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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/8/13

Congressional Approval doesn't Legalize an Attack on Syria

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Syria Civil War by Wikipedia

Syrian Civil War - Wikipedia - 2012

External and internal pressures have forced President Obama to seek approval for an intervention in Syria.   While many might rejoice in a constitutional victory and a weakening of unbridled executive power, particularly in the use of force, congressional approval lacks the international validity for a strike against another country.

Only the Security Council or an imminent threat to the security of the United States grants legitimacy to an act of war which unquestionably occurs when a state fires any weapon into the sovereign territory of another.

According to the United Nations Charter, Article 2, paragraph 4: "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations."   To ensure that self-defense is still available in the event of an imminent attack, Chapter 7, Article 51, states that: "Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security."

The criteria for self-defense are usually defined by the Caroline Case which establishes that there had to exist "a necessity of self-defense, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation."

In addition, the Authorization to Use Military Force   Act (AUMF), passed by Congress September 14, 2001, states that: "That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."

The use of all necessary force is limited to entities that were directly involved in 9/11 and there isn't even the slightest attempt to invoke AUMF and paradoxically, some of the insurgent groups fighting the Assad regime have been known to have ties to al Qaeda groups.

Responsibility to Protect actions are also limited by the formalization of the concept in international law through a document resulting from the World Summit of 2005.   Paragraphs 138 and 139 stipulate that, "Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity"In this context, we are prepared to take collective action"through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII."   R2P grants no licence to any State to act unilaterally or collectively with other States other than through the Security Council and the UN Charter.

Reference to the Kosovo precedent was invoked in a desperate attempt to impart legitimacy to the possible intervention in Syrian with a straight face given that the bombing of Serbia was a war crime according to International Law.   The Security Council was bypassed and therefore the UN Charter.

Cruise missiles, which have been suggested as the weapon of choice for a Syrian intervention may violate The Convention on Prohibitions and Restrictions of Certain Conventional Weapons which bans, "Conventional Weapons which may be deemed to be excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects."   There are numerous types of cruise missiles but some of them carry a fragmentation payload which makes the weapons' impact indiscriminate and therefore illegal.

Without Security Council approval, any attack on Syria would be illegal but it would also be monumentally hypocritical. No country has used illegal weapons, including chemical weapons, more frequently than the United States.   Agent Orange in Vietnam, white phosphorous in Fallujah, cluster bombs in a number of countries and laser weapons in Panama are testimony to America's complete disregard of international and humanitarian law pertaining to the use of illegal weapons.

If Congress foolishly authorizes a strike against Syria, Obama will claim he now has the authority required for intervention in Syria to deter Assad from further usage of chemical weapons.   While the stated justification is spurious, it is transparently foolish and childish.



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I have been a professor of political science at Seneca College in Toronto. I have published five books the last of which "Selling Out: Consuming Ourselves to Death" was released in May/08. As well, I have been featured in CounterPunch, Z (more...)
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