The Fight against the "Islamic State" in Syria: Towards the Modification of the Right to Self-Defence?

By Couzigou, Irene | Geopolitics, History and International Relations, July 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Fight against the "Islamic State" in Syria: Towards the Modification of the Right to Self-Defence?


Couzigou, Irene, Geopolitics, History and International Relations


1.Introduction

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, organised networks have spread across borders in the Middle-East, overtaking cities. The most famous of these is the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" ("ISIL"), more commonly known as the "Islamic State" (IS).1 The jihadist group announced the establishment of a Caliphate or "Islamic State," claiming exclusive political and theological authority over the world's Muslims. Militants of the IS now control wide portions of territory in Iraq and Syria as well as a territory in Libya.2 The IS has killed and injured thousands of people and the IS-related violence has led to the displacement of over a million people. Atrocities committed or inspired by the IS have extended to the Middle-East, Africa, Europe, and Asia.3

The IS possesses a governmental authority, whose efficiency is ensured by a law enforcement agency and a judicial system. In addition, it has its own financial and economic resources, coming in particular from the sale of oil and extortion.4 However, the IS exercises its power over a territory whose borders are regularly moving, depending on the military successes of the coalition engaged in a conflict against that organization.5 It is doubtful whether the territory of the IS is steady enough in order to be considered as a State territory.6 In any case, since the IS has acquired its territory through an illegal use of armed force and, more generally, rejects the rules of the international legal order, it should not - and is not - recognised as a State.7 An entity whose statehood is not recognised by any State, cannot emerge as a State in the international legal order. There is a general consensus in the international community that the IS is a terrorist organization.8

In response to attacks of the IS, Iraq asked in June 2014 for international assistance in its fight against the organization in Iraq.9 Then, in September 2014, Iraq requested the United States and its allies to assist it in defending itself against the group also in Syria. It noted that the IS had established a safe haven outside Iraq that provided the group an ability "to train for, plan, finance and carry out terrorist operations across our borders." For these reasons, Iraq asked the United States to "lead international efforts to strike ISIL sites and military strongholds, with our express consent."10 This request was the doorway through which the United States and other States alleged a right to assist Iraq in its fight against the IS in Iraq and/or Syria. In August 2014, the United States launched airstrikes against the IS in Iraq and, in September 2014, expanded its military intervention against the organization in Syria. At the same time, it declared airstrikes against the Khorasan Group in Syria, a group which is composed by al-Qaeda elements.11 Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates immediately participated in the United States-led airstrikes against the IS in Syria. Canada, Turkey, Australia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Norway joined the coalition later.12 While some of those States participate in the airstrikes against the IS in Iraq and/or Syria, such as in particular the UK and France, others simply provide military assistance, like Germany.13 64 States and 2 international organizations are militarily involved against the IS in Iraq.14 Only 16 States are involved in the military action against the IS in Syria. The difference in the number of States implicated in the fight against the IS in Iraq and Syria is due to the fact that, while the legality of the military involvement is overall uncontentious in Iraq, at least in the jus ad bellum aspect, it is not the case of the military involvement in Syria.

A State can request armed assistance from other States on its territory, in particular to defeat terrorist movements. Under international law, external military intervention by invitation is legal, except when its objective is to settle a civil war in favour of the established government. …

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