Published on Apr 12, 2017
Almost a week after President Donald Trump launched nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase, little attention has been paid to the legality of the strikes. Questions remain as to what legal framework Trump used to justify the attack. Thomas Jefferson School of Law Professor Marjorie Cohn tells RT America’s Simone Del Rosario that the president’s action was in flagrant violation of US and international law.
- US Missile Strike on Syria ‘a Violation of International Law’
The US has called its attack on an airbase in Syria “a strong signal” for the Assad regime. Legal experts, however, criticized the action. In an interview with DW, international law expert Stefan Talmon explains why.
DW: Under international law, what are the conditions for a military attack?
Stefan Talmon: An airstrike, like any other attack on a state, requires a mandate from the UN Security Council. According to the UN Charter, all five great international powers, must, as permanent members, approve of a military attack. Or in exceptional cases – if there is no UN mandate – a case must be made for self-defense.
When can a UN Security Council authorization be omitted? Are there exceptions?
“Humanitarian intervention” is often discussed in international law. This includes cases in which a state uses violence or inhuman practices against its own population. In this case, one considers whether other states are allowed to intervene to protect the population from its own state and government. This is one of the justifications stated for the NATO air strikes in 1999 against Serbia in the Kosovo conflict. At that time, several states cited humanitarian intervention as a reason. This justification was then rejected by the overwhelming majority of nations so that today, we can actually say that unilateral humanitarian intervention without UN Security Council authorization is not provided for in international law. The same is valid for the so-called institution of the responsibility to protect.
The Kosovo intervention at that time violated international law but some states tried to change international law by displaying different behavior and waiting to see how other states would react. That is how customary international law develops. A state deviates from the existing legal rules through its actions but indicates that it would like to establish new official rules. Then it must wait for the reaction of other states.
Would this type of procedure excuse the US action in Syria?
At the moment, they are not covered by international law. If the US requested a change in law, it would have to proactively represent its interests. It would have to present this legal position to other states for discussion. The American side has not yet done this.