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Are the U.S. airstrikes in Syria legal?

| September 30, 2014

The United Nations (UN) Charter under Article 2(4) is clear: States must ‘refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force’. Yet it makes two exceptions within Chapter VII. Article 51 codifies ‘the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations’ and Article 42 enables the UN Security Council (UNSC) to authorize ‘such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security’.

There is arguably a third exception—humanitarian intervention—but this is not mentioned in the Charter and the claim that it is grounded in customary international law is debatable. The much talked about Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm, which declares a responsibility to intervene when a state manifestly fails to prevent mass atrocities, insists that military intervention must be authorized by the Security Council.

The UNSC has not authorized the current intervention in either Iraq or Syria, so a legal defence of the airstrikes would have to look to the self-defence argument. Indeed, US officials have argued that Iraq has a valid right of self-defence against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria “because the militant group was attacking Iraq from its havens in Syria, and the Syrian government had failed to suppress that threat”. More …


The right to know the truth on Gaza and Israel

| September 29, 2014

It has been nearly three months since Israel launched an offensive operation in Gaza, after a series of events sparked unrest, including the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June and the suspected retaliatory killing of a 16-year-old Palestian boy on July 2.

For seven weeks in July and August, the violence there made daily headlines: more than an estimated 2,000 dead in Gaza, including 500 children, thousands of homes destroyed and a third of Gaza’s population displaced. Around 67 Israeli soldiers, and six Israeli civilians, were also killed. A ceasefire has remained in place since the end of August, and Egyptian-mediated talks are expected to resume in late October to negotiate conditions of a longer truce.

But while events in Gaza fall away from the media spotlight and negotiations remain on hold, the UN commission investigating possible war crimes during the summer is moving forward.   Renowned international law scholar, Canadian William Schabas, has been appointed chair of the commission, leading a team of about half a dozen staff and three commissioners in the on-the-ground investigation. Upon his appointment, Schabas, a professor of law at Middlesex University in London, author of a long list of books on human rights and legal issues, and Officer of the Order of Canada, was both criticised and defended for his perceived views on Israel.

Earlier this month, as he prepared to leave for the region, he spoke with OpenCanada managing editor Eva Salinas by phone from London on the investigative procedure, the challenges he expects his team to face, and on Foreign Minister John Baird’s ‘fixed opinion.’ More …


The Rise of IS: The view from the Turkish-Syrian border

| September 26, 2014

What a difference a few weeks can make in the Middle East.  Suddenly, it appears that the United States and former supporters of the Syrian opposition have switched sides much to the benefit of the Syrian regime in Damascus.  Of course, this is not the case but the Syrian government has to be pleased with the way events have unfolded in the past week.  Back in 2011, the aim was to topple the Syrian regime.  Now, a lifeline has been thrown to Bashar al-Assad.  To understand how all this has come about it’s worth turning back the clock a few years to March, 2011.

That month, mass protests against the Syrian government erupted in Damascus and Aleppo and soon after unrest spread to more cities across Syria. More …


Nation-building in the Mideast? What is needed is a Sunni home in Mesopotamia

| September 25, 2014

In an enthusiastic endorsement of Barrack Obama’s new offensive in Syria, Brookings’ Kenneth Pollack argues that the key to the stability of the region lies in effective nation-building.

In the face of innumerable failures and, over the last 20 years, of the progressive reconfiguration of Germany, Central Europe and the Balkans around newly created — or re-created — ethnic states, Pollack still argues that multi-ethnic or multi-communal nation-building is possible in the Middle-East, from the outside and without rearranging the absurd boundaries of the region.

And yet, if it were successful (a big if), the most likely outcome of the strategy he outlines — arming a “moderate” Syrian opposition and helping it take control of the country against both Assad and IS — would be the rise to power, in Syria, of a Sunni regime that would be a mirror image of Iraq’s Shia one, and under which you wouldn’t want to be a minority: Alawite, Kurdish or Christian, in this case, instead of Kurdish and Sunni in Iraq. More …


Are Canadians still liberal internationalists?

| September 25, 2014

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will address the United Nations General Assembly today.

I wrote in the Globe and Mail Wednesday that we should not expect to see a warming in Canada’s relations with the world body, which have been chilly since the Harper government failed to win a seat for Canada on the Security Council in 2010.

I mentioned in the article that I had conducted research on whether Canadians remain supportive of the UN and liberal internationalism. The short answer is: yes, they do. This research appears in the current issue of International Journal. More …

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