Fletcher in the News

Would Military Action Against Syria Be Legal?: Professor Glennon & Dean Johnstone Comment in The Guardian

Ian Johnstone, The Fletcher School

US May Look to Build Moral Argument for Strike Against Syria, Experts Say

Legal analysts say US would 'undoubtedly face some tough questions about the legality' of military intervention in Syria.

The United States and its allies are unlikely to build a clear case under international law for a military strike against Syria, and may instead make novel arguments about chemical weapons prohibitions, legal experts have said.

Britain is putting forward a resolution to the United Nations security council on Wednesday, condemning the alleged chemical attack in Syria last week and "authorising necessary measures to protect civilians" in the country.

However, Russia, which has a veto on the council, is widely expected to oppose any military action against Syria at the vote in New York. Western powers will therefore need to find another basis – outside of a security council resolution – under which to justify a strike against Syria.

The only other universally agreed basis for military action under international law is self-defence, and it would be hard for the US to argue that the Syrian conflict poses an imminent national security threat…

…"At this point the weight of international opinion would be that military action would not be legal," said Ian Johnstone, a professor of international law at [The Fletcher School at] Tufts University. "However, I do think that there could be a case where violation of the law would be excused on the grounds of humanitarian necessity."…

…[Fletcher professor] Glennon added: "Behind closed doors the decision-makers know the rules are malleable and can be shaped to what they need to support the policy decisions. It is telling that the policy decision seems already to have been made – they're only now looking for the legal rationale."

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