever.  More likely they are receiving cash payments covertly.

Second, even if the claim is true, and the Russian commanders have officially placed the soldiers on vacation (or furlough), there is the additional issue that they are no doubt using Russian government equipment, as opposed to their private “home” materials. While individual soldiers might own personaI firearms, I find it hard to believe that Russian troops own their own armored personnel carriers that they keep in their backyards for “vacation” purposes.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, it is unclear what the legal consequences of these “vacation deployments” are even if they are true. The standard is whether the troops are under the control (either effective control or overall control depending on which standard applies) of the Russian government. Employment and monetary payments are just one way of exercising control, as is operational control. However, suppose Russia provides the rebels with 50,000 troops who are “volunteering” to fight with the rebels? Would this automatically entail that Russia has no control over the troops? It seems to me that control requires a richer formulation, one that is sensitive to the varying ways that states can engage in covert assistance across borders. Although states may attempt to deny responsibility for this assistance, this does not mean that international law should let them without suffering the consequences.

In Nicaragua, the ICJ concluded that the mere provision of financial or military assistance, standing on its own, is insufficient to generate state responsibility for the actions of the assisted troops (via direct imputation). This was (and is) a sensible precedent, because the basic contours of complicity requires that international law recognize the various ways that assistance can trigger responsibility. Even if Russia only organized and armed the troops, but did not directly pay them a salary, it would seem to me that this constitutes an illegal interference in Ukrainian domestic sovereignty (with regard to both political independence and territorial integrity), in violation of the UN Charter and customary international law (in much the same way as the ICJ concluded in Nicaragua).

Of course, all of this might be moot. It is possible that Russia is engaged in direct operational control over the rebels, with logistical coordination, air support, and satellite imagery, that unquestionably demonstrates their responsibility even under the effective control test. But at this point the facts are very much unknown.

Three Reasons Why Obama Will Not (and Should Not) Seek Congressional Okay for ISIL Strikes

by Peter Spiro

It looks like President Obama learned his lesson. Last summer he decided to seek Congress’s advance approval for a strike against Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities. Political support for the operation evaporated. Obama looked weak and waffly (the decision was taken on a dime after a 45-minute South Lawn stroll with chief of staff Denis McDonough, almost certainly not vetted through the legal chain of command). Even though the ISIS operation will probably be more significant than what he had in mind for Assad, he won’t be looking for a formal nod from Congress.

In the run-up to the decision (which will likely be announced in his speech Wednesday night) there emerged a nearly unanimous chorus of voices — scholars, lawmakers, commentators — arguing in favor of advance congressional authorization. Among law profs, those pressing the case included Jack Goldsmith, Harold Koh, Ilya Somin, Steve Vladeck and Jennifer Daskal. Tim Kaine and Ted Cruz agreed on this one. The Atlantic’s Conor Freidersdorf had this stinging column pressing for a congressional mandate.

Why Obama is better served bucking this consensus:

1. Authorization would not have been easy to get. Most sane people agree that ISIS presents a threat that needs to be addressed. Prospective military action against the entity enjoys high levels of US popular support.

But that doesn’t mean Congress would have handed Obama the authorization he sought, even on a narrowly tailored basis. Remember, Congress is totally dysfunctional. GOP members facing reelection in November may be loath to do anything that supports the President. The tradition of politics stopping at the water’s edge seems quaint.

If an authorization measure were voted down, Obama would have boxed himself into a corner. Either he would have backed down, with US (and global) security taking the hit. Or he could have persisted with the action on a lonely and legally shaky basis. Although he would surely have framed a request for congressional authorization as constitutionally discretionary (as he did with Syria), that line would have rung hollow in the wake of rejection. This is a context in which actions speak louder than words. The legitimacy of any military action following a failed authorization would have been undermined at home.

And what would Congress’s approval have won him, assuming he got it? Politically, not much. Congress’s favorability ratings are at all-time lows (it is less popular than the U.S. going communist). Anything that can get through Congress now must by definition be so popular that Congress’s approval is itself like a single candle on a crowded cake. That small reward wasn’t worth the significant downside risk of a rebuffed request.

2. Seeking congressional okay would have set a terrible precedent for the future. Leaving aside direct attacks on the United States, there won’t be an easier case for military strikes than against the Islamic State, whose brutality has provoked international revulsion. Most future cases will involve adversaries not nearly so scary. The rise of Rand Paul Republicanism will raise the bar for authorizing any military action, however well advised. Imagine a close case arising during a GOP primary season. If President Obama had asked today, his successors would have had to ask tomorrow.

In that respect, he’s lucky that the Syria CW episode mooted out before it developed any further (it almost certainly would have gone badly). As an incomplete episode it didn’t set down a constitutional precedent. It’s a lot easier to walk back from Rose Garden statement than from a closed constitutional case-file.

3. Obama has ample constitutional authority for not securing congressional authorization. There has been a lot of hair splitting on constitutional war powers lately, the unfortunate byproduct perhaps of the AUMF experience. But the basic dividing line (as nicely argued in the OLC Libya opinion) is between real wars (requiring advance congressional authorization) and everything else (not requiring it). Whatever the ISIL operation ends up being, it is unlikely to be of the former description, involving high risk of significant casualties, huge appropriations that Congress can’t refuse, and escalation. It won’t be “war” for constitutional purposes. I don’t need Article II for this. I’ll take 200+ years of history.

There will be inevitable carping about the refusal to seek the congressional okay here. But that has always been the case, even with respect to quick and painless military action. It will be a little louder than usual this time around. There are the contingencies of this particular operation, which is likely to be complicated and drawn out, with no immediate prospects of erasing the problem. There may also be a broader shift against using force in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan. But Obama will weather the denunciations, just as have all of his predecessors, validating the constitutional order in the process.