Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Professor Jason Ralph comments on US airstrikes in Syria and Iraq

29 September 2014 |

Jason Ralph asks; are US airstrikes legal, and why this question is important.

In light of conflicting legal arguments surrounding the recent airstrikes in Syria, Professor Ralph notes that this intervention is not only legitimate but also potentially legal.

Ralph's article "Are the US Airstrikes in Syria and Iraq legal and why is this question important?" features on the Australian Institute of International Affairs website.

The United Nations charter under Article 2(4) reads, 'States must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force'. Whilst it lists two exceptions to this rule, Professor Ralph argues a third one could be humanitarian intervention. This relates to the "much talked about Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm, which declares a responsibility to intervene when a state manifestly fails to prevent mass atrocities, insists that military intervention must be authorised by the Security Council."

Ralph highlights that the UNSC "has not authorised the current intervention in either Iraq or Syria, so a legal defence of the airstrikes would have to look to the self-defence argument." Something which has been achieved by the US. The frustrating aspect of international law, however, is that it is characterised by a high degree of indeterminacy. This is witnessed in the contrasting arguments of lawyers and politicans. For example "lawyers will question whether the US is threatened by the IS and whether that threat is imminent in a way that justifies a pre-emptive strike." However this ignores an important element, whereby the militant group clearly poses an existential threat for Iraq. The US are therefore acting in support of Article 51 which "recognises the inherent right to collective self-defence."

Professor Ralph continues on to discuss alternative arguments posed by lawyers and politicans, ultimately concluding that the latest airstrikes in Syria are "grounded in the law on self-defence, and they are not only legitimate but also potentially legal."

Read the full article online.

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