Is Cameron’s intervention in Syria legal?

November 29, 2015 — 4 Comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron is attempting to persuade the UK parliament to support an extension of UK air strikes, ostensibly aimed at “degrading” ISIS, from Iraq to Syria. However, his argument that the action would have a clear legal basis is, despite the progressive undermining of international law by UK and US governments, denied by leading legal scholars.

Dr Arman Sarvarian, a lecturer in public international law at the University of Surrey has stated in regards to Cameron’s proposed action in Syria that, “The rules of international law do not provide a basis to do that.
“It’s a Syrian internal affair, it’s a civil war that is underway, the Syrian government has not invited the United Kingdom in.”


“Using force to pre-emptively destroy an armed group in the territory of another state is unlawful.

“If he goes ahead and the vote gets passed next week, and the UK takes part in essentially a general air campaign in Syria, then it would be in my view an act of aggression – it would be illegal.”

Now this is particularly significant as Dr Arman Sarvarian is a highly respected jurist whose written evidence was cited in the report of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, ‘Intervention: Why, When and How? (28 April 2014)’, para. 50.

In addition, in the journal of the UK Constitutional Law Association Veronika Fikfak, another respected legal scholar, argues:

1. The questionable legality of military action under UN Security Council Resolution 2249 (2015)
In his address to Parliament, David Cameron insisted that the UN SC Resolution provides a legal basis for military action. As others have already noted, however, the Resolution adopted by the Security Council is an unprecedented measure. Although the wording of the Resolution suggests some support for the use of force, neither the acknowledgment that IS constitutes a ‘global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security’ nor the unanimity with which it was adopted provide a legal basis for the use of force against IS either in Syria or in Iraq (source). In short, the Resolution does not actually authorise force.

Dapo Akande (Professor of Public International Law at the University of Oxford and Yamani Fellow of St Peter’s College, Oxford) and Dr Marko Milanovic (associate professor at the University of Nottingham School of Law and Secretary-General and member of the Executive Board of the European Society of International Law have examined the issue in depth and conclude:

“The Resolution is constructed in such a way that it can be used to provide political support for military action, without actually endorsing any particular legal theory on which such action can be based or providing legal authority from the Council itself. The creative ambiguity in this resolution lies not only in the fact that it does not legally endorse military action, while appearing to give Council support to action being taken, but also that it allows for continuing disagreement as to the legality of those actions.”

Now lawyers can always be found to justify any government’s position (up to and including the use of torture) but the position of Cameron and other supporters of his proposed action that the legality of the proposed action is “clear” is clearly factually wrong.

In order to legalise the proposed action, what would be required appears to be a UN Chapter 7 resolution and/or an invitation from the still UN-recognised government of Syria. The UK government, which claims its proposed action will somehow ameliorate the disaster it has been a party to creating in Iraq and Syria, does not appear to have made any effort to ensure its action is legal but is depending on the unpublished advice of the Attorney-General, apparently attempting to circumvent and degrade international law yet further, in a similar fashion to Tony Blair and George Bush over Iraq.

So the question is – why does Cameron not seek a sound legal basis for his proposed action and why does he not demand that his supposed allies, particularly Turkey and Saudi Arabia, take the actions which would significantly degrade ISIL – specifically demand they stop buying oil from ISIL and stop providing ISIL and its allies with weapons and fighters?

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4 responses to Is Cameron’s intervention in Syria legal?

  1. 

    I find it very suspicious that Qatari Charles (Lister) came up with a 70,000 figure at almost exactly the same time.

    Is this the new magic number?

    • 

      It seems the 70,000 number includes the Kurds. Doubt very much we will get a breakdown of which groups are included, although the French are apparently going to give the Russians a map showing where the “moderates” are.

    • 

      In the light of futher UK government clarifications – the 70,000 figure apparently doesn’t include the Kurds or Ahrar al-Sham.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Labour Party Conference Resolution on Bombing of Syria « Human rights investigations - November 30, 2015

    […] Point number 1 has not been met as a UN Chapter 7 resolution is required to authorize military force. […]

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