This past week was the U.N. General Assembly meeting and the biggest news story to come out of that meeting concerned the address given by Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, along with his now notorious bomb drawing. The bomb sketch was a reference to the rumors, still denied by Iran and its President Ahmadinejad, that Iran is constructing a nuclear weapon. On Friday, the Washington Post published an editorial by Jeffrey H. Smith, former GC of the CIA under President Clinton, and John B. Bellinger, legal advisor to the National Security Council and the State Dept. under President George W. Bush, concerning the legality under international law of a potential use of military force on Iran by the United States.
First, under the U.N. Charter, member states may only use force against another nation if authorized by the Security Council or in self defense against an armed attack. The two authors note that most international lawyers agree that the latter provision includes the threat of an attack. This blogger, however, notes that “most” is a very relative term, especially in relation to the nationality (i.e Europe, or the United States) of these lawyers. Examples of self defense include President George W. Bush’s invocation of the provision to invade Afghanistan after 9/11. Last year, the U.N. Security Council authorized the use of force in Libya.
The use of force against Iran in a preemptive strike would be best authorized by a U.N. Security Council Resolution. For either President Obama or President Romney, the fact that China and Russia sit on that Council provides a huge hurdle to overcome. To act unilaterally against Iran would bring back the vestiges of the outcry over the U.S.’ invasion of Iraq in 2003. Back then, many other nations, even some of the United States’ allies, believed President Bush violated international law with the use of military force. Based on that precedent, the editorial authors believe that both Obama and Romney must explain a “clear legal basis for a military strike…and how using force against Iran would be justified under international law and under what circumstances.” The authors do note that the United States has long maintained the right to take unilateral and preemptive action to prevent an attack on this nation.
Now comes the biggest questions for our Commander in Chief:
Does a preemptive attack against Iran fall under the self defense provision?
Does international law and the international community’s opinion really matter when it comes to protecting our nation?
Are we going to fall into another “WMD” trap?