The United Nations Charter provides that countries are prohibited from the use of force except when done in self-defense or when authorized by the United Nations Security Council. Although the United States’ airstrikes against Syria in 2017 and 2018 did not fit into either of those two exceptions, the airstrikes were legal under international law due to an exception for humanitarian intervention. The question of whether customary international law recognizes such an exception is far from settled. Most scholars of international law believe that humanitarian intervention is not a part of customary international law, while a minority hold the opposite view. This Article sides with the latter. It argues that an exception for humanitarian intervention exists as part of customary international law because such interventions are a widespread practice among states and are accepted as law by a sufficient number of states. Additionally, the adoption of such an exception would lead to a more just world because it would allow states to intervene to stop or mitigate humanitarian crises. There are, naturally, risks associated with the adoption of a humanitarian exception, such as states abusing the exception to pursue less than altruistic goals. That risk, however, can be mitigated by adherence to guidelines that humanitarian interventions would have to meet in order to be legal. Applying the set of guidelines from the Responsibility to Protect, U.S. airstrikes against Syria in 2017 and 2018 would be a legal humanitarian intervention.
A Humanitarian Exception: The International Legal Justification for U.S. Military Action Against the Syrian Regime,
61 Santa Clara L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.scu.edu/lawreview/vol61/iss3/3