Canada’s Support of U.S. Strikes on Syria Harms International Law

(Published in the HuffPost, May 1, 2017.)

Tomahawk-Missile

In the immediate aftermath of the American missile strike against Syria, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Canada “fully supports” the U.S. in its “limited and focused action to degrade” the Syrian government’s chemical weapons capability. Many Canadians appear to think that this was the right call, given the heinous nature of the chemical weapons attacks in Syria. But the U.S. missile strikes violated international law, and weakened the international rule of law. Canada’s swift and strong support for those unlawful acts will in turn do further harm to the international law system. That is not at all consistent with Canada’s traditional support for international law. It was not necessary, and the Canadian government should re-consider such support for future American unilateral attacks.

Let us begin with the question of legality. Article 2(4) of The United Nations Charter and customary international law provide for a strict prohibition against the use of force against other states. There are only two exceptions to that prohibition, permitting states to use force either in individual or collective self-defense (Article 51), or when authorized to do so by the UN Security Council for purposes of maintaining or restoring international peace and security (Articles 39 and 42).

There is an amazingly strong consensus among international law scholars, even within the United States, that the U.S. missile strikes constituted a clear violation of the prohibition against the use of force. These views have been articulated in such renowned national security and international law blog sites as Lawfare, Just Security, EJILTalk!, and Opinio Juris. Such a consensus is remarkable given how divided opinion has been on the invasion of Iraq, drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, or even the American strikes within Syria against ISIS. There is so little disagreement on these recent strikes, however, because there is virtually no plausible argument that they satisfy either of the established exceptions.

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Why Canada Should Not Support an Israeli Attack on Iran

(Published in the Huffington Post (Canada), March 2, 2012)

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The Canadian newspapers reported this week that Prime Minister Netanyahu would be seeking the support of the Canadian government for a possible military attack on Iran. There is increasing speculation that Israel will launch military strikes before summer against the nuclear enrichment facilities within Iran, in an attempt to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Harper has given Netanyahu hope that Canada might back such a move. But the strikes would violate international law, and Canadian support for them would utterly betray the values that Canada has long championed.

First, let us examine the legality. The international law regime under the United Nations system prohibits all use of armed force, except in self-defence in the event of an armed attack, or for collective security purposes as authorized by the U.N. Security Council. The Israelis are trying to characterize the proposed military strikes as acts of self-defence to prevent an existential threat from materializing. Such strikes would not, however, satisfy the test for self-defence.

While there is some agreement in international law that states can use force to defend against an imminent armed attack, rather than being required to wait for the first blow to actually fall, the test for imminence is strict. Such “anticipatory self-defense” is permitted only when the “necessity of self-defense is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation” (a formulation that arose from an incident between Britain and the U.S. in 19th-century Canada, as it happens). In contrast, there has been widespread rejection of the concept of “preventative self-defense” — that is, the use of force to prevent the development of a more distant and speculative future threat. … Read more…

Debating Canada’s Objectives and Role in Libya

(Published in the Huffington Post (Canada), June 14, 2011 – slightly revised)

width="210"Tomorrow, parliament will debate whether to extend the participation of the Canadian Forces in the NATO operations in Libya. First, it should be said that parliamentary approval of the operation is essential. Legislative oversight of the executive’s decisions to go to war is crucial for both democratic accountability and for reducing the likelihood of involvement in unwise or illegitimate adventures.

Canada is one of the few liberal democracies that does not have a constitutional or legislative requirement for such approval, but tomorrow’s debate is part of an increasingly established practice in Canada of parliamentary involvement in decisions to engage in armed conflict.

In order to make the debate meaningful, however, parliament must take seriously the issues before it. Members have a duty to rigorously interrogate the government’s motives, and to question the rationales advanced for continued involvement in the conflict. It is not enough to accept platitudes and vague assertions about Canada’s duties as an ally. Rather, there must be hard questions asked about the continued legitimacy of the operation, what exactly the objectives are, and how precisely our involvement advances the national interest or is consistent with our national values.

It should be recalled that the initial objective of NATO’s operation was to prevent a pending humanitarian disaster, when Libyan armed forces were poised to take Benghazi. The United Nations Security Council authorized, in Resolution 1973, the use of force to impose a no-fly zone, and to take all necessary measures to protect civilians. It was a classic humanitarian intervention, with the explicit objective of, and authority limited to, protecting civilians. … Read more…

The “Yanai Report” on Art. 9 of the Japanese Constitution

In June of this year the “Panel for the Reconstruction of the National Security Legal Foundation”, known informally as the Yanai Committee after the name of its chairman, filed its report with the government of Japan. The report called for a re-interpretation of Art. 9 of the Constitution so as to permit Japanese participation in collective self-defence and collective security operations. Both are currently understood to be prohibited by Art. 9.

Prime Minister Fukuda showed no interest in the report or the issues, and the report has received little public attention. With a new Prime Minister soon to be elected, and with emerging evidence that the Yanai Report is having more significant influence within the bureaucracy, it warrants more careful attention.

Over the next little while I will be posting entries here providing a detailed examination of the report. Since the report is not yet available in English (the original is available here), I will first provide an overview of the substance of those aspects of the report that I think are at least important for the analysis I wish to engage in. The substance should be reviewed in two posts, following which I will provide a segment with an analysis of the report – first criticizing its overall approach, and focusing on some of the interpretive errors that, in my view, the panel made; and then examining some of the limitations that it recommended be placed on the exercise of force, that may be useful for considerations of what a nuanced amendment might look like.

Background

Prime Minister Abe convened a “panel of experts” back in April 2007, to consider whether it was necessary to “revise the current interpretation of the Constitution”, in order to allow Japan to participate to a greater extent in international security activity. In particular, the panel was to consider four specific scenarios that highlighted the ramifications of the constitutional prohibition on collective self-defence and collective security operations.

The panel was comprised of thirteen people, mostly academics specializing in political science, foreign relations, and defence studies, and former government officals from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Defence Agency. There was only one constitutional scholar among them, and only three legal specialists in total. The media was critical of the panel when it was announced for being a group with a public record of being hawkish on national security issues and of being critical of the constitutional constraints on Japan’s defence policy.

I wrote at the time (The Case Against “Revising Interpretations” of the Japanese Constitution ) that the exercise of using an extra-constitutional body to advance a “revision” of the interpretation of the Constitution, was illegitimate on a number of levels, the most important being that it was an end-run around the amendment provisions in the Constitution. The Report tends to confirm those concerns.Read more…