Western States Legal Foundation has published an Information Brief on the international law implications of the current Syria crisis, written by Andrew Lichterman, with contributions from Jacqueline Cabasso and John Burroughs. The Information Brief, titled The Rush to Bomb Syria: Undermining International Law and Risking Wider War, concludes there is no legal basis for unilateral attacks on Syria by the United States or other powers, and that there are legal and diplomatic alternatives to military action. Some excerpts from the introduction and conclusion can be found below, for the complete piece click on the link above.
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Once again, the President of the United States is leading a rush towards war without regard for the United Nations Charter and the international legal regime intended to control prohibited weapons and to respond to threats to peace and security. Even before United Nations inspectors were on the ground in Syria to determine whether a chemical weapons attack had occurred, the U.S. and its allies began moving ships into attack position in a manner that, in the context of public statements by the leaders of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, constituted an undeniable military threat to Syria.
Since World War I, use of chemical weapons has been viewed almost universally as monstrous, and as a violation of treaty-based and customary standards of international humanitarian law. If they were used in Syria by any party, that action should be condemned, and all states should cooperate in identifying the perpetrators and in pursuing their apprehension and prosecution by all legal means. There is no provision of international law, however, that allows ad hoc coalitions of countries to determine for themselves who they believe the guilty parties to be, and to punish them by acts of war against the territory of a sovereign state. The United Nations Charter allows unilateral military action only where a country is under attack or imminent threat of attack. None of the countries proposing the use of force against Syria can make any claim that Syria has attacked them, or that they are under imminent threat of attack. International treaties outlawing chemical weapons and prohibiting their use provide no special exception for such ad hoc use of military force. To the contrary, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the most comprehensive instrument concerning chemical weapons, provides for investigation of alleged violations by specialist bodies constituted by the Convention and recourse to the United Nations to authorize any use of force.
In this instance, it is especially important that transparent, credible procedures be followed for investigation of the allegations of chemical weapons use and a determination of the responsible party or parties, as well as for actions to prevent further use and to punish those culpable.
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The airwaves are full of pundits and politicians saying that both the chemicals weapons use and the broader crisis in Syria present no good choices. But it is hard to see how breaking solemn undertakings to most of the countries in the world by neglecting treaties and principles of international law that the United States has agreed to will either bolster U.S. “credibility” or enhance respect for international law. President Obama says he is ready to make the “hard choices.” But giving in to the powerful, omnipresent American war caucus once more by sending cruise missiles against a country that cannot respond in kind is neither a hard choice for an American president nor a good one. It is a course of action that will take many lives with little promise of saving others, and that will once again lead us all down a dangerous road with no visible end. For American elected officials, saying no to the easy, violent options offered by a national security and military industrial complex too long ascendant would be the hard choice, the courageous choice, and the right choice.