As the rules prohibiting the use of force are crumbling, we risk returning to a world where might is right and war is legal
Last Thursday at 2.42am, four Israeli jets fired a volley of missiles at a Syrian government facility, destroying buildings believed to be associated with the production of chemical weapons, killing two Syrians on the ground in the process. A statement from Syria issued hours later warned of “dangerous repercussions of such hostile acts on the security and stability of the region”.
This is not the first time Israel has used force to destroy facilities capable of producing unconventional weapons. In 1981, it launched an attack on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, claiming the reactor had “less than a month go to” before “it might have become critical”. The United Nations security council quickly condemned the attack as a “clear violation of the charter of the United Nations and the norms of international conduct”. Other representatives of powerful nations – including Margaret Thatcher – joined in the condemnation. They pointed out that the UN charter prohibits the use of force by one state against another, with only two explicit exceptions: when the security council has approved the use of force (it hadn’t) or when state has a legitimate claim to self-defence (the consensus was that Israel didn’t).