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policy syria violates international law

Syrian Civilians form Human shield against US-led attack (Source: Press TV)

The United States plans a military operation against Syria. The decision should be scrutinized to see if there is any legal ground to justify the planned action. The eleven nations (1) made a joint statement on the margins of the Group of 20 Nations Leader’s Meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It was an attempt to find a legal foundation for the planned intervention referring to a rather curious term “world’s rules” (2).

The meaning is really turbid. Why not put it straight saying “the norms of international law”?  It cannot be done because the norms of international law require a precise reference. But if the reference were offered, it would fail to justify the legitimacy of the stance adopted the United States and its allies.

So, what does the international law say and what do they try to offerinstead under the disguise of “world’s rules?”

International law

Speaking at the press-conference in the wake of the G20 summit, President Vladimir Putin made a precise definition of the situation related to the planned military action in terms of international law. He said the use of force against a sovereign state is acceptable exclusively for the purpose of self-defence or according to a decision by the United Nations Security Council (3).

This is an exact and exhaustive definition of what is the substance of international law. Few know that as a lawyer the Russian President specialized in international law. So he set forth clearly the provisions of United Nations Charter.

There are other international acts as well, which testify to the fact that the military action planned by the United States against Syria is illegal.

The first is the definition of aggression adopted by the United Nations in 1974. The document states that “Aggression is the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations.” Thus, any military action constitutes an act of aggression. True, the text of the US Senate resolution excludes ground operations. (4)  

Now let me cite just one clause – 3b, which explains that the term aggression includes “Bombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State or the use of any weapons by a State against the territory of another State“. (5) 

The second is the Statute of International Criminal Court. In 2010 it was added by the article 8-bis saying “the crime of aggression” which actually literally repeats the definition of 1974, including bombardment. (6)   There is a clear difference between the definition of aggression offered by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1974 and the one offered by article 8-bis of the International Criminal Court Statute – they differ on the responsibility of aggressor.

Thus, the contemporary international law puts it clearly – a military operation undertaken by the United States of America against Syria is an illegal act of aggression.

“World’s rules”

If the plans of the world strong ones don’t match the international law, than the law should be changed. That’s the way Anglo-Saxons act like after the second superpower ceased to exist as a factor of counterbalance in the international system.  Before launching a US-led aggression against former Yugoslavia in 1999, then State Secretary Madeleine Albright was reported that the State Department lawyers considered the planned action as running counter to international law. She said that other lawyers should be hired.

Syria does not attack the United States; no decision has been handed down by the United Nations Security Council.   But the events unfold in a more alarming way than it was when the former Yugoslavia was attacked by the United States: instead of hiring new lawyers an attempt is made to create a new international law, including such tactics as referring to “world’s rules.”

Now, let’s recall the statement by David Cameron, the Prime Minister of a small island. He said, “There was an argument from some that unless it is self-defence or unless there is a Security Council resolution there is no legal basis for taking action. I don’t think that is the case. I think it is a very dangerous doctrine”.(7)  This way the UK Prime Minister says the UN Charter, which prevails over any other international agreement, is a dangerous doctrine!

I’m sorry to say, but it does correspond to logic because in order to create a new international law it is required to do away with the old one. The responsibility to protect (R2P) stands out among the “world’s rules.” “Our strong legal advice is that the there is a responsibility to protect – a case for humanitarian intervention because you are preventing a humanitarian catastrophe,” Mr. Cameron said. The statement has two legal aspects.

First, the responsibility to protect is not a legal norm. It’s a doctrine that is actively promoted as a legal norm, but to no avail so far: the majority of countries refuse it. But the more they resist, the more active become the attempts to push the doctrine through to make it a norm if not of the conventional law, then, at least, of the common one. (8)  

Second, the doctrine is mentioned in some political (not legal) (9) documents, still it is always considered as applicable only within the United Nations framework.

In 2005 there was a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. The R2P stated that, “A responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.”  According to paragraph 138 of the resolution, every state has the responsibility to protect its population from these crimes. The responsibility presupposes that each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. The responsibility is accepted and the states should act in accordance with it. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and support the United Nations in establishing an early warning capability.

Syrian Civilians form Human shield against US-led attack (Source: Press TV)
Syrian Civilians form Human shield against US-led attack (Source: Press TV)

But the document also states (paragraph 139) that, “The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.

It says clearly that, in this context, the states are “prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”. (10)

The text says that a state acts individually only on its territory, or collectively on the territories of other states, only within the framework of United Nations. It is strictly defined and repeated time and again. It’s hard to imagine the British Prime Minister is not acquainted with the text of the World Summit of 2005 (which formally adopted the responsibility to protect resolution by the United Nations General Assembly); the event Britain took part in and signed the corresponding document. It’s unbecoming: David Cameronis lyingandknows he is lying.

There is no legal ground for intervention against Syria according to international law. The Western states are trying to commit three crimes at a time:

1.    To commit an aggression against a UN member-state. The experience accumulated in recent dozens of years shows that the Western states are not looking for an aggression as it is, but rather as a basis for perpetrating a string of other crimes – purposeful elimination of civilian population and a state’s infrastructure.

2.    To do away with the pillars of existing international order, first of all the United Nations Chapter.

3.   To create a new, repressive international law, which would envision the right for military intervention and regime change.

The new repressive law is created in contrast to the existing one (still a progressive one, no matter it has been subject to corrosion during the last twenty years.(11)


Today standing up for Syria does not presuppose the defence of the state and the people only, though this is the mission of enormous importance. Taking into account all the legal ins and outs related to the process of planning an intervention by the United States, to prevent this action means to protect the entire world order.   

The statement by President Putin was the one to perfectly define the state of international law; he said that by going around the United Nations Charter the United States and its allies will put themselves outside the legal order. 


(1) According to US State Department’s press-release, the nations are: Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. (Joint Statement on Syria. The White House Office of the Press Secretary. September 06, 2013. Ref., official White House website: .

(2) Literally: “We call for a strong international response to this grave violation of the world’s rules and conscience that will send a clear message that this kind of atrocity can never be repeated”.

(3) The G20 final press-conference by Vladimir Putin on September 6, 2013 //

(4) Article 3 of the resolution bans ground military operation: «The authority granted in section 2(a) does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Syria for the purpose of combat operations. Ref. official US Congress website::

(5) The definition of aggression //

(6) Ref. The International Criminal Court official website::


(8) Common international law is defined not by international treaties but rather by practice, including the criteria of repetition of actions.

(9) The United Nations General Assembly resolution are non-binding.

(10) The resolution of the United Nations General Assembly N60/1 The 2005 World Summit Outcome Document //

(11) For instance, creating international criminal courts and tribunals courts; erosion of immunity for heads of states and governments, creating supranational structures etc.

Author: Alexander Mezyaev

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