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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Article on Why and How to Amend Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution

Ritsumeikan-webIn April I published an article on why supporters and defenders of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, the war-renouncing provision, should be developing proposals for how to amend the provision. The article was published in the Ritsumeikan Journal of Peace Studies, in both English: Change It to Save It: Why and How to Amend Article 9, 18 Ritsumeikan J. Peace Studies (2017), and in Japanese: 憲法9条を再生させるための改正論ーなぜ、どのように9条を改正するのか、立命館平和研究18号(2017). The abstract in English is as follows:

Defenders of Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan, which renounces the use of force and prohibits the maintenance of armed forces, have consistently worked to block any and all attempts to amend the provision. The government of Japan, having purported to “reinterpret” the provision in 2015, is now well positioned to finally achieve its goal of forcing some form of amendment. This article argues that the champions of Article 9 must, in order to save its most successful and core features, begin to develop alternative proposals for its amendment.

The article begins with a review of the meaning and operation of Article 9. It notes that the first paragraph, Article 9(1) (which is the prohibition on the use of force), is a clear constitutional rule that has effectively constrained government policy, but that the second paragraph, Article 9(2) (which prohibits the maintenance of armed forces and denies the rights of belligerency), has been transformed into an ambiguous standard that has been increasingly ineffective, and has given rise to a dangerous gap between norm and reality.

In arguing why Article 9 should be amended, the article explains the weaknesses in the provision that arise from the ambiguity and ineffectiveness of Article 9(2), analyzes the significant dangers inherent in the government amendment proposals, and the harm that will be done by the “reinterpretation” if it is not replaced by way of amendment. In explaining how to amend Article 9, the article provides draft language as a starting point for debate. It is designed to preserve and clarify the constraints on the use of force; eliminate the harmful gap between the current reality and the constitutional language, and establish civilian control and clear separation of powers in national security decision-making; and clarify the role of judicial review in enforcing the provision.

Jus ad Bellum Implications of Japan’s New National Security Laws

(Published in Opinio Juris, Apr. 21, 2016; re-published in The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, Vol. 14, May 15, 2016)

Far-reaching revisions to Japan’s national security laws became effective at the end of March. Part of the government’s efforts to “reinterpret” Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution, the revised laws authorize military action that would previously have been unconstitutional. The move has been severely criticized within Japan as being a circumvention and violation of the Constitution, but there has been far less scrutiny of the international law implications of the changes.

The war-renouncing provision of the Constitution ensured compliance with the jus ad bellum regime, and indeed Japan has not engaged in a use of force since World War II. But with the purported “reinterpretation” and revised laws – which the Prime Minister has said would permit Japan to engage in minesweeping in the Straits of Hormuz or use force to defend disputed islands from foreign “infringements” – Japan has an unstable and ambiguous new domestic law regime that could potentially authorize action that would violate international law. … Read more…

Speaking with Yanai in The Hague

Speaking in February on a panel with Judge Shunji Yanai, on the constitutional and international law issues arising from the Japanese government’s “reinterpretation” of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution. Shunji Yanai, who is a judge on the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, was the chairman of the Advisory Panel on the Reconstruction for the Legal Basis of Security, which made recommendations to the Japanese government on how and why to “reinterpret” Article 9. The one-day conference was held at the Asser Institute in The Hague, with Judge Hisashi Owada of the International Court of Justice giving the keynote address.

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