Has Washington forgotten the horrors of World War II, of Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, and Kosovo? The hubris of the Assad regime in this latest assault has handed the international community a precious opportunity to stop the slaughter and save what is left of the international prohibitions against mass murder. This mandate must be seized, not picked to pieces. The real problem is a lack of political will and moral and legal imagination, not obstacles on the ground or within the tormented ranks of the opposition and the Assad regime.
The path to effective and immediate action rests on three tenets of international law and common humanity:
1. While powerful, the UN Security Council does not possess an absolute veto over the legitimate use of military force by member states in self-defense and in response to their obligations under international law. The limits on the Security Council’s powers appear in both the UN Charter and the history of the organization. Article 2 (1) of the Charter stipulates that the organization is “based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.”
This amounts to a guarantee that the vital national interests of member states take precedence over international law and organization, a verdict confirmed by the history of the United Nations. From the Korean War to the present there have only been a handful of occasions when force was authorized by the Security Council. They include the 1991 war to evict Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait and the actions against Muammar Qaddafi in Libya that ended in his overthrow.