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.

Read moreClimate Wars and Jus ad Bellum (Parts I & II)

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

Atmospheric Intervention?

cjelMy latest law review article has just been published: “Atmospheric Intervention? The Climate Change Crisis and the Jus ad Bellum Regime,” 45 Columbia Journal of Environmental Law 331 (2020). Here is the abstract:

Many governments have begun to understand that the consequences of climate change will increasingly create both direct and indirect threats to national security. Under some projected scenarios these consequences may pose an existential threat to human civilization. Yet there has been little attention to how this will implicate the jus ad bellum regime. As the climate change crisis becomes more severe, states will begin to view not just the consequences but some of the causes of climate change as comprising a threat to national security. Specifically, they will begin to characterize other states’ recklessly excessive and flagrantly unlawful contributions to climate change as a threat to international peace and security. The international climate change regime will be sufficiently developed to help frame such characterizations, but incapable of enforcing or mobilizing compliance with its obligations.

States will thus look to the collective security regime to coerce such “climate rogue states” to comply with their climate change law obligations. The identification of climate rogue states as posing a threat to international peace and security will trigger the basis for collective action, up to and including the threat or use of force. In the face of UN Security Council inaction, there will be increasing pressure on the jus ad bellum regime to adjust so as to permit and justify such action. Recent efforts to relax the constraints of the jus ad bellum regime, in response to other purportedly novel threats — such as nuclear proliferation, transnational terrorism, cyber-attacks, and humanitarian crises — provide templates for the kind of arguments we may anticipate for justifying action against “climate rogue states.” We will see efforts to expand the doctrine of self-defense, or to establishing new exceptions to permit “atmospheric interventions.”

The logic of these arguments for adjusting the jus ad bellum regime are more powerful than recent efforts, because the threat they seek to address will increasingly appear to outweigh the resulting increased risk of armed conflict. They will likely gain traction as the crisis deepens. This requires us now, before fear drives the agenda, to begin a discussion of how such adjustment might best be shaped, limited, or resisted. As compelling as they will become, the arguments are dangerous. They will not only weaken the jus ad bellum regime but are likely to compound some of the injustices of the climate change crisis and undermine the international rule of law in ways that will be counterproductive to our efforts to respond to the crisis.