The Airstrikes on Syria: the Syrian Government’s perspective.

Disclaimer: this blogpost attempts to look at the Syrian conflict, more specifically, Airstrikes by several global powers including the US and the UK, from the point of view of the Syrian government. This blogpost will also attempt to represent the Syrian government in terms of legal arguments but also using the language it typically uses. However, this post is not meant to endorse either the actions of the Syrian government or their arguments. It only attempts to present a different view of the airstrikes that is not in the mainstream debate.

President Bashar El Assad has recently decried the airstrikes conducted by the United States and its allies against Syrian territory calling it ‘illegal’ and will end up exacerbating the situation by creating more radicalisation. It is an established fact that Syria, represented by its government, is recognised  by the United Nations and is a member of its General Assembly, has refrained from the use of force in dealing with other states during its civil unrest beginning in 2011. While the US and its allies have committed various violations of international law with varying degrees of severity.

Argument Against Self-defence

The concept of self-defence was expanded to include anticipatory self-defence as well as reprisals after 9/11. More justifications were made by powerful states in order to skirt international law and was supported by apologist scholars, such as the widening of the principles of attribution. Megret argues in his piece “‘War’? Legal Semantics and the Move to Violence” that after 9/11 there was a movement to exceptionalize conflict by using the word ‘war’ in order to justify violating international law and to move away from the strict letter of the law. He argues that states are the primary actors when it comes to armed conflict. Aggression, which warrants a response, can only come from states as opposed to non-state actors. This has been supported by the Nicaragua Case (paras. 246- 249) as well as the Advisory Opinion on the Separation Wall (paras. 138-141)

The US has done this in Afghanistan and now in Syria where it is committing an act of aggression against the Syrian people and desires to change the political system by doing so. In terms of self-defence, according to Megret, the response is meant to be both immediate and necessary and it is certainly not anticipatory. The attacks by ISIL though completely unfortunate and deplorable do not warrant an attack on Syrian territory, being as self-defence works only if  an attack is imminent and its response immediate and necessary. This is also supported by Article 51 of the UN Charter as well as the Caroline test. Syrians were the first ones to be affected by the terror of ISIL and yet they have attacked no one.

Furthermore, Megret argues that the US has expanded the definition of responsibility to justify its attack on Afghanistan by claiming that the Taliban was harbouring terrorists, which is not an action that prompts self-defense. According to the Nicaragua test, the International Law Commission Draft Articles on State Responsibility, even the wider Tadic Judgment, which all require some form of effective control with varying degrees of responsibility do not put the Syrian government under any kind of legal imputation.  ISIL is not in any way controlled by the Syrian Government. In fact, it is the Syrian government which is fighting ISIL with men on the ground. From another perspective, if any country wished to fight ISIL, it must be done with coordination and according to particular conditions with the Syrian government as is pointed out by General Assembly Resolution 3314 as well as several ICJ rulings, and not carrying out such terms would also constitute aggression.

Illegality of Supporting Rebels and Airstrikes

It is also an established fact that Syria has been fighting terrorism within its borders by those who wish to destroy the Syrian state, represented by the Un-Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant as well as several other terrorist organisations, some of which are supported by Western powers such as the US, France, and UK as well as some Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar. They have supplied the Supreme Military Council, a terrorist organization, with non-lethal weaponry, lethal weaponry as well as food and training. The very fact that Western powers support and fund such organisations is a violation of state sovereignty and political independence. Not only are the US and its allies supporting terrorist organisations, they have said time and time again that the government under Bashar El Assad cannot stand. This all comes in direct violation of Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter which states that ‘all Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state…’ 

Moreover, support to terrorists brings into question the Nicaragua test on effective control. The US and its allies may very well be exercising effective control over the Supreme Military Council and perhaps other groups of rebels. If indeed this is the case, this would  constitute an armed attack, which would warrant a proportionate action in self defence. However, the Nicaragua Case clearly that supporting rebels against the government is a clear violation of non-intervention. Even during a civil war, states are not allowed to intervene without the express consent of the government. This is confirmed in paragraphs 42-52 of DRC vs. Uganda, which establishes consent as a necessity for intervention in civil wars.  While no clear rule exists on supporting opposition in a civil war. Russia, an ally, has obtained the Syrian government’s permission to fight ISIL and was allowed to help in the Syrian struggle against terrorism. However, if a state or a group of states, whether supported by the Security Council or not, simply decides to enter Syrian territory without its consent, under all definitions it would be regarded as aggression. The Nicaragua case clearly faults the United States for its interference in Nicaragua when it used similar arguments.

The airstrikes conducted by the US and its Arab allies prior to the UNSC Resolution 2249 of November 2015 are not only a violation of the UN Charter and general international law but they also constitute aggression according to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3314. According to Article 3, ‘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’ is regarded as aggression, which is also described as a crime against peace.

bashar_al_assad
Wikipedia

It would be remiss not to mention Security Council Resolution 2249 of November 2015, allowing for such actions to take place. It is the view of the Syrian government that such a resolution is in fact illegal according to international law, for the Security Council is ultimately a political body seeking out the interests of its member states. Therefore, like every other political body, it must be bound by international law. The claim of aggression is not entirely invalidated by the Security Council Resolution, the Security Council must respond to other claims of violations of international law, which has taken on a much looser interpretation to fit the whims of the powerful. The Security Council is bound in its powers, as confirmed by the Chamber of Appeals in the ICTY as well as the International Court of Justice in 1995 and 1948 respectively. This power is at the very least bounded by the provisions of the UN Charter as well as its object and purpose. This can be seen as a possible way to challenge Security Council action based on a number of provisions in the Charter, including Article 2(4) and Article 2(1) on self-determination as the US and its allies have repeatedly supported rebels and stated that the downfall of the regime is necessary.

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5 thoughts on “The Airstrikes on Syria: the Syrian Government’s perspective.

  1. Mostafa Khaled Bahgat May 1, 2016 / 12:32 pm

    I found the piece to be very informative, but I do have comments.

    First, the piece is written on the strongholds of the UN Charter & the ICJ supervisory opinions, and lacks on the Geneva convention & protocols. These might have proven useful to indicate which side is abiding by the law, in my opinion, as the UN Charter & ICJ opinions are usually interpretive.

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  2. Tiba Fatli May 19, 2016 / 2:45 pm

    Few things I find problematic with this legal position:
    First, you state that “Syrians were the first ones to be affected by the terror of ISIL and yet they have attacked no one.” Who are you referring to when you say “Syrians?” because Military Syrian personal has repeatedly attacked civilian personal and civilian objects, who have not attacked initiated the attacks. That said, the Syrian government did not act in self-defense under Article 51 of the UN charter. If attacks were directed against ISIL, then yes. However, in many instances they were not. Attacks on August 21, of 2013 (the Gheouta Chemical attack) were not an act in self-defense. External intervention in the form of airstrikes can thus be justified to protect ‘international peace and security’ as the Syrian government is directly threatening ‘international peace and security.’

    Second, you cite Article 2(4) to establish that international intervention is a direct violation of Syria’s state sovereignty. First, the current Syrian government does not have legitimate authority over its territory. People have the right of self-determination and they have opposed Al-Saad government. No party, except the government’s, is giving it legitimate representation. Also, the government does not have control over the territory of the country, only few parts. The article clearly states that states that have ‘political independence’ Al-Baath party does not have political independence.

    Third, you mentioned UNGA resolution 3314, Article 3 to show crime against peace. How does the Syrian government, then, explain its position infront the court regarding aliening with the government of Russia and supporting its airstrikes in the country.

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  3. youssallam May 22, 2016 / 9:21 pm

    First, when I refer to Syrians, I refer to the Syrian people who were the first to be affected by the terror of ISIS. Second of all, the Syrian government would reject allegations of its use of chemical weapons, it did not seem that the west was completely convinced either, since the US administration has declared a ‘red line’ on the issue of chemical weapons yet it did not intervene at the time, which if we take the US administration at its word, then the allegations must not have been true. They only intervened when they began to fear ISIS, not the Syrian government.

    Second, the Syrian government would claim that it is the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Second of all, nobody has ever called the Palestinian Authority not representative of the Palestinians even the PA has no control over its territories.

    Third of all, the Russians started their airstrikes at the request of the Syrian government in its fight against terrorism, which is roughly the same as the US enlisting the help of the UK to fight terrorism.

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  4. mariamelmaghlawy May 22, 2016 / 11:34 pm

    Great article Youssef.

    Since you clearly established that the Syrian government (Bashar’s government) regards the US intervention as violating article 2.4 and thus considers its intervention as a”use of force” against the territorial integrity or political independence of Syria.

    I would like to go beyond the argument and ask you in your opinion can the Syrian government argue that what the US did falls under the scope of article 51. As a result, the US intervention is considered as an “armed attack” and thus the Syrian government has the right to self-defense. Bearing in mind of course that the there is a clear implication is that while every use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another state is prohibited, not every such use of force could amount to an armed attack.

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