President Donald Trump’s surprising decision to launch a cruise missile strike on Syria was sharply criticized by Russia as a “flagrant violation of international law.” While it might be tempting to dismiss this claim as mere Putinesque propaganda, on this question at least, Russia is almost certainly correct. In the view of most international lawyers, the US strike on Syria is a crystal-clear violation of the UN Charter. So why doesn’t anybody, except Russia and some international lawyers, seem to care?
The uncomfortable answer seems to be that, at least with respect to this question — can a state use military force against a regime that uses banned weaponry against citizens? — international law simply doesn’t matter very much. And this suits the United States and the Trump administration just fine...
...Although other experts have been less emphatic, most have agreed with the view, stated here by the top State Department lawyer in the Bush administration, John B. Bellinger III, that “as a matter of international law, President Trump does not have clear authority to use force in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.” Michael Glennon, a professor of international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, echoed that sentiment: “It’s … clear that the missile strikes against Syria violated the United Nations Charter.”
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