MJIL Online

MJIL Online brings you timely short-form articles that represent a wide range of views on contemporary issues in international law. The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors only.


Katrien Wilmots, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
On Friday November 13, 2015 three teams of coordinated attackers carried out terrorist assaults in Paris. There were three suicide bombings outside the Stade de France, mass shootings, and additional suicide bombings at four other locations. The deadliest attack was at the Bataclan theater where attackers shot and took hostages. 130 people lost their lives.[1]

French President François Hollande's response to the Paris attacks has echoes of President Bush's rhetoric after September 11, 2001. Hollande invoked the language of war to describe what the terrorist attacks meant for France. He called the attacks an “act of war”[2] and instituted a state of emergency.[3] However, implicitly elevating a terrorist organization to the level of a sovereign entity that has the power to declare war complicates the traditional international law notion of warfare. Under international law, the concept of war is confined to conflicts between states.[4] After 9/11, Christopher Greenwood argued that "references to the attacks as ‘acts of war’, like the subsequent talk of a ‘war against terrorism’, are understandable in political terms but are not to be taken as referring to the concept of war in international law."[5] Raising the Islamic State to the level of a

Cody Marden, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
In November 1983 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conducted a ten day military exercise known as Able Archer 83. This exercise was arguably the closest the world has ever come to WWIII. The realistic nature of the exercises, combined with the deteriorating relations with the U.S., led many in the USSR to suspect that Able Archer could be a ruse that was actually obscuring preparations for a U.S. first strike.[1] In response to the exercises the USSR placed their nuclear arsenal on standby and placed air units in East Germany and Poland on alert.[2] Luckily, the situation defused itself with the end of the NATO exercise.[3]

What if the Soviet Union had preemptively attacked the U.S.: would the attack have been legal under international law? The answer is not entirely straightforward. The actions of states that act in anticipatory self-defense are measured by somewhat subjective principles. However, there are instances where military exercises could constitute sufficient provocation to conduct an anticipatory attack under international law.

The international framework for anticipatory self-defense arises from two sources: Article 51 of the U.N. Charter and the Caroline Test of customary international law. Beginning with Article 51, the Charter states

Richard Self, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
“UN Peacekeepers provide security and the political and peacebuilding support to help countries make the difficult, early transition from conflict to peace.”[1]

 The stated mission of the United Nations Peacekeeping forces is an admirable one, but in the wake of 2015’s evolving global threats, the principles of the Peacekeeping forces have markedly constrained the mission from becoming one that can achieve the primary goal of the United Nations as enumerated in Article 1(1) of the UN Charter: “to maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures and removal of threats to the peace”.[2] Perhaps the most crushing of these tenants is the hesitance of the United Nations to increase its intelligence collection capabilities in aid of the peacekeeping process, despite calls (such as those seen in the Brahimi report) for the organization to take on a stronger role in the arena.[3] Due to the nature of the covert scheming of international terrorist threats coming from universal antagonists such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that have the ability to carry out covert attacks without a defined military force on civilians and military actors, it is of

Christian Husby, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
Offensive autonomous weapons. Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Noam Chomsky are opposed,[1] Human Rights Watch is opposed,[2] and 68% of Americans are opposed.[3] So, should we be worried?

Before being able to draw any conclusions, it would be useful to define what autonomous weapon systems (AWS) are. The most commonly cited definition is that articulated by the U.S. Department of Defense.[4] The U.S. Department of Defense defines AWS as: "a weapon system that, once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator. This includes human-supervised autonomous weapon systems that are designed to allow human operators to override operation of the weapon system, but can select and engage targets without further human input after activation."[5] The Center for New American Security’s Ethical Autonomy project defines an autonomous weapons system as a “weapon system that, once activated, is intended to select and engage targets where a human has not decided those specific targets are to be engaged.”[6] Other commentators compile their own definitions. For example, one scholar describes a “fully autonomous system” as one that can decide “on its own what to report and where to go,” that “may be able to learn

Corina McIntyre, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
On October 21, 2015, the European Commission ruled that Luxembourg and the Netherlands granted illegal tax agreements to Fiat Finance and Trade and Starbucks.  In essence, the European Commission determined that these tax agreements created anticompetitive effects by granting these multinational corporations unfair tax advantages. 

European Union member states are generally allowed to issue these types of tax agreements with corporations.  These agreements serve to clarify how that particular country will calculate a company’s corporate tax and whether any special tax provisions will apply.[1]  But corporate tax agreements are subject to European Commission investigation and review.  In particular, the European Commission seeks to ensure that “national tax authorities [do] not give any company, however large or powerful, an unfair competitive advantage compared to others.”[2]

With respect to the Fiat decision, the European Commission determined that the Luxembourg tax ruling utilized a “complex and artificial methodology” that “cannot be justified by economic reality.”[3]  This resulted in Fiat’s payment of taxes based on underestimated profits that allegedly should have been “20 times higher if the calculations had been done at market conditions.”[4]  In the Starbucks decision, the European Commission concluded that the company reduced its taxable profits in the

Cite as: James C. Hathaway, The Michigan Guidelines on Risk for Reasons of Political Opinion, 37 Mich. J. Int'l L. 234 (2016), available at http://wp.me/P5WwJW-oV.

English / French
The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (“Convention”) recognizes as refugees those who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted on the basis of inter alia “political opinion,” are unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of their home country.

State practice acknowledges that protection based on “political opinion” should not be limited to those individuals at risk by reason of their views about partisan politics. Beyond this, the absence of an authoritative definition of “political opinion” in either the Convention or international law more generally has allowed interpretive inconsistencies to emerge, both within and among jurisdictions. Further complicating the search for a consistent approach is a lack of clarity about how best to ensure that the social and political context of the country of origin is meaningfully taken into account in assessing the existence of a “political opinion.”

With a view to promoting a shared understanding of the proper interpretation of “political opinion” within the context of Article 1(A)(2) of the Convention, we have engaged in

Sihang Zhang, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
In recent years, the ease of establishing accounts at foreign financial institutions, combined with financial advisors who routinely establish foreign structures to hide income, create a unique risk of tax evasion for governmental authority, especially in a self-assessed tax system, where taxpayers may choose not to comply with their domestic tax reporting obligations. Indeed, the increasingly globalized and borderless world of finance makes it a lot more “tempting” for wealthy people to hide their money abroad. Against the backdrop of rising public anger about tax avoidance and evasion, the G20 finance ministers endorsed automatic exchange as the new tax transparency standard on April 19, 2013.[i] Two years later, on October 29, 2014, 51 jurisdictions (39 were represented at ministerial level), signed a multilateral competent authority agreement to automatically exchange information based on Article 6 of the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters.[ii] More than 65 jurisdictions publicly committed to implementation.

The Common Reporting Standard (CRS) is a big step towards a globally coordinated attempt between governments to disclose and exchange financial information of income earned by individuals and organizations. Countries have a shared interest in exchanging information to combat against tax evasion and

Ashley Harshaw, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
The Supreme Court of Mexico, in a 4 to 1 vote, has declared that four plaintiffs – members of a cannabis club – are allowed to grow, transport and use marijuana for recreational purposes. This marks the latest in a series of shifts in the Americas away from past stringent policies of the War on Drugs. Although the decision does not legalize marijuana across Mexico, basing the decision on human rights grounds provides a powerful precedent for a range of challenges to restrictive drug use laws. This precedent could set into motion significant changes in drug policy not only in Mexico, but also across the region more broadly.[1]

Since the Nixon administration declared the “War on Drugs” in 1971, the U.S. government has pressured Latin American nations to enforce strict prohibition on opium, coca and marijuana crops with aerial spraying and military operations. The Americas have largely continued with this prohibitionist approach into the 21st century.[2] In September 2014, the Global Commission on Drug Policy issued a report sharply criticizing the U.S. led global War on Drugs.[3] The U.S. has spent billions of dollars on punitive drug law enforcement, only to result in violence, excessive incarceration,

Emily Golding, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
In September, news that over 11 million Volkswagen diesel vehicles worldwide had been equipped with software used to defeat emissions tests rocked the international community. In the days following the publication of the scandal, Volkswagen stock dropped nearly 30%.[1] The deception by the world’s top-selling car maker continues to affect not only its shareholders and its customers, but its reach extends to governments, international regulating bodies, and the international motor industry as a whole.

The worldwide impacts of this scandal present important questions of international law.  Exactly who holds a stake in the resolution of the scandal? Which governing bodies have the authority to investigate what conduct? Where are claims properly adjudicated? Resolution of the Volkswagen scandal undoubtedly requires international cooperation, and a crucial aspect of proper resolution involves this third issue: deciding which jurisdictions should adjudicate which claims.  Where and how claims are resolved has significant financial repercussions all around.

The importance of this third question is highlighted by the recent filing of a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of South Korean consumers. The action was commenced on October 23, 2015 by two U.S. law

Silvia Raithel, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
In 1995, the European Parliament and Council passed the Data Protection Directive (Directive 95/46/EC) (the “Directive”).[1] The Directive requires that the transfer of personal data out of the European Economic Area to another country only take place if the other country ensures an adequate level of protection for the data.[2]  Adequate protection can be established by virtue of a country’s domestic law or international commitments.[3]

On July 21, 2000, in order to meet the level of data protection required under the Directive, so as to facilitate data transfers from the European Economic Area to the United States, the United States Department of Commerce issued the “Safe Harbor Privacy Principles” (the “Principles”).[4] Organizations could voluntarily and publically adhere to the Principles.[5]

On July 26, 2000, the European Commission (the “Commission”) held in European Commission Decision 2000/520 that the Principles provided adequate protection for personal data.[6] As a result U.S. organizations that voluntarily and publically adhered to the Principles could receive personal data transfers from the European Economic Area.

On October 6, 2015, the Court of Justice of the European Union (the “Court”), in Maximillian Schrems v. Data Protection Commissioner (Case C-362/14) (“Schrems' Case”), held that European Commission Decision 2000/520

Alicia McCaffrey, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
Many in the U.S. remember the controversy that ensued when Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to enact a ban on the sale of large containers of soda in New York City.[1] While the national response was rather negative (and in fact a New York state judge later overruled the regulation[2]), the proposed ban would not have been unusual in the international context. Several countries, most of which are European, have enacted similar regulations with varying degrees of success.[3] This article examines whether these kinds of “Fat Taxes” are in accordance with international law.

Rather than ban the sale of unhealthy foods or drinks, the European regulations tend to tax unhealthy foods. For example, in 2011 Denmark enacted a tax that charged 16 kroner per kilogram of saturated fat (imagine that in the U.S. the price of butter rose by 37 cents).[4] However, the tax was repealed the following year because the government considered it ineffective.[5] The government claimed that citizens simply went across the border to buy foods high in saturated fat and that, because the tax was charged to food manufacturers in hopes the businesses would pass the cost along to the consumer, the tax caused

Lauren Richards, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
China’s militarization of islands in the South China Sea threatens the right of innocent passage by States and, therefore, may pose a threat to international law.[1] The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) establishes a 200-mile continental shelf beyond the coastal State.[2] This entitles the coastal State to an additional 200 miles beyond the border of its territorial sea, which extends 12 miles from the coastal State.[3] In the territorial sea and continental shelf, all States have a right of continuous, expeditious, and innocent passage.[4] China claims a significant portion of the territory of the South China Sea as its own over the protestation of several other States in the region.[5] As a result of recent militarization of man-made islands in the South China Sea, China is potentially threatening the right of passage of these States, and others.

China’s claim to the islands could legally arise under territorial acquisition through prescription, a method similar to adverse possession in U.S. law.[6] China’s occupation and militarization of these man-made islands could effectively give it a right of sovereignty over the islands and, by extension, over the surrounding seas.[7] Politically, this presents issues with surrounding States

Christine Prorok, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
As hundreds of thousands of refugees flee states in the Middle East and Africa, bound largely for countries in the European Union, the international community has struggled to furnish a consistent response to accepting refugees. And some have no intent to accept refugees at all.

While Chancellor Angela Merkel has asserted that the right to asylum has no “upper limit,”[1] and that Germany would welcome all those seeking asylum within the country’s borders, other states have been less willing to extend open arms to refugees. From placing “migrant caps” on the number of refugees permitted to enter a state, to forbidding any from crossing its borders at all, most European countries have expressed hesitancy about accepting refugees and refuse to do so unconditionally. Hungary has erected a barbed-wire fence to keep migrants out and has resorted to using teargas and water cannons to deter migrants from entering the country.[2] The Danish government has placed “advertisements” with the Lebanese press, making clear to migrants that they are not welcome.[3] And several countries have considered adopting a “migrant cap,” meaning a limit on the number of migrants a country is willing to accept within a specified period of

Michael Pucci, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
A little over a year before handing over the keys to the White House to his successor, President Obama finds himself in a peculiar position: he may have to rely primarily on Republican support for one of his last major legislative initiatives. After years of negotiations, the United States and eleven Pacific Rim countries concluded the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”), a trade agreement that is a “capstone [to Obama’s] economic agenda to expand exports and of his foreign policy ‘rebalance’ toward closer relations with fast-growing eastern Asia.”[1] Now Congress will have its say on that matter. Earlier this summer, the Senate approved fast-track authority for the TPP, ensuring that Congress will have an up-or-down vote free from a Senate filibuster or any amendments.[2] 

Notwithstanding this favorable procedural posture, the TPP still faces significant resistance in Congress, particularly over its Investor-State Dispute Settlement (“ISDS”) provision which allows private corporations  “the right to bring a claim in international arbitration autonomously . . . against host country governments that allegedly violate those rules” thus allowing corporations the ability to bring “a public international law ‘dispute’ . . . to be settled by an international arbitration tribunal outside the jurisdiction of the host country.”[3] Indeed, “[g]ranting a private party

Virginia Koeppl, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
Fleeing civil war and terror, at least 350,000 migrants have crossed the European Union’s borders in search of a better life from January to August 2015, many of them risking their lives on the perilous journey.[1] Europe is experiencing one of the most significant influxes of migrants and refugees in its history, most of whom come from the Middle East and Africa.[2] The number of refugees has steadily grown over the last two years: According to statistics compiled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ("UNHCR"), the number of refugees arriving from the Mediterranean Sea has tripled since 2014, bringing it up to a number that is ten times as high as in 2013. [3]
However, these statistics are not really representative of the true number of refugees that the EU will have to accommodate over the next few years. All the pictures showing the stream of refugees on their way into Europe have one thing in common: The numbers are heavily dominated by young men, and there are barely any women or children in sight. The data complied by UNHCR shows that 69% of the refugees arriving from the Mediterranean are men, mostly below the

Daniel Mooney, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
Over the past few years the Chinese government has rapidly undertaken widespread land reclamation and construction in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. In general, the island building consists of converting formerly submerged reefs into artificial islands and increasing their size in order to suit specific needs. Once built, the islands are then converted into civilian or military outposts such as ports or airstrips. [i] China is one of many countries that have engaged in island building in the Spratly Islands, however the scope and speed of Chinese activities is largely unprecedented.[ii]

Island building has been a point of contention between China, the United States, and other nations with territorial claims in the South China Sea. Despite China’s foreign ministers’ claims that the nation has stopped land-reclamation efforts in the disputed South China Sea in an attempt to smooth tensions with its territorial rivals, the U.S. remains skeptical. [iii] It has slowly morphed into a major geopolitical problem that has been discussed in depth by Chinese and U.S. officials.[iv]

A major point of contention is how the new islands are to be classified. If the islands are classified as either a low tide elevation or

Amy Albanese, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
For the first time in the history of the International Criminal Court at The Hague, an individual will be tried as a war criminal for the destruction of cultural property. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, a native of Mali from the Ansar Taureg tribe, came before Judge Cuno Tarfusser on September 30, 2015, charged with the destruction of the UNESCO site of Timbuktu, Mali.[1] Judge Tarfusser set the provisional date for the confirmation of the charges for January 18, 2016.[2]

It is alleged that Mr. Mahdi, as the head of the Hesbah (a kind of morality squad) of the radical Islamic group Ansar Dine, was directly involved in the destruction of nine mausoleums and the Sidi Yahia mosque in Timbuktu over a ten day period in 2012.[3] The mausoleums and mosque were destroyed as “totems of idolatry”[4] during the Ansar Dine occupation of Mali.[5] Mahdi is alleged to have been part of the associated Islamic Court of Timbuktu and would have been instrumental in executing its decisions, leading to the destruction of these sites.[6]

Mr. Mahdi is charged under the Rome Statute, the founding document of the International Criminal Court. Specifically, the prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is charging

Angela Ni, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
Since the end of World War II, Japan has been locked in an internal ideological struggle between normalization of its military capabilities and holding true to its Constitutional promises of refraining from the threat or use of force. In the past, post-War pacifism and geopolitical pressures from other East Asian countries, China in particular, have usually forestalled efforts by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (“LDP”) to expand Japan’s military endeavors through Constitutional revisions of its Article 9, which expressly prohibits war and denounces the maintenance of land, sea, and air forces for the purpose of waging war.[1] However, regional security concerns stemming from China and North Korea, in addition to recent political efforts from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have pushed this long-standing issue to the forefront as Japan’s Parliament, the Diet, voted in favor of new security bills which will expand the Japan Self-Defense Force’s (“SDF”) defensive capacities as well as its role in international peace keeping.[2]

Historically, the LDP have justified Japan’s military under the reasoning that, according to the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, Japan has an “inherent right to self-defense” in addition to its obligation to

Christina Foster, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
Volkswagen, the largest automaker in the world, made headlines last month after it admitted to installing defeat devices in its diesel engines to evade emissions standards. The initial discoveries came from the United States, but the company later admitted that approximately 11 million Volkswagen cars worldwide contain the device.[1] According to the German Transport Minister, Alexander Dobrindt, Volkswagen manipulated emissions tests in Europe as well.[2] Credit Suisse estimates that the scandal could cost the company up to 78 billion euros.[3] This has already had huge implications for shareholders across the globe as shares have dropped over 35%, and the fallout is likely to continue.[4] According to Volkswagen’s Chairman, Hans Dieter Poetsch, the scandal has become “an existence-threatening crisis for the company.”[5] This raises the question of how far the world should push to hold Volkswagen accountable.

While the company is clearly in the wrong, the end of Volkswagen would mean the end of hundreds of thousands of jobs. What is the proper balance between vindicating those who have been wronged and preserving this massive company that is the source of many people’s livelihood? And who should bring these claims?

Consumers, shareholders, and national governments across the globe

Steven R. Ratner
After Atrocity: Optimizing UN Action Toward Accountability for Human Rights Abuses
Annecoos Wiersema
Uncertainty, Precaution, and Adaptive Management in Wildlife Trade

Kevin Kolben
Dialogic Labor Regulation in the Global Supply Chain

Laurie R. Blank & Benjamin R. Farley
Identifying The Start of Conflict: Conflict Recognition, Operational Realities and Accountability in the Post-9/11 World

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Jennifer P. Nelson, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
In regaining its independence in 1991, Estonia embarked on a political and legal restoration of its national identity in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. Focused on turning back the clock to a more pristine pre-WWII Estonian Republic, the legislature thus decided on November 6, 1991 that citizenship of the newly independent State would be extended only to those who were citizens of the pre-war Estonia and to their descendants.[1] By 1992, the country’s Citizenship Act from 1938 had been re-enacted to actively exclude Soviet-era settlers while simultaneously granting automatic citizenship to those who were Estonian citizens prior to the Soviet takeover in 1940 and their descendants.[2] As a result, a large portion of Estonia’s population suddenly transitioned from holding Estonian citizenship to being “individuals with undetermined citizenship”. While such a label is widely used in Estonian political discourse to refer to the mostly ethnic Russians and other Russian-speaking minorities who lost their official citizenship overnight, “individuals with undetermined citizenship” is not legally defined.[3] Instead, the law and the global community recognize these individuals as stateless persons as defined by the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (“1954 Convention”) and

Zachary Anderson, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
The recent Syrian refugee crisis has put a massive amount of strain on Europe. An estimated 32,000 asylum applications were recorded in Europe in July of this year alone.[1] In the wake of this crisis, arguably cruel responses by European governments and individuals have garnered the international spotlight,[2] exposing serious shortcomings in the ability of international law to protect the rights of migrants. For example, Hungary has closed its border with Serbia, built a fence, and launched an anti-immigration campaign.[3] Hungarian officials have also been recorded shooting migrants with water cannons and throwing tear gas over the newly constructed fence into crowds of refugees.[4]

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from prosecution.”[5] International law seems to clearly condemn Hungary’s actions, and similar actions taken by other countries. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR") Executive Committee agreed to a set of internationally recognized basic standards of treatment in refugee emergencies. Among these standards are ensuring that borders remain open, adherence to standards of treatment consistent with universal human rights, and non-discrimination based on religion or race.[6] Needless to say, several European countries

Katherine McGuigan, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
On September 18, 2015, the world discovered that Volkswagen had been cheating on its emission tests for its diesel-fueled cars.[1] Volkswagen admitted that over 11 million cars worldwide might contain “defeat devices” which can “make cars appear cleaner than they are during regulatory tests and disable emissions controls during normal driving conditions.”[2] Since that disclosure, VW has lost more than $34 billion of its company value.[3] Many countries have halted the sale of its cars.[4] Volkswagen now faces a tidal wave of lawsuits from disgruntled car owners[5] and could be fined up to $18 billion by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.[6]

Volkswagen’s reach is global in the broadest sense of the word. Not only does it ship its cars all over the world, but Volkswagen AG owns subsidiaries in various countries including: Germany, which houses Volkswagen, MAN, Audi and Porsche, Skoda in the Czech Republic, SEAT in Spain, Bentley in the U.K., Bugatti in France, Lamborghini and Ducati in Italy, and Scania in Sweden.[7] Given its global reach, one of the most complicated features of the impending deluge of cases is going to be dealing with international e-discovery, particularly in cases between the United States and

Christopher Balch, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
Along the shores of the Danube and wedged between Croatia and Serbia there exists a small tract of territory unclaimed by either nation.[1]  Enter Vit Jedlicka and his proclamation of the nation of Liberland complete with a constitution, a flag, and a motto, which is appropriately “to live and let live.”[2]

This bizarre episode begins with a 20th century engineering project to straighten the winding Danube in order to accommodate large boat transit through the river.[3]  Such straightening, however, has caused confusion as to the appropriate border between Croatia and Serbia as the Danube has been the customarily recognized boundary between the two nations since the 19th century when the area was under Austro-Hungarian control.[4]

Serbia is happy to recognize the straightened Danube as the new boundary as it receives an increase in overall territory.[5]  Croatia feels that is has gotten the short end of the bargain and refuses to claim the area now claimed by Liberland because this would validate Serbia’s claim to the territory on the other side of the river.[6]

To date, no State has yet recognized Liberland’s existence, but this may not be of consequence.[7]  According to Article 3 of the Montevideo Convention, the

Erin Collins, Vol. 37 Associate Editor
Over the past few months we have seen the dramatic increase in Syrian crisis, culminating most recently with a Russian airstrike campaign in Syria. Under the United Nations charter Article 2(4) there is a general prohibition on the use of force. [1] There is a specific exception carved out for self defense in the UN Charter in Article 51 guaranteeing States the “right to individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occur” as well as a more controversial possible exception of humanitarian intervention.[2]

President Vladimir Putin argues that his action is specifically lawful under the argument of collective self-defense and states that because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad requested the action, Russia was not intervening but rather supporting Assad.[3] There is some historical support of government interventions that could be used to support Putin’s statements. For example, during the Cold War President Reagan justified U.S. military support in Nicaragua as an act of collective self defense requested by El Salvador.[4]

This is likely to be as unpersuasive as the U.S. claim. While Russia is not providing what it considers to be “direct military support” and argues that the “air campaign [will] not be open-ended” it is unclear