President Obama Will Go to Congress on Military Strikes Against SyriaPosted: August 31, 2013
The New York Times just reported that President Obama has decided to seek congressional authorization for military strikes against Syria as a response to the chemical weapons attacks his administration attributes to the Syrian government. This unexpected development has significant legal implications not only for US law but also international law.
With the political context rocked by the UK Parliament’s rejection of military action, the Obama administration’s move from “consulting” with members of Congress to seeking authorization for the use of military force changes the legal context domestically in the US–with the question now laid before Congress and its war powers. Not only is this decision significant for the Syrian crisis but it will also factor into war powers debates in the future, as a precedent to rival the Obama administration’s decisions on US law and the use of force against Libya.
But, as we know from Congress’ authorization of the invasion of Iraq, having a constitutionally clean outcome in US law does not resolve international legal issues and controversies. The Obama administration’s legal case for military strikes under international law relies primarily on the need to respond to the violation of the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, supported by a secondary rationale of collective self-defense. Congressional authorization to use force will not settle the international legal controversies surrounding this crisis. How these controversies might affect congressional debates and votes is not clear, but, with US domestic politics now to become more fully engaged, the Obama administration’s international legal case will factor into the arguments for and against military intervention, even if international legal analysis is not, in the end, decisive in the ultimate decision achieved.
A taste of these international legal debates appeared today in Harvard professor Jack Goldsmith’s New York Times op-ed arguing that military strikes by the Obama administration, under its stated legal rationales, would violate international law.