Air Force General Counsel Blog The chief legal officer and chief ethics official of the Department of the Air Force


Julian Ku on Legal Issues Raised by the Chemical Weapons “Red Line” in Syria

Julian Ku wonders whether there is a legal basis for U.S. action in Syria based on the apparent use of Sarin by Syria:

Second, there is the international law governing the use of force. I raised this question back in December, when President Obama drew his red line, suggesting that the self-defense justification under the U.N. Charter can’t work here.  This post drew two very good responses from experts in the field, one from Daniel Bethlehem (formerly the chief legal advisor to the UK’s Foreign Office) and the other from Ashley Deeks (former legal advisor to the U.S. State Department, now UVA Law Prof).

My earlier post offered a simple no-frills reading of the U.N. Charter, building on the simple no-frills reading of the U.N. Charter critics of the Iraq War were fond of making in the Bush years. This was a useful strawman, since I pointed out it would lead to a “silly result.”  Still, I am not totally sold on the more sophisticated rationales offered by Daniel and Ashley.  As far as I know, Syria has not threatened (at least recently) to attack its neighbors. I don’t count its skirmishes with Turkey, which seem in any event to have settled down. It has certainly not threatened use of chemical weapons against Turkey, Israel, or anyone other than the Syrian rebels.  I am just not buying self-defense here, unless we really are back in 2002 and President Bush’s doctrine of preemptive self-defense for WMDs has achieved international consensus.

Read it all here.  Deborah Pearlstein has a post asking the same questions here.  What do you think? What would be the international law basis for US action in Syria?  Does the intervention in the Balkans in the late 1990's offer a R2P precedent here?

Charles A. Blanchard
General Counsel
United States Air Force