What About International Law and Invasions Requiring UN Security Council Approval?
by Dave Lindorff - This Can't Be Happening
June 19, 2019
There’s a lot of breathless, exciting reporting about this prospect in the US media, with some news organizations talking enthusiastically about the idea, and with others opposing it, but their opinions on the matter are in either event, based only upon the question of whether or not Iran can be proven to have been behind the attack on the tankers, or on whether or not Trump can launch such a war without advance Congressional approval.
European countries’ leaders — with the exception of in Britain — are saying that there’s no solid evidence pointing to Iran. And many US news organizations appear to agree. So does Japan, whose flag one of the damaged ships flies and whose leader was in Iran meeting leaders there at the time of the alleged attacks (which seems rather unlikely as an Iranian strategy!).
But none of them — critics or opponents of a US attack on Iran — are raising a more significant question: Does the US have any legal or even moral right to launch a war against Iran if Iran does not pose an “imminent threat” to the US, to US interests or to US allies whom it has an obligation to defend.
UPDATE: Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois, has this to say about the legality of a US attack on Iran:
“Iran has not committed an “armed attack” upon the United States that would trigger the right of self-defense set forth in UN Charter Article 51. So under the current circumstances as they stand now, a U.S. military attack upon Iran would constitute Armed Aggression and a Nuremberg Crime against Peace as set forth even in US Army Field Manual 27-10 (1956), which is still valid and binding. Also the Trump administration has no authorization from the United States Congress to wage war against Iran and thus an attack upon Iran would violate the War Powers Clause of the United States Constitution and Congress’s own War Powers Resolution. For these reasons, such an attack would also constitute an Impeachable Offense under the U.S.Constitution. As a preventive measure, it would be my advice that a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives immediately introduce Bills of Impeachment against John Bolton and Mike Pompeo. I hereby offer my services free of charge to any Member of the U.S. House willing to do so.”
Iran has no navy that can threaten the US, it has no army that can reach the US, and it has no planes or missiles that can reach the US. It does threaten some countries that the US would not like to see attacked — oil-rich countries the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, for example, but it is unlikely to do so and isn’t threatening to do so, and in any event, the US is now obligated to defend any of those countries. It doesn’t even, as a net oil exporter, need any of those countries’ oil! Iran could conceivably launch missiles that might reach Israel, but as it has no nuclear weapons, and even with a crash program wouldn’t by any stretch of the imagination (or of the English language) have them “imminently,” such missiles, if they could even strike the target from that distance, would do little damage with conventional explosives, as Saddam Hussein proved with his Scud missiles launched at Israel.
And if that’s the case, the only way the US can legally attack Iran, even in retaliation for the alleged and unproven “attack” on two tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, would be following a United Nations Security Vote endorsing such an attack or invasion. And there has been no such resolution, nor would one be possible given Russia’s and China’s veto power.
Attacking Iran under the present circumstances, even it the US could prove that the two tankers in the Strait were damaged by Iranian mines or rockets, would be a war crime of the highest order, a so-called “Crime Against Peace” akin to Hitler’s attack on Poland or Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
Of course, if Iran were to attack an American ship in international waters, or to orchestrate a terror attack on US citizens or US soldiers, the picture would change, but that’s not happening, and is unlikely to.
The mere fact that Iran might “violate” the international agreement it signed with six other nations to limit the extent to which it is refining uranium to just a fuel-grade mix of U238 and U235 isotopes, and to limit its total stock of refined uranium at that level of permitted percentage of fissionable material, is no justification for the US launching a war or an attack. This is because, firstly, such overproduction of refined uranium would not mean Iran was “imminently” liable to obtain a nuclear weapon and, secondly, because the US already dropped out of the international agreement negotiated during the Obama administration that set those limits on what Iran could do. Iran is obviously no longer bound by that agreement since the US, a key party to it, has walked away.
No US news organization reporting on this serious global crisis is reporting on this reality. There is talk about whether Trump, before ordering a missile blitz on Iran’s nuclear refining operation, must first gain Congressional authorization, but that’s a purely domestic Constitutional question, not a question of international law.
In terms of international law, the matter is clear: The US has no right to attack Iran, and anyone who does so, from the soldiers, sailors and pilots who actually attack, to the officers who order them to or who push the buttons to launch the missiles or drop the bombs, to the politicians who tell them too will be war criminals.
Morally though, all of us who allow this to happen and don’t hold our politicians and our military to account, are also criminals in the same way that the “good Germans” and “good Japanese” and the “good Italians” who allowed their countries to launch wars of aggression in the early days of WWII were morally responsible for putting in power the criminals they enabled.
It needs to be said that America and its leaders have all been war criminals.
This true from Harry Truman (the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atom bombs) to Dwight Eisenhower (POW death camps in Europe, the saturation bombing of all of North Korea and approval of a US-backed invasion of Cuba), to John Kennedy (the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and other CIA sabotage of that nation), to Lyndon Johnson (invasion of Vietnam, carpet bombing of North Vietnam, “Pacification Program,” Phoenix mass murder and assassination program, invasion of Dominican Republic), to Richard Nixon (bombing of dikes, schools and hospitals in North Vietnam, launching of air war on Cambodia and Laos), to Jimmy Carter (secret war on Afghanistan, support, as commander of UN forces in South Korea, for the massacre of civilians in the Guangju Uprising), to Ronald Reagan (invasion of Grenada, arming and funding an army to invade Nicaragua from Honduras, nerve gas ingredients supplied to Iraq), to George H.W. Bush (the Gulf War, launched on fake pretenses with a claim, false, of an impending Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia, Invasion of Panama), to Bill Clinton (War on Serbia and Kosovo, War on Iraq in the form of a no-fly zone imposition and crippling sanctions on needed, items like chlorine for water purification), to George W Bush (War on Iraq and Afghanistan), and of course Barack Obama (Continued illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, drone wars against Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan and Yemen) have been war criminals. it’s also already true of Trump, for his continuation and expansion of the wars in Syria and Afghanistan, his attack on Yemen and his continuation of the drone wars on other countries.
Most earlier US presidents have been war criminals too. In fact, as the late Alex Cockburn once told me when we were discussing Obama’s war crimes, “Dave, all US president have been war criminals, with the possible exception of Warren Harding, who died early in his term and who was too busy while he was president lining his pockets to commit any.”
That doesn’t mean we should not take responsibility for the crimes of our elected leaders. And it certainly means we should be acting now to prevent a major war crime by this already war criminal president (war in Syria, including Tomahawk missile strikes). We must not allow Trump and his war criminal advisors John Bolton and Mike Pompeo to launch a criminal war against Iran.
The first step is to let the American people know that attacking Iran is not America’s god-given right. It continues America’s decades-long practice of being, by far, the world’s leading “rogue” nation, responsible for the deaths of more than 20 million people since the end of World War II — nearly half a million just since 9-11-2001 according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project.
This is all information that the American people largely remain ignorant about because of the cheerleader nature of our mainstream media.
Please take the time to alert everyone you know of the reality by forwarding a link to this article, and urge them to forward it too, and to post it on the Facebook page and tweet it far and wide.