Syria and International Law

 

President Obama today claimed that the United States does not need the U.N.’s approval to launch strikes against Syria for its use of chemical weapons against its own citizens.  This, of course, reverses his position on Libya and his criticisms of the Bush administration. This time Obama got it right.  

I argue at National Review that the United States can intervene in Syria without the approval of the U.N.  International law should allow uses of force that improve international peace and security. Blindly reading international law to forbid all uses of force except in self-defense is like failing to note a difference between the man who pushes an old woman into traffic and the man who pushes her out of it.

To stand in the way of this pragmatic approach to international law, the White House has bound itself to a misreading of the U.N. Charter. As historian Marc Trachtenberg has shown, the U.S. delegation to the U.N. drafting conference did not understand the Charter to limit Washington’s freedom to use force. Senators, for example, were concerned that the new treaty prohibited the Monroe Doctrine. But in a May 1945 meeting, delegate John Foster Dulles said that “at no point would the member states give up their right to use force in all circumstances.” Under his logic, the United States could still wage war to advance the United Nations’ goal of maintaining world peace and security. Leo Pasvolsky, the key State Department official on the U.N. negotiations, confirmed that “there was certainly no statement in the text under which we would give up our right of independent action.” He later explained to the delegation that “if the Security Council fails to agree on an act, then the member state reserves the right to act for the maintenance of peace, justice, etc.”

Removing the Assad regime, and thus ending the Syrian civil war, would restore regional and global security. In the short term, the fighting in Syria has cost at least 100,000 civilian lives, driven about 1.4 million refugees into neighboring countries, and displaced 4 million Syrians within the country. It has prompted terrorist groups such as Hezbollah to fight on the side of the government and drawn in regional powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Assad’s use of nerve gas against the rebels not only crosses the line between civilization and barbarism, it also portends the killing of even greater numbers of civilians.

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  1. Profile Photo Member
    @

    So the UN is irrelevant.  Big Deal.

    Between you and Max Boot, I can’t decide whose remarks take the prize for sheer absurdity.    And you can parse the constitutionality of unilateral chief executive action all you want, you still don’t have any more of a clue than Obama does what action to take, where action on our part will lead, or who will come out on top if we decapitate Syria like we did Libya.  At this point, the primary motivation for intervention is to cover Obama’s @$$. 

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  2. Profile Photo Inactive
    @MattyVan
    1. Blindly reading international law to forbid all uses of force except in self-defense is like failing to note a difference between the man who pushes an old womanintotraffic and the man who pushes heroutof it.

    2. Removing the Assad regime, and thus ending the Syrian civil war, would restore regional and global security.

    1. What’s with the word ‘blindly’? If you disagree with John Woo, you are blind? Anyway, interventionists love to use the local policeman and good neighbor metaphors. Both are deeply flawed because we’re talking about seperate and independent countries, not neighborhoods. But this ‘old woman in traffic’ is a new twist, at least for me. It sounds like it might mean something on first reading. On second reading, it looks like it has absolutely zero relevance to a US missile strike on Syria.

    2. Does Prof. Yoo really believe that he knows what the outcome of removing Assad would be? Certainty about such things is the mark, IMO, of someone without knowledge or understanding of either human nature or world history. Prof. Yoo is not such a person so maybe he was just typing too quickly.

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  3. Profile Photo Inactive
    @MattyVan

    And yeah, the Padre is absolutely right. The problem is not the U.N. The problem is the Constitution. Prof. Yoo can go back and forth with his fellow neo-cons and one-worlders about the UN all he wants, but for Constitutionalists that’s just a big merry-go-round going nowhere. There were excellent rebuttals to Prof Yoo’s non-historical and illogical attempts to erase all significance to the word ‘declare’ in the Constitution, but I guess it’s not likely he was reading those comments, or these. If you understand, though, that the Constitution means something, you don’t even bother with the UN problem. The Consitution comes first.

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  4. Profile Photo Member
    @Larry3435

    While I could not care less about the approval of the thugocracies that dominate the U.N., I very much disagree with the Professor’s conclusion that “Removing the Assad regime, and thus ending the Syrian civil war, would restore regional and global security.”

    Replacing the Assad regime with al Qaeda (by that name, or any other) would be another step toward the unraveling of regional and global security that we are watching proceed at an accelerating pace.  An al Qaeda regime controlling a country that has chemical weapons is as scary as it gets, this side of Iran completing its nuclear weapons.

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  5. Profile Photo Inactive
    @NickStuart

    What it seems to come down to is that Pres. Obama is going to do whatever he wants, and nobody is going to stop him. Especially not the Congressional Capon Caucus (aka House GOP Leadership). He’s only punted to Congress because:  a. he lacks the moral courage to pull the trigger; b. this is the equivalent of his signature move, voting “present;” c. he hopes Congress will refuse to go along, giving him cover to do nothing, and blame evil Republicans for whatever comes next.

    On the “if you can do no good, at least do no harm” principle, non-intervention would seem the best course for now. Intervention will only turn the situation into an even more gargantuan cluster-up than it already is.

    Finally, anyone who wants us to intervene in Syria should send their kids first, not mine. Even if they’re Navy personnel offshore and not “boots on the ground.”

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  6. Profile Photo Inactive
    @StevenJones

    Note to the critics:

    Prof. Yoo’s post is entitled “Syria and International Law”. It relates to legality of unilateral action, and whether such action violates the U.N. Charter. It does not claim to be authoritative regarding strategic consequences, nor does it address the legality of such actions under Constitutional law. Regarding international law, I believe Prof. Yoo is entirely correct.

    Where the professor does touch on strategic matters, I think he fails to see the consequences of a rebel victory without knowing who the rebels actually are. A rebel victory will not end the civil war, until one faction has vanquished the others.

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  7. Profile Photo Member
    @

    If Zero had any brains or brass (I know) he’d use the current situation as a pretext to take out Iran’s nuclear-weapons program:  a (comparatively) clear target, and a clear message, all around.

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  8. Profile Photo Contributor
    @JohnGrant

    I wonder if you are parodying John McCain and Max Boot here. I have a hard time believing you are serious.

    Why would you suppose that toppling the Assad regime would bring peace? Is there any evidence at all that the opposition would be any less bloodthirsty? Is elevating Turkey and Saudi Arabia wise?

    John, surely you have to realize that toppling the Taliban and the Hussein regime did not bring peace to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Those actions might have been justified, but they didn’t bring peace to those countries. With Syria we have absolutely no national security interest at all, and we also have no evidence that our intervention would make things better.

    You should perhaps consider that executive power is not an end in itself.

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  9. Profile Photo Contributor
    @JohnGrant

    I don’t know if Professor Yoo claims to offer an “authoritative” account of the wisdom of intervention in Syria, but he does dogmatically assert that all sorts of good things will follow our intervention.

     

    Steven Jones: Note to the critics:

    Prof. Yoo’s post is entitled “Syria and International Law”. It relates to legality of unilateral action, and whether such action violates the U.N. Charter. It does not claim to be authoritative regarding strategic consequences, nor does it address the legality of such actions under Constitutional law. Regarding international law, I believe Prof. Yoo is entirely correct.

    Where the professor does touch on strategic matters, I think he fails to see the consequences of a rebel victory without knowing who the rebels actually are. A rebel victory will not end the civil war, until one faction has vanquished the others. · 8 hours ago

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  10. Profile Photo Member
    @
    Steven Jones: A rebel victory will not end the civil war, until one faction has vanquished the others. · 10 hours ago

    Another brutal truth, the final victor will be the most ruthless among them.

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  11. Profile Photo Inactive
    @JamesGawron

    Dr. Yoo,

    For what it’s worth, my old post on Kant’s perpetual peace supports your U.N. International Law point of view 100%.  To avoid reading the whole thing, here is a relevant quote.

    “So perpetual peace, the ultimate goal of the whole right of nations, is indeed an unachievable idea. Still, the political principles directed toward perpetual peace, of entering into such alliances of states, which serve for continual approximation to it, are not unachievable. Instead, since continual approximation to it is a task based on duty and therefore on the right of humans beings and of states, this can certainly be achieved.”

    The Cosmopolitan Super State alone will fail.  We have no choice but to try for the continual approximation as it is not unachievable.   This is somewhat less ethereal than say the Nobel committee’s rhetoric but it’s the best we can do.  They might have waited on the peace prize until BHO had first tried out approximation.  Probably they never read Kant.

    All philosophy aside, how about a little seat of the pants assessment.  It’s a tough crowd here at Ricochet.  It will be a tougher crowd when Congress votes.

    Regards,

    Jim

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  12. Profile Photo Member
    @ShaneMcGuire

    Wait—John Yoo believes the executive needs approval of none but his own conscience to initiate a war? There should be a blinking light or a banner or something beside this post.

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  13. Profile Photo Inactive
    @ScarletPimpernel

    If one accepts that the President may act here without Congress, and Professor Yoo makes a strong case that that’s how many of the founders understood executive power, might Congress still block the President by voting to fund or not to fund action in Syria, rather than simply voting on whether attack is or is not legal?

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