Climate Wars and Jus ad Bellum (Parts I & II)

(Published in Opinio Juris in two parts, Aug. 13, 2020).

Part I

In this year of cascading crises, the climate change crisis is slipping off the radar. Not only that, but the Coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic crisis are likely to interfere with both our will and our ability to respond to the climate change crisis. And yet, as many others have noted, there are many similarities between the pandemic and the climate change crisis, and there are lessons to be drawn from the pandemic in how we think about responding to climate change.

In this two-part essay I want to focus on how these crises implicate overlooked national security issues. More specifically, I examine how the climate change crisis will increasingly come to be seen in national security terms, and why we need to start thinking about how it will affect international collective security systems. As I have explored in a recent article (Atmospheric Intervention? The Climate Change Crisis and the Jus ad Bellum Regime), the climate change crisis will begin to exert pressure for changes to the jus ad bellum regime, and now is the time for us to begin considering and discussing how best to respond to that pressure.

In Part I of this essay I examine how excessive state contributions to climate change will come to be viewed as threats to international peace and security justifying collective action, and I examine in Part II how the jus ad bellum will be implicated, and why we need to begin now addressing the problems this will create.

Reframing Security

This is not merely about the crisis becoming securitized, but also about it causing a reframing of security. The Coronavirus crisis already has many people questioning the scope and focus of our national security efforts and expenditure, and re-framing national security in terms of human security. The threat of a flu-like pandemic was not only foreseeable, but was explicitly predicted not long after the SARS epidemic in 2003, and yet largely because the U.S. ignored the threat and was woefully unprepared, the pandemic has already killed over 160,000 people, and is projected to kill another 150,000 before the end of the year. Tens of thousands of those deaths were caused by inadequate preparation and response.

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Canada’s Not Back Yet: Debating Canada’s Place in the World

(Published in A Blog Called Intrepid, Jul. 27, 2020).

Canada’s failure to win a seat in the United Nations Security Council has provoked a debate over Canada’s place in the world. It was seen as a personal failure of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who when elected famously declared that “Canada is back!” But it has raised deeper questions regarding the reasons for the failure, what Canada’s role in the world should be, and indeed what it once was—should we want to be “back?” And what does that mean anyway?

Some have suggested that the past that Trudeau invoked is more myth than fact, and that we should, in any event, look to the future with a more narrowly pragmatic and realpolitik approach. But the soft power and outsized diplomatic influence that Canada wielded during the latter half of the Twentieth Century is no myth—and I would argue it is important to understand what explained Canada’s stature in the world, and indeed to get “back” to embracing the principles that made us who we then were. Those principles are closer to the values that still make us who we are today as a nation.

I personally witnessed evidence of this influence in the autumn of 1989. I was a junior naval attaché seconded to serve in the Canadian Mission to the United Nations in New York City. Joe Clark, then the Minister of External Affairs in the Mulroney government, was to address the General Assembly at the end of September, and Canada was to take over the rotating presidency of the Security Council in October. It was an exciting time to be at the UN, as the Berlin Wall was coming down and there were other seismic shifts suggesting a coming new world order. But like most members of Canada’s then under-funded military, I shared the perspective that Canada’s anemic hard power gave it little influence in the world.

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New Podcast on the Laws of War

In mid-July I launched a new podcast series called “JIB/JAB – The Laws of War.” It will feature conversations with experts in the various legal regimes that govern aspects of the use of force and armed conflict — namely, the jus ad bellum, jus in bello, international human rights law, constitutional war powers, and some others in the margins — focusing on both their recent work, and how it may relate to recent events. I am hoping to strike a delicate balance wherein it will be of interest and value to both experts and non-experts (including students) alike. For more information and to peruse the episodes already up, check out the website at http://jibjabpodcast.com — or subscribe on most podcast platforms.

On Iranian Gunboats: Beware Conflating American and Mainstream Views of the Law

(Published in Just Security, Jun. 2, 2020)

In a recent essay in Just Security entitled “Iranian Gunboat Harassment and the Rules of Engagement,” Michael Schmitt and Durward Johnson explore important questions raised by President Trump’s recent instruction to destroy any Iranian gunboats that harass U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf. It is a thorough and careful analysis, and I agree with its conclusions – namely, that the harassing actions in question did not rise to the level of an imminent or actual armed attack on U.S. vessels, and thus could not justify a use of force in response, and that the president’s statements could in turn constitute an unlawful threat to use force in violation of Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter. But the essay also raises some interesting and debatable questions that invite further discussion, and it makes assertions about the state of particular principles of international law that require some push-back. Let us begin with the latter.

The State of the Law: The Law of State Responsibility

The authors identify their purpose as assessing whether U.S. warships have a right under the body of international law that governs the resort to force by states (jus ad bellum), to use force in self-defense against Iranian gunboats engaged in harassment operations. At the very outset, in laying the foundation for the jus ad bellum analysis, the authors state that “as a matter of law, self-defense is a ‘circumstance precluding wrongfulness’ of a state’s use of force that would otherwise violate the prohibition found in Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter…”

Read moreOn Iranian Gunboats: Beware Conflating American and Mainstream Views of the Law