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Topic A

Humanitarian Military Intervention


State Sovereignty In The Light of Syrian Conflict

Humanitarian intervention, the violation of a nation-states sovereignty for the purpose of
protecting human life from government repression or famine or civil breakdown, is an old concept
that has been given a new lease on life with the end of the Cold War. The concept of national
sovereignty has long been the chief legal and political obstacle to military intervention in pursuit of
humanitarian objectives. This principle of sovereignty was established in modern times with the
Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, which brought an end to the Thirty Years War and a century of
destructive religious conflict in Europe. The use of military force in violation of sovereignty and in
pursuit of humanitarian goals -- is fraught with problems. For this reason, consideration of military
humanitarian intervention should be subject to rigorous preconditions which have rarely if ever been
met in practice.

Where military intervention is contemplated or implemented, there has always been a history of inept
or damaging diplomacy and peacekeeping, and inadequate or incompetent relief programs by the
international community. The most important question concerning intervention is: Can military forces
do the job? This covers several distinct questions. The first is whether the forces can remain militarily
intact, sustaining a low, politically acceptable level of casualties. Most modern military forces are
equipped for and trained to fight high-technology wars with the aim of securing a quick victory.

UN Principles:
However, the United Nations charter clearly prohibits nations from attacking other states for claimed
violations of human rights. Article 2(4), the central provision of the charter, prohibits the threat or
use of force against another state. This rule, however, is subject to three exceptions: military action
in self-defense, military action authorized by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter,
and military action based on the principle of intervention upon invitation.

This principle allows the following:

1. A state might request other state or states to use military force within its territory invoking the
international legal principle of intervention upon invitation, as the Iraqi government
considered the legitimate government of Iraq did in 2014 when it requested the US to lead
international military efforts against IS.
2. The charter also authorizes the Security Council to employ force to counter threats to or
breaches of international peace. This has been interpreted to allow individual nations to
militarily intervene for humanitarian reasons, but only with the explicit authorization of the
Security Council.

In line with post-World War II international law, most governments and jurists have rejected
unilateral humanitarian military intervention because of the potential that powerful states will abuse
such a doctrine. The history of humanitarian military intervention is replete with examples of
powerful states or coalitions invoking the doctrine to conceal their own geopolitical interests.

Military Intervention and Syrian Conflict

The human suffering in the Syrian crisis since February 2011 is, above all, a tragedy for the Syrian
people, but also demonstrably a crisis of international intervention. The international community has
failed to protect and assist civilians who in large numbers are being killed, injured, brutalized,
bereaved, displaced, or impoverished by the conflict. Given the prevailing approach to international
intervention since the end of the Cold War, this failure is, sadly, unsurprising. Specifically, the
conflation over time of political and humanitarian objectives has damaged the concept of impartial
humanitarian action, without whichas Syria showsinnocent civilians are without protection. The
escalating war in Syria has killed 400,000 Syrians, mostly by Mr. Assads forces, and displaced 12
million others. Efforts to maintain a cease-fire by the many sides involved in the fight the Assad
forces, their allies Russia and Iran and the various anti-Assad opposition groups have crumbled,
while the Islamic State, which has established a stronghold in Syria, threatens the region and the

All this deeply frustrates many American diplomats. But describing the crisis is not the same as having
a workable and rational alternative strategy. The diplomats have not made a case for direct American
military action that President Obama and his senior aides have not already considered and wisely
rejected. The administration believes that such action could lead to even greater chaos while
committing the United States to a deeper role in yet another Middle East war.

One must make a distinction between humanitarian intervention in times of war, and military
intervention using humanitarian pretexts. The latter actually has a very long and sordid history going
back several hundred years and has been used by virtually every colonial and neocolonial military
intervention and massacre. It is nothing new, although lately, through the thinking of certain
American intellectuals (Samantha Powers and others) it has been given a new intellectual gloss.

Pulling out the humanitarian pretext has become more in fashion in this post-Cold War era when
the United States can no longer argue that countering the Soviet threat is a pretext for political and
military intervention.

The failure by the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, the P5, to help the government of
Syria and its opponents find a political solution has been catastrophic. From the early days of the crisis
in 2011, P5 members locked horns over regime change, with the Wests call for President Assad to go
blocked by the newly-assertive Russians and Chinese. Thus, Kofi Annans role as mediator was
doomed from the start. By allowing themselves to disagree so publicly and outspokenly (for example,
Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN, called the Russian and Chinese decision to block a Security
Council Resolution disgusting and shameful the P5 forfeited the chance to place the weight of their
collective moral authority behind the independent humanitarian action of the ICRC and the other
humanitarian agencies. When neutrality went out of the window in New York, impartiality became
impossible in Syria

Legal Perspective of Intervention

September 2015, following a request from his Syrian counterpart, Russian President Vladimir Putin
received authorization from the Federation Council (Russias upper house of parliament) to launch air
strikes on Syrian soil, invoking the international legal principle of intervention upon invitation.

Two legal conditions must be met in order to invoke this principle:

1. The validity of the invitation (valid consent)

2. The legitimacy of the inviting authority.

Arguably, the invitation of the Syrian regime is valid. However, is the regime of Bashar al-Assad the
legitimate authority of the Syrian people?

Russias Role
The Russian Air Force is targeting opposition-controlled areas, including non-military targets such as
hospitals. According to the most recent report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR),
since 30 September 2015 when Russia began its military engagement in the Syrian civil war, at least
7,210 people have been killed in Russian aerial attacks, including 2,600 Syrian citizens (non-
combatants).Also, today, there is no United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution authorizing
the use of foreign military force on Syrian soil, nor regime consent for non-Russian air strikes on its
territory; even non-Russian air strikes conducted against targets of the self-proclaimed Islamic State

Therefore, does the US-led coalition have a legal basis for military action in Syria in the absence of
specific authorization from the Security Council and/or Syrian consent?

While Russia has not yet issued an official document outlining the request of the Syrian regime, the
valid consent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is observable: there is a coordination of military
operations between pro-regime ground troops and Russias Air Force.It could be argued - since no
authority exists that can enforce, delineate, or interpret international law - that Russias military
intervention in the Syrian civil war is legal, as the Syrian regime which is the legitimate government of
Syria, according to Russia, did issue an invitation for Russian military intervention.
Following this line of thought, it can also be argued that the states invoking the excuse of counter-
terrorism in order to be present on Syrian territory without the consent of the Syrian regime
whether on the countrys land, in its airspace or in its waters are violating Syrian sovereignty.

USAs Role
Security Council resolution 2249 (2015), which was adopted unanimously by the UNSC on 20
November 2015, calls upon member states to take all necessary measures, in compliance with
international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter, against IS and the former al-Qaeda-
affiliated Jabhat al Nusra - now the Levantine Conquest Front - both groups on Syrian and Iraqi soil.

Contrary to common belief, resolution 2249 does not authorize member states to use military force
against the aforementioned groups, as it does not refer to Chapter VII of the UN Charter. In order to
provide member states with legal authority for the use of military force against the groups in
question, a Security Council resolution needs to constitute a decision taken under Chapter VII of the
UN Charter, which presents members states with a loophole to the general prohibition of the use of
force encompassed in Article 2 of the UN Charter.

Therefore, the US-led coalition is not authorized by any Security Council resolution to use military
force in Syria. The actions of the US-led coalition in Syria have been legally justified using Article 51 of
the UN Charter: the US-led coalition is exercising individual self-defense, and collective self-defense.

If self-defense is invoked against a non-state armed group IS, in this case it must be shown that the
state in which the armed group is found Syria is unwilling or unable to prevent it from attacking
other states. Ostensibly, Syria is unable to sufficiently degrade or destroy IS because the group
controls a significant amount of territory within Syrias borders that pro-regime forces have not been
able to reclaim. It can be argued, then, that acting in individual self-defense is permissible because the
Syrian regime is unable to prevent IS from launching attacks against states, including the US, the
United Kingdom and France.

Questions to Consider:

1. Does the US-led coalition have a legal basis for military action in Syria?
2. Does Russia have the right to be militarily involved in the Syrian civil war under
international law?
3. Are the UN principles related to intervention being abided by or not?
4. Is sovereignty of Syrian actually being threatened or violated?
5. Which entity the Assad regime or the opposition is the legitimate authority
of the Syrian people? And thus, which entity can legitimately issue an