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Was the air strikes on Syria legal?

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY) –┬áThe United States, Britain and France justified the air strikes on Syria on the need to maintain an international ban on the use of chemical weapons by stripping the Assad regime of its chemical arsenal and preventing further chemical attacks against civilians in Syria.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said that the United Kingdom has always defended international norms and standards to serve the national interest of the United Kingdom and the international community as a whole.

Legally, this position brings the world back to the era before the Charter of the United Nations, which allows States to use force to defend themselves, or to protect civilians threatened with genocide by their own Government. It can also be used for broader purposes to maintain international security. However, such action is subject to the requirements of a UN Security Council mandate.

These measures are designed to balance the need for States to maintain their security in the face of a real or impending attack through self-defense when necessary, and to ensure that force is not used as a tool and a means of routine in international politics.

Thus, since 1945, international law has prevented retaliatory military strikes, in order to teach others lessons. Acts of reprisal were, in principle, illegal, but could be accepted if they were intended to compel a State to comply with its international obligations.

Accordingly, in 1981, the UN Security Council condemned Israel when it attacked the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. Israel then claimed that the reactor could contribute to the production of weapons of mass destruction in the future. He also criticized a US attack on a chemical weapons plant in Sudan in 1998 in response to the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

As for the Franco-British American blow to the sites of Syria recently, the three countries have taken it upon themselves to force Syria to comply with its obligations under the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Syria has acceded to the Convention in 2013 as part of a diplomatic settlement that followed the United Kingdom and the United States failed to continue to carry out its threat to launch air strikes on Syria after the horrific chemical attacks in the eastern Ghouta. The Convention prohibits the production, possession and use of chemical weapons and has been signed by some 192 States.

Syria has also been subject to additional conditions under Security Council resolution 2118, which guarantees the destruction of its stockpiles of chemical weapons. At that time, international cooperation, of which Russia was a part, led to the fulfillment of most of these conditions by September 2014.

– Russian veto –

However, after that, it recorded about 40 cases of chemical weapons use in Syria. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has the capacity to conduct fact-finding missions to determine whether or not such weapons have already been used.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Security Council have established a joint mechanism, but after the mechanism blamed the Assad government last year, Russia vetoed the renewal of its mandate.

The attempt to establish a new mechanism to determine responsibility for the recent use of chemical weapons in Duma this week and the Russian veto in the Security Council failed.

The three countries say there is no possibility of obtaining a council mandate to counter the use of chemical weapons by Syria. It claims that by beating Syria, one of the functions of the international regime has been to defend the credibility of the ban on the use of chemical weapons in general and to impose the obligation on Syria in particular.

But this argument by the three states reminds us to some extent of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was intended to force Baghdad to disarm its nuclear weapons in accordance with the recommendations of the Security Council, but without a clear mandate from the Council.

In April last year President Trump launched 59 cruise missiles at the Syrian air base at Shaerat airport. It was then said that the facility had contributed to a chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikun in the countryside of Idlib, and the argument was also to deter the Assad regime from the use of chemical weapons again.

The Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons provides for the referral of serious situations, such as a constant attack on the Security Council for appropriate action. However, the Council was unable even to agree on a mechanism for determining responsibility, as well as for more decisive actions to prevent future uses of such weapons.

These three countries act as an arm of the application of international law, which is rejected by some States. Russia has confirmed that the attacks flagrantly violate the prohibition on the use of force.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations also stressed the need to respect the role of the Security Council in such cases.

– Human suffering –

What is happening now by a group of States acting on behalf of the Security Council on the pretext of public interest reflects the reality of the small, current cold war between Russia and the West. The collapse of consensus that facilitates the process of coordinating collective security necessarily results in unilateral actions.

In addition to the public interest in maintaining a commitment to refrain from the use of chemical weapons, May indicated the need to protect civilians from further chemical attacks to alleviate human suffering. It is a stronger and more convincing legal argument to justify strikes on Syria.

It can also be said that the attacks are aimed at preserving the national security of the States participating in the attacks, through their right to self-defense.

International law guarantees every State the right to self-defense, in certain circumstances even before an armed attack takes place on its territory. But there must be certain conditions such as an imminent attack, all options for other means being exhausted, and a response to the size of the potential attack.

This brings us back to the period leading up to the Iraq war in 2003. The United Kingdom then claimed that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction could reach British military bases in Cyprus, which required intervention in self-defense.

But there was no evidence that Baghdad was considering such an attack and thus dropped the pretext. Similarly, if we drop what has happened in the past to the present, today there is no indication that Syria was preparing to launch an attack against the United States, Britain or France.