Force and Legitimacy in the Post 9/11 Era: What Principles Should Guide the United States?
The following is an excerpt from a paper prepared for "Power and Superpower: Global Leadership for the 21st Century," a conference sponsored by the Security and Peace Initiative, a joint initiative of the Center for American Progress and The Century Foundation.
PART ONE—The world has changed; should the traditional rules constraining when to use force change with it?
I. The traditional doctrine limiting the use of the force in international relations
The debate over when and under what circumstances the United States should use force has taken on a new intensity with the end of the Cold War, and in particular, following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Throughout our history, American leaders have ritually repeated as declaratory policy that the United States should not and would not use force except in response to an armed attack or the threat of imminent attack against the United States or its citizens, although our actual experience is more complex. As the United States became part of formal alliances and took on collective security responsibilities after World War II, this criterion was expanded to include attacks on others to whom the United States had treaty obligations [Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty that established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), bilateral security agreements with Japan, Korea, Thailand, etc.] or as part of signatories’ responsibilities under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
The formal rule is enshrined in the UN Charter itself, which prohibits the use of force in international relations [Article 2(4)], with two exceptions: it is permitted either pursuant to a decision by the UN Security Council acting under Chapter VII in response to threats to international peace and security or, under Article 51, for self-defense.
The rationale for these limitations is deeply rooted in a conviction that arose out of the experience of two world wars: that aggression poses the principal threat to peace and security. As a result, international law has sought to de-legitimize the use of force by an individual state acting on its own, except to defend against aggression. Implicit in this view is a belief that internal arrangements within a state, however repugnant, posed little threat to the security or well-being of others, so long as that state did not forcibly venture beyond its borders. Legitimacy was defined primarily in this status quo-preserving sense—it was legitimate to resist the encroachment of others, but not to encroach on others, irrespective of the reason for encroachment.
Copyright 2006 The Century Foundation, Inc.
Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
7 July 2006
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