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date: 30 November 2020

(p. v) Preface and Acknowledgement

(p. v) Preface and Acknowledgement

It is every child’s dream: to enter a sweetshop and be allowed the freedom to pick the best and most tasty treats on offer. Putting together this Handbook has been a somewhat similar experience. Over the years, many issues of the law on the use of force were neglected throughout. Others have remained contested, leaving the status of the law on key issues unresolved. And, of course, since the end of the Cold War, the old certainties underpinning this field of study have been shaken to the core. This book offered the opportunity to address these issues, and to address them through a cast of the most highly qualified and sought-after contributors. Indeed, in most cases, our first choice of author responded favourably to the invitation to contribute on the topic proposed to them. I am most grateful for their cheerful collaboration over a period that turned out to be somewhat longer than expected.

The list of actual or imagined recent challenges to the established law on the use of force is long. First, there is the changing role of non-state entities as agents of conflict, including the ability of terrorist movements to mount armed attacks on a scale previously reserved for regular armed forces maintained by states. Then, there is the availability of new weapons technologies and their effects on warfare, exemplified by the debate about targeted killings, drones and autonomous weapons systems. The concept of ‘cyber war’ has gained some currency in the debate. The increased availability of weapons of mass destruction to a broader range of states, and even to non-state actors, was a prominent factor in the controversies surrounding the use of force against Iraq in 2003.

There were also claims that ‘rogue states’ and others have placed themselves outside of the legal framework on the use of force, or that a ‘global war on terror’ might be waged without specific reference to the well-established criteria relating to self-defence in each individual instance of the use of force. Moreover, significant pressure for forcible humanitarian action emerged in relation to circumstances of overwhelming humanitarian emergency, in part driven by the shock caused by the international failings in responding to the horrors of the situations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Rwanda.

These developments had an impact on the discussion of legal doctrines relating to the use of force. The idea of negative exceptionalism concerning so-called rogue states was matched by a concept of positive exceptionalism. This would hold that certain states have to shoulder a disproportionate load of military operations to (p. vi) maintain international peace and security. Hence their actions should be considered according to differing standards, chiefly informed by the supposedly beneficial aims of such operations for the international community as a whole, rather than judged according to the established legal criteria. Both types of exceptionalist explanations, negative and positive, threaten the universality of the very rules of the international system that have hitherto been regarded as indispensably universal.

The debate about forcible humanitarian action added a further conceptual challenge. The majority of commentators found, in the wake of the Kosovo operation of 1999, that forcible humanitarian action may not be strictly legal, but it is nevertheless legitimate. At least at first sight, this approach appeared to strain the view that one of the key conditions for political legitimacy must be compliance with law, or in this instance, with the legal rules on the use of force.

In addition, the content of some well-established rules on the use of force was challenged. This included, for instance, the criteria for self-defence. Over the decades since the advent of Article 51 of the UN Charter, a consensus had stabilized in practice and scholarly evaluation concerning the doctrine of anticipatory self-defence. This consensus was threatened by the argument that new threats require new measures and associated legal doctrines to counter them. In the ensuing debate the old controversy about preventative or pre-emptive uses of force was reopened. The debate carried over from the political/strategic level onto the tactical plane. The conditions for the use of self-defence shifted in the tactical rule of operation of some countries in certain instances of conflict from the protection of soldiers, airplanes or other assets from immediate, deadly threats to more abstract challenges that might manifest a latent threat.

Another aspect that appeared reminiscent of pre-UN Charter practice concerned, more generally, the apparently resurgence of the use of force as a means of national, or perhaps at least, international policy. 19th century concepts such as ultimata, threatening the use of force unless a state or other actor engages in certain conduct, resurfaced. In part, such ultimata were administered by the UN Security Council, for instance when it gave Iraq a certain number of days before the authorization to evict its forces from Kuwait would become operational. However, ultimata were also used in cases that were only loosely covered by a UN mandate, as was the case in relation to forcible operations concerning Bosnia and Herzegovina. In relation to Kosovo, a Contact Group composed of a small number of states, and NATO, threatened the use of force without formal cover from the Council.

There was also a return to arguments that force might be a means to enforce international obligations—an assertion of forcible self-help that had been thought to have been long overcome. The most famous case of this assertion was of course the US argument that it would be empowered to enforce militarily the obligations agreed to by Iraq when it accepted the cease-fire with coalition forces at the conclusion of the Kuwait conflict in 1991.

(p. vii) Other developments somewhat blurred important distinctions among legal categories determining what is and what is not lawful. Hence, it is clear that forcible reprisals or retaliation are no longer permitted in international law. Instead, unilateral forcible action requires the application of self-defence in relation to an actual or imminent armed attack. However, on several occasions force was used in response to past events, rather than current or imminent armed actions, sometimes with considerable delay. While justified as self-defence, the actions seemed more akin to forcible retaliation. An example is the 1993 US bombing of the Iraqi Intelligence Service headquarters that seemed like payback for an alleged plot to assassinate former US President George H.W. Bush.

Even where the right of self-defence could be applied, important additional issues arose. For instance, what is a proportionate response to an outrage like the attack on the World Trade Centre on 9/11? How far, and for how long, does the right of self-defence extend? How do we judge when a future attack mounted by a non-territorial terrorist group, operating underground, is imminent, and how can such a claim be internationally validated? And to what extent can self-defence be applied in relation to terrorist groups based in foreign states? Does that state have to be implicated in terrorist attacks at the very high level of attribution established by the International Court of Justice in the Nicaragua case before force can be used against terrorist actors based on its territory?

According to that test, self-defence could only be invoked against a state that is exercising overall control over an armed movement. In other words, the group must be virtually an agent of that state. Or does a state expose itself to the use of force by another by merely failing to remove such a group from its territory, or supressing its activities. Or is there after all a kind of middle ground test, taking account the level of support granted to such a group falling short of the exercise of overall control?

To some, these kinds of questions seemed too difficult to answer within the known and accepted legal standards. A whole series of new exceptional doctrines were proposed, which, if accepted, would have significantly weakened the prohibition of the use of force. However, both in practice and in scholarship, cooler heads prevailed. At the 2005 United Nations World Summit, the organized international community committed itself to the existing legal framework on the use of force established in the UN Charter. It determined that this framework does provide the necessary flexibility to accommodate new challenges, while retaining the strong presumption against the use of force in international relations.

The challenge therefore is how the existing legal rules can be construed to reflect this balance in relation to specific situations. This book hopes to offer a range of perspectives addressing most of the well known, but unresolved areas of controversy in this area of international law, alongside those that have emerged in more recent practice.

As the dimensions of this work indicate, this has been a significant effort which has taken several years from inception to completion. In view of the high quality of (p. viii) contributors, and their various other commitments, it is not surprising that there was a considerable gap between the first submissions of chapters, and the very last ones.

Some authors who submitted according to the original deadline have taken the opportunity to update their chapters in the final editorial round, which brought us up to September 2014. Others were unable to do so, leaving their contributions current as to the point of initial submission and the first round of editing, as may be evident from the footnotes.

I am most grateful to the two Assistant Editors who have borne a large element of the work involved with great efficiency and engagement. Ms Alexia Solomou supported the initial editorial rounds. She was replaced by Mr Jake Rylatt, who helped to steer the project through its final rounds of editing and proofing. Ms Rumiana Yotova contributed as well, most ably bridging the period between the tenure of the two. At the Lauterpacht Centre, the project also benefitted from the wonderful support provided, as ever, by Ms Anita Rutherford and Ms Karen Fachechi.

We are also very grateful for the steady support for this venture on the part of Oxford University Press. This includes in particular Mr John Louth, Ms Merel Alstein and Mr Anthony Hinton, who commissioned the work and kept faith with it, Ms Emma Endean who offered additional support, the production editor, Ms Catherine Cragg, and Ms Kumudhavalli Narasimhan and Ms Deepikaa Mercileen.

Marc Weller

Cambridge, November 2014