In an NBC interview Tuesday, Antony Blinken, deputy national security adviser, said the Syria strikes were justified under “a doctrine of collective self-defense,” because Iraq had asked “the United States and other countries to act against ISIL because ISIL in Syria threatens them.” ISIL is another acronym for the Islamic State. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, offered the same justification in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Two legal scholars, Jack Goldsmith of Harvard Law School and Ryan Goodman of the New York University School of Law, said the United States appeared to be on solid ground by invoking the argument of collective self-defense of Iraq, but that the notion that Syria’s sovereignty could legally be violated because it was “unable or unwilling” to suppress the threat would be more controversial. While the United States has long invoked that argument in various contexts, many international law scholars disagree with it, they said.
The United States is also asserting a right to defend its own personnel in Iraq from the Islamic State. American officials said this right, which was not asserted in the letter to Mr. Ban, should be understood as supplementary authority to helping Iraq defend itself directly.
The Obama administration is justifying its Syrian air strikes as acts of collective self-defence. Its ally, Iraq, is under attack from Isis strongholds in Syria, so Iraq and its supporters have the right to strike those strongholds.
So they have made an appeal to the international community for collective defense. And we think we have a legal basis we need if the president decides...