As U.S. officials work to convince the world that Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons in Syria, the Obama administration is confronting questions about whether it has a legal right to respond with force.
The United Nations Security Council would need to authorize military action or the U.S. would have to be acting in self-defense for a strike to be legal under international law even if it may be justified, according to lawyers including Philip Carter.
“The bottom line is that under hard international law, there is no good legal argument” for a U.S. or allied strike on Syria without UN authorization, Carter, a former Pentagon official, said in an interview.
Having decided they can bypass the UN, where Russia has made clear it would veto a resolution authorizing force against Assad, administration officials are asserting a moral case. Much as President Bill Clinton’s administration justified the 1999 bombing of Serbia as necessary to defend Kosovo, Obama and his aides are saying Syria violated international standards by gassing its own people.
President Barack Obama, a former constitutional law professor, said in a PBS interview yesterday that Syria’s use of chemical weapons violated “an international norm.” Failing to respond could indirectly threaten the U.S. and its allies in the Mideast, and the U.S. must act “to make sure” that chemical weapons are not “loose in a way that ultimately could affect our security,” he said.
Administration officials, who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations, have said that in building their case they see parallels with the U.S.-led military action to aid Kosovo.
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