Is Intervention in Syria Legal? Does Obama Care?

Ian Hurd in the Boston Review:

Afgh-USAF-airstrikeThe Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that “the use of force without the approval of the United Nations Security Council is a very grave violation of international law.” He used these words to argue against American and other outside intervention against the Syrian government after its chemical weapons massacre. He also stepped into one of the most hotly contested topics in international law: is it permissible for governments to use force against another country to prevent human rights atrocities?

There are three views on the question and all are on display in the current debates over Syria. As President Obama decides on an American response, he too will have to take a position on these issues.

Lavrov expressed a common view of international law: the U.N. Charter forbids countries from “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” This makes war illegal. It is a descendant of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, the first general treaty to outlaw war.

Having spent a decade as Ambassador to the United Nations, Lavrov knows well that the U.N. Charter makes no allowance for the intentions of the states involved. Except in self-defense, the Charter outlaws all war-making by states, and is unconcerned with the motivation of the states involved. Whether a state intends to save a population from genocide, to punish a neighbor for an insult, or to gain territory by aggression, the Charter treats all the same. All are forbidden by Article 2(4).

More here.