This last topic proved to be a especially controversial issue and again it surfaced in the Presidential debate on Tuesday; the critical question posed to the president appeared to be whether he had been aware that the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya was done by terrorist rather than a result of the actions of a rioters.
At the vice presidential debate, the moderator raised the issue of the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and stated that the position of both presidential candidates was that they would prevent Iran from acquiring such weapons even at the cost of military action. The justification for this position is evidently the U.S. national security.
In Afghanistan, the U.S. launched an attack on not only the Al Qaeda but also the Taliban, which was at the time one of the factions in power and engaged in a civil war with the United Front.
An issue which this attack raises is what is the justification for an attack against an aspiring government? As was stated in the vice-presidential debate by Joe Biden, war should be the last resort, after diplomacy has proved unsuccessful. According to the principles of International law, all nations are sovereign. The implication of this is that nations do not defer to anyone and are responsible for their own decisions. Closely tied to the concept of sovereignty is the concept of self-determination which requires that nations be able to choose their sovereign and international political status with no external compulsion or interference.
One must therefore consider the implication for the sovereignty and the Afghan people’s right to self determination due to the U.S. attack. The attack was premised on securing U.S. national security interest by targeting the groups responsible for attacking the U.S. The group responsible for attacks on the United States is Al Qaeda, which was given refuge by the Taliban, one of the factions which was seeking to establish itself as the government of Afghanistan, but which had not been recognised as such by the United Nations.
The outcome of the attack launched in vindication of the attack on the U.S. was the overthrow of the Taliban and the establishment of a new government which has the endorsement and support of the U.S. and United Nations.
Certain similarities are appearing in the Libyan scenario: Information has surfaced that the attack on the United States embassy in Libya was the work of terrorist forces; the U.S. states that it shall punish those responsible for that attack. What does this mean for Libya? The Democrats and Republicans unsurprisingly have different views on the approach to take. Paul Ryan stated during the debate that the national security of the U.S.A. has primacy while Joe Biden’s response was that another war should be the last resort--a diplomatic approach involving communication with Libyan authorities should be the first recourse. The position under international law is clearly that the use of force should be a last resort.
Under international law, use of force by states can only be legitimate in the following circumstances:
(1) Where the United Nations Security Council had determined that there is a threat to international peace and security and authorise such action;
(2) Self defence
(3) As a limited pre-emptive right to self -defence
(4) Humanitarian intervention; and
(5) Protection of nationals.
Therefore the U.S. may have justification for the use of force in apprehending and bringing to justice those persons responsible for the attacks on its nationals and its national security. However, care must be taken to preserve the Libya’s right to its government chosen without external influence.
By Leanna Seetahal (FDA researcher, writer, and lawyer)
Question for Readers:
Is there any relationship between the U.S. Embassy deaths in Benghazi and western governments' involvement in the death of Qaddafi?