The Era of Retaliation

BERLIN (Own report) – Germany’s defense minister reaffirmed that Berlin is basically ready to participate in military aggressions, such as the recent western attack on Syria. “We could also fulfill the contribution from the air that Great Britain had made in this case,” said Ursula von der Leyen, but “we weren’t asked this time.” She made this declaration in full knowledge of the fact that the Reference and Research Service of the German Bundestag – like numerous other legal experts – had classified that attack a clear violation of international law. According to the expert assessment of the parliamentary jurists, it was a “retaliation” patterned after military interventions preceding the First World War. Legality was not the justification for those attacks, but rather a subjective political moral legitimation. Claiming “legitimacy,” other countries may also decide to engage in military aggressions, warn experts. Admitting such a change of paradigm would cause “more, rather than less human suffering.”

In Principle Prohibited

Last Friday, an expert assessment examining whether the April 14 air strikes carried out by the United States, UK and France against Syria, had violated international law became known. The assessment had been made by the Reference and Research Service of the German Bundestag. The authors concluded that judicially, the attacks were a “retaliation” – a “retaliatory” military response to activities of another state – in this case, Syria’s use, or alleged use, of poison gas. Retaliatory measures are “prohibited in principle,” the document notes,[1] This also applies “if a government had violated a major principle of international law.” Instead of retaliation, international law, as it has developed since the Second World War, provides clear “legal mechanisms” to sanction the violation of norms whether “within the framework of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) or by International Criminal Law.” This also applies to the German government’s objection that the UN Security Council cannot act, in regards to Syria, because Russia is rejecting the motions being advanced by the western powers. The fact that the aggressors had not even waited for the investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) at the scene of the alleged or actual use of poison gas before bombing, is “all the more” important for the assessment of the legality of the attack.

Humanitarian Veil

Carte Blanche for Aggression

An ultimate relapse into the era of retaliation would be fateful, also because, in the absence of universally recognized rights, any country could claim the political moral “legitimacy” for itself, to pursue its own interests. This was recently pointed out by the jurist Andreas Kulick at the Eberhard Karls University in Tubingen. The price for claiming this “legitimacy,” is that in the future other countries can lay claim to this “legitimacy” to pursue their objectives, Kulick warns. Recently, Russia has used this approach.[5] In fact, Crimea’s integration into Russia can be seen as modeled after the West’s secession of Kosovo, albeit, unlike NATO, Moscow did not wage an illegal bombing campaign, causing innumerable casualties. It must be assumed that if the principle of legality is permanently replaced by a nebulous political moral “legitimacy,” sooner or later “every state will feel justified” in going to war against an adversary, as long as it can loudly accuse “its adversary of being responsible for a human tragedy,” predicted Kulick. The possible consequence of such carte blanche to use force against an opponent is not less, but more human suffering.[6]

Following the West’s Example

Recent declarations about Iran demonstrate how the situation could escalate. The Trump administration has put Iran under heavy pressure with its announcement that it intends to abandon the nuclear treaty, even though Tehran has been strictly abiding by its stipulations. Now, the Iranian capital has warned that it is holding all options open. Last week, an editor in chief of an Iranian periodical, deemed to be among the hardliner critics of the West, was quoted saying “every country – including Iran – can attack another country the way America attacked Syria, without an international mandate.[7] That would be a violation of international law. However, it can be assumed that the Iranian government can find the means and the methods to justify such an attack, claiming an alleged legitimacy from the perspective of its political morals – following the West’s example.

“We Can Do that Also”

The statements made by German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, over the weekend, are confirmation that the German government is prepared to go down the slippery slope leading from traditional international law to justifying military aggression with an alleged legitimacy. Already in the immediate aftermath of the April 14 bombing of Syria, Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed that that illegal aggression was “necessary and appropriate.”[8] Other German government officials have expressed similar opinions, including Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD). Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen – knowing that the German parliament’s legal experts have determined that those attacks were illegal – has now announced that there is nothing to rule out German participation in such attacks. “We could also fulfill the contribution from the air that Great Britain had made in this case.” However, Berlin had “not been asked this time.”[9]

“No Longer International Law as we Know It”

Full article: The Era of Retaliation (German Foreign Policy)

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