Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


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The Drones are Coming, the Drones are Coming…

Matthew Matechik 

A man drives his beat up old Toyota truck down a dirt road meandering through sparse terrain. Unbeknownst to him, his every move is being watched. For a brief, almost imperceptibly, short moment he hears a loud noise. A flash! And just like that, the man is instantly dead. His body is disintegrated amidst the rubble that was his truck. A missile fired from an unseen unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or “drone”) has eliminated its target with ruthless efficiency. The strike is the successful culmination of countless hours spent finding the man, confirming his identity, confirming his affiliation, analyzing his movements, considering the legality of a strike, and finally identifying an opportunity that minimizes non-combatant casualties.

predator-firing-missile4

This scene or something like it has played out numerous times during America’s post 9/11 “War on Terror.” Drones target terrorist combatants in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen (where just last week an American drone strike reportedly killed senior al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Harith bin Ghazi al-Nadhari[i]).

The drone program has been effective. According to some unconfirmed reports, drone strikes have killed as many as 2,000 combatant terrorists in Pakistan alone and the frequency of strikes has increased dramatically since President Obama entered office.[ii]  The drone has become a proven weapon in the ongoing fight against global terrorism. The US government has asserted that the strikes are legal under international law because they are carried out in self-defense against persons who present a continuing imminent threat and are affiliated with al-Qaida and associated forces with which the US is at war. The US further asserts that the strikes are in accordance with the Geneva Convention because the drone’s advanced technology, most notably its precision, minimizes civilian casualties and collateral damage.[iii]

The UN has criticized the US position as being based on too broad a definition of “imminence,” which must exist in order for self-defense to be legally justified.[iv] The UN critique exposes a potential problem the US has created by setting this precedent. Other nations, perhaps as many as 87 of them, are quickly building or already have their own drone fleets.[v] What will happen when these nations’ drone technology catches up to that of the US? What if those nations are hostile toward the US or its allies? Will they rely on the US understanding of self-defense to likewise justify anonymous killings of persons located outside their territory?

chinese-drones

Consider the Chinese, whose drone capabilities are rapidly catching up to those of the United States.[vi] China could easily apply the American legal argument to justify killing someone they claimed to be a Uighur separatist located in Kazakhstan, for example. What about an ethnic Uighur who happens to be a United States citizen? Could China use the American self-defense argument to justify killing this American? It would appear so as long as China deemed the American to be associated with a fighting force that China is engaged in armed conflict with. Take the logic a few steps further and it quickly becomes clear that any country could feasibly kill persons located abroad using drones by stretching the self-defense argument to suit the needs of the day.

The hypotheticals above are not far fetched. The drones are coming. The drones are coming and currently there is no formalized body of international law to regulate them beyond the general laws of war. We have the American precedent to go on but not much else.

russian-drones-omg

An international treaty governing the use of combat drones could alleviate concerns of widespread death from above. The drones do not represent the first time that technology has evolved faster than international law. At one time for example, the US was the only nation with nuclear weapons. As other nations gained the same technology, the nuclear-armed nations were able to form international treaties to regulate their use. Even enemies came to the table in the interest of humanity. So far the regulations have, thankfully, worked, at least in the sense that humans have not wiped themselves off the Earth yet. Perhaps a similar spirit of cooperation can inspire international regulation of drone warfare, although success could be difficult to come by given the high number of nations with drones.

The drones are coming. When they do, where will the battlefield be? Who will be targeted in self-defense? Can international law find a way to regulate the situation before it gets out of control? Time will tell. In the meantime, keep your eye on the sky. The drones are coming.

Matthew Matechik is an Evening J.D. student at the University of Baltimore School of Law (Class of 2016). He currently works full-time for the U.S. Federal Government as a Counterterrorism Analyst. He has a Bachelors of Arts (Magna Cum Laude, 2008) from Florida State University. All views in this blog post are Matthew’s own views and do not represent that of the U.S. Government. 

[i] http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/05/world/yemen-violence/index.html

[ii] This number is an estimate. Casualty estimates vary wildly. Official reports are not available. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/drone-strikes-killing-more-civilians-than-us-admits-human-rights-groups-say/2013/10/21/a99cbe78-3a81-11e3-b7ba-503fb5822c3e_story.html

[iii] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125206000; http://jurist.org/forum/2013/10/jordan-paust-drones-justification.php

[iv] http://www.globalresearch.ca/drone-warfare-findings-of-u-n-reports-on-extrajudicial-and-arbitrary-executions/5355601

[v] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/nov/10/skys-the-limit-for-wide-wild-world-of-drones/?page=all

[vi] http://rt.com/news/china-stealth-drone-flight-127/

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Eliminating the IS Threat – Why a U.S. Led Coalition Was the Only Way It Would Work

Lindsay Stallings

The Islamic State (IS), also known by the acronyms ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), has been growing in their power and their influence around the Arab world. However, while they are creating a daily panic in Syria and Iraq, they are causing great concern for the rest of the world.  IS is largely autonomous. They have stolen, robbed, or bartered for their money, weapons, and even slaves. The international concern for IS’ activities stems not only from their humanitarian violations against those in Syria and Iraq; but more, the fear that comes from their sheer power. It is for this reason that President Obama, who had once had been so adverse to relying on the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, felt it necessary to rely on these very legal instruments to bolster his arguments for air strikes against IS. In doing so, he has made his smartest and most mature foreign policy decision of his Presidency – taking charge and leading a coalition of states in eliminating the IS threat.

In the middle of August of 2014, IS released their first viral video – the beheading of American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded for the sins of the Americans. They have beheaded innocent people, have raped and pillaged villagers, and have terrorized countless populations; and there seems to not be an end in sight. [1] President Obama has admitted that US intelligence on the strength of IS was lacking.[2] Over the past few years of Syrian unrest, IS has been able to use widespread lawlessness to recruit and develop their jihad. The United States, along with five Arab nations and France,[3] began air strikes against IS two weeks ago. From outside reports it seems that strikes are currently being aimed at infrastructure and oil strongholds.[4] Thus far, there is a general avoidance of targeting individuals and more of a focus on materials. This makes it clear that the US and their allies recognize the importance of IS’ resources. It is obviously important to not underestimate the strength of IS’ message, both in the Arab world and globally, but their resources will run out long before their passion for the advancement of the Islamic State and, in reality, the loss of resources will hurt them first.  However, to compound the obvious hole in U.S. intelligence, an IS combatant has publicly stated that IS was prepared for the U.S. airstrikes, claiming they have been ineffective against IS.[5] _77944799_iraq_syria_air_strikes_624_01_10_14_v2 The US made the first move on the airstrikes and did so without the full support of the international community. Should the world and, potentially more importantly, US citizens take notice of this deviation in President Obama’s approach to unrest in the Middle East? In a time when the US is fighting an image battle in the Middle East, this was a bold move, and one that seems to have been made less for political reasons than it was for moral ones. It is worth a great deal of commendation that our administration is willing to take this step. Mind, we are not doing this alone, there are multiple Arab countries fighting for their own borders, along with French, British, Belgium, and Danish support, a total of fifty countries have signed on to support the airstrikes.[6] This support comes in the form of ground support, air support, and of course, political support. But, this all began before President Obama went to the United Nations. Before he was forced to explain why the US thought they could, should, and had the right to get involved. The event to be considered here is why the President of the United States decided to commence air strikes and then, at least two weeks later, plead with the international community for their support and encourage action to be taken against ISIS. During the course of his presidency, President Obama has rarely taken international action without wandering around the world, garnering as much support, either implicit or explicit, as he could. But here, he essentially said, “World, we know what we are going to do to deal with this -what are you going to do?” UN-SECURITY COUNCIL-OBAMA This shows a certain level of foreign relations maturity on the part of POTUS. He and his advisors made a decision that we could not stand by and let ISIS terrorize Iraq, Syria, Christians, Jews, the Yazidi (a Kurdish ethno-religious community who practice Yazidism in Iraq), and threaten to lash out at America, without doing something. The President ran his first campaign on the auspices that the “War On Terror” must end. He ended the war in Iraq, he started to pull out of Afghanistan – and is continuing that effort for all intents and purposes – but the Middle East is still in constant, bubbling, turmoil. And, in the end, the US is the US. The world’s savoir, the moral-driven, freedom to all races and creeds-focused, rescuer of all, right!? But, is that our job? Is that the job of the American Armed Forces to step in and save all of those deemed unable to save themselves? I think that President Obama’s decision to direct airstrikes against IS is indeed his most mature foreign policy move to date. He did not wait for the rest of the world powers to support him, he did not ask permission from anyone aside from Congress[7], and did what was right for the United States and the areas in the Arab world we have taken responsibility for over the last ten years. It would have been sadistic on the part of the U.S. to just sit back and watch as Iraq, a country we essentially decimated over the past decade, to struggle to fight this new radical bastardization of Islam that currently terrorizes them. The US took on this responsibility in 2001. We tried to establish communities and governments that would help the weakened and tired populations of the Arab world. We tried to empower them and build democracy. It has not worked yet and we are, clearly, not done. So, when a new group rises up, a group more terrifying than Al-Qaeda has ever been, we cannot step away. The President put on his ‘I am a world leader’ pants and he worked with those who were suffering the most. He created a coalition of the willing and took responsibility for the role the United States played in allowing this to happen. French When President Obama spoke to the United Nations he did not tell the world that we were doing the right thing for everyone. He made it clear that this was important to the US, and why. He did not tell the United Nations that the US was better than the rest of them for taking action; he actually made clear that the US has struggles too.[8] There are school shootings, race riots, militarizing police forces, renegade shooters targeting law enforcement officers, individuals setting wild fires – the list of domestic struggles the US is facing is not less than that of any other country. And finally, President Obama recognized that by not pretending we were better than every other country, those countries were more willing to listen to our silent pleas for help. The President was begging for other countries to step in, to step up and recognize that the threat from IS is not just against those in the Arab world or just against the US, it is a threat to the general level of safety most citizens of the world feel as they go about their daily lives. The French joined in the airstrike offensive on September 19 with the US and Arab partners.[9] Thus far, France has only acted in Iraq, wary to move into Syria and encourage any more disturbances. However, as of Friday, September 25, they have said they are considering moving into Syria on the tail of a French tourist’s beheading by an Algerian terror organization.[10] Yesterday, the UK carried out its first air strikes in Iraq[11]  after voting last Friday to authorize action in Iraq.[12] No mention was made of the UK going into Syria, which shows that they too are wary of moving into an area where they are not invited. UK Parliament Each country currently involved or considering involvement in this offensive is doing so for country-specific reasons, not based on the perceived duty owed to the international community as a whole. A sense of general duty did not work as well as they hoped ten years ago in Iraq, but maybe this time there will be more successful. Personal involvement, a sense of devotion the protection of oneself, will hopefully deal with this matter with less bureaucracy and more effectiveness. Only when there is an understanding that this is not only a worldwide threat but also a worldwide responsibility can we finally defeat IS.

Lindsay Stallings is third year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, planning to graduate in May 2015 with a J.D. and concentration in International Law. She graduated from The Ohio State University in June of 2011 with a Bachelors of Science in Political Science with minors in Sociology and International Studies. She has also studied  Spanish and Arabic language and culture extensively. While at The Ohio State University, she was a member of the International Affairs Scholars program, through which she studied abroad in Bulgaria. She was active in the Undergraduate Student Government and was a member of various academic and student life university-level committees.  Her primary interests are international law, national security, and U.S. Military and diplomatic policies. Through her coursework and relationships with our international law faculty she has developed a more focused interest in the policies surrounding international conflict and the capabilities of international courts. Lindsay currently serves as the Careers Director on the International Law Society and is a Staff Editor on the Journal of International Law. Her legal coursework and extracurricular activities have given her the opportunity to mold her passion for cultural studies and problem solving into an exciting international legal career.

[1] Rod Mills, Family anguish over Glasgow schoolgirl turned jihadi (Sep. 4, 2014) http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/506765/Family-anguish-over-Glasgow-schoolgirl-turned-jihadi; Teenage jihad: 2 Austrian girls stopped en route to join ISIS, (last edited Sep. 10, 2014) http://rt.com/news/186536-austria-schoolgirls-join-isis/.

[2] Stephen Rex Brown, President Obama admits U.S. ‘underestimated ISIS’ strength – but knocks other superpowers for failure to act (Sep. 28, 2014) http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/obama-admits-u-s-underestimated-strength-rise-isis-article-1.1955804.

[3] France Says Carried Out Air Strikes In Iraq September 25 (Sep. 25, 2014) http://www.rferl.org/content/iraq-france/26605701.html.

[4] Scott Neuman, Airstrikes Move to Syria, Target More Than Just ISIS (Sep. 23, 2014) http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/09/23/350820165/airstrikes-move-to-syria-target-more-than-just-isis; New airstrikes, new tactic to beat ISIS (Sep. 25, 2014) http://www.cbsnews.com/news/u-s-arab-allies-airstrikes-target-isis-oil-refineries/.

[5] Arwa Damon and Holly Yan, ISIS fighter says U.S. airstikes aren’t effective (Sep. 29, 2014) http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/29/world/meast/isis-fighter-and-defector-interviews/index.html?hpt=hp_t1.

[6] Stephen Castle and Steven Erlanger, Nations Offer Limited Support to Attack on ISIS (Sep. 26, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/27/world/europe/british-parliament-vote-isis-airstrikes.html?_r=2; Michael Pearson, Greg Botelho, and Ben Brumfield, Anti-ISIS coalition grows, but that doesn’t mean victory is near (Sep. 27, 2014) http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/26/world/meast/isis-syria-iraq/index.html.

[7] Lisa Mascaro, Congress mostly approves of airstrikes in Syria so far (Sep. 23, 2014) http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-congress-syria-airstrikes-20140923-story.html (explaining that Congress approved of support of training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels).

[8] Stewart M. Patrick, President Obama’s UN Speech: Defending World Order (Sep. 24, 2014) http://blogs.cfr.org/patrick/2014/09/24/president-obamas-un-speech-defending-world-order/.

[9] France Carried Out Airstrikes, supra note 2.

[10] Id.; France Considers Airstrikes Against ISIS in Syria After Beheading (Sep. 25, 2014)  http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/france-considers-airstrikes-against-isis-syria-after-beheading-n211221.

[11] Jenny Gross, U.K. Carries Out First Airstrikes in Iraq (Sept. 30, 2014) http://online.wsj.com/articles/u-k-ministry-of-defense-raf-carried-out-its-first-airstrikes-in-iraq-1412097556

[12] Nicholas Winning and Jenny Gross, British Parliament Approves Airstrikes in Iraq Against Islamic State (Sept. 26, 2014) http://online.wsj.com/articles/david-cameron-calls-for-u-k-parliament-to-vote-for-iraq-airstrikes-on-islamic-state-1411725035


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Syria and US (In)Action – The Time is Now

The Time is Now – Why the US should consider a swift humanitarian intervention in Syria with limited use of force and no “boots on the ground”

Rafiq Gharbi

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Image Source: The Malta Independent

As an American law student the crisis in Syria presents itself as a familiar hypothetical posed by your beloved international law professor: the Syrian government is killing its own citizens – is this a violation of international law? Millions of refugees flee their homes as Assad’s regime bombards cities and towns – is this enough to warrant humanitarian intervention? Saying yes or no to these questions and providing an explanation citing the UN Charter will earn you a check in class participation or a symbolic gold star for the day. Unfortunately, the crisis in Syria cannot be so easily shelved away once class is over. Nearly 3 years have passed as millions are forced from their native country and a civil war destabilizes an already volatile region. So what do we do? As the UN and its Member States use international law and diplomacy to achieve peace, there are others simultaneously undermining their efforts.

The United States faces several issues in dealing with Syria. Force will result in fraying (if not severing) the fragile ties between Russia and Iran, while continued inaction effectively condones Assad’s aggression towards the people of Syria.

Inaction simply cannot be the course taken by President Obama for the United States to uphold its position and reputation as the world’s police power. It may very well be possible that the United States does not wish to continue, or even acknowledge, this role that it plays. But, the fact remains that the world’s strongest nation has traditionally intervened in foreign conflicts and more or less brought them to an end, albeit whatever end is politically expedient FOR the United States. There is no sensible end in sight for Syria. No game plan or long-term rehabilitation as there might have been for Iraq and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, any end is better than the continued destruction of Syria and its people.

Diplomacy has failed and America cannot continue to lean on this crutch to bide time. The United States needs to intervene militarily in Syria to bring stability. Critics of using force in Syria point to diplomatic issues arising between those who support Assad’s regime and the United States. Would it be so awful to strain ties with Russia and Syria in the name of humanitarian intervention? Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine is further testament to its own disregard of international law. The Security Council remains flawed in its framework, especially as a Permanent Member refuses to abide by the international law and the UN Charter (i.e. Russia). As for Iran, its nuclear programs will continue with or without Assad in power.

Syria Blood

Image Source: Al Jazeera

For those who fear a more widespread destabilization of an already unstable Middle East, the force used must be limited and concise. We can all agree that another ground war is not something that is preferable or practical for the United States. Iraq and Afghanistan have left their mark and Syria would be the next long and costly war if ground forces were deployed. Calculated attacks to depose Assad and his regime would be the most effective means of ending the situation. Without aiding the, also dangerous, rebels and without sacrificing troops, drones could effectively cease the widespread and systemic destruction brought by the Syrian government. Now, could this destabilize the region? Sure. Could tensions rise? Yes, but with Assad gone, the majority of the fighting would stop there.

The aftermath would leave Syria with rebels that want to preserve their country and the same people that lived their prior to the intervention. A swift operation during a limited timeframe would be the sort of action that can be applauded, and if unsuccessful, will not be a critical blow to the country. America doesn’t have a duty to rebuild Syria, but it does have a duty to protect human life in situations such as this.

For better or worse, America has lived up to its prophecy as a “city upon a hill.” The nation should own this role and do what is good for the betterment of the world.

 

Rafiq Gharbi is a second year law student (’15) at the University of Baltimore School of Law and a CICL Fellow. He graduated from Salisbury University in May 2012. While at Salisbury, he majored in Political Science with a minor in Philosophy and was active in the Muslim Student Association. Rafiq is also an avid soccer player and hopes to play for the Tunisian national team in the future.