Race for Iran
"Recently, there has been a torrent of high-profile calls for military strikes—either by the United States or by Israel—against Iranian nuclear targets. Amid this push for war with Iran, no one is asking—much less answering—what we believe is a critical and fundamental question: What, exactly, would be the legal basis for attacking the Islamic Republic?
While the legal basis for America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 was clearly inadequate, there were at least some legal authorities—Security Council resolutions, etc.—that could be (mis)interpreted and stitched together by clever lawyers to make a case for war, even if large parts of the world did not accept that case. (Once Saddam had been overthrown, America’s European partners—even those that had opposed and questioned the legitimacy of the invasion—focused on getting a United Nations Security Council resolution in place to legitimate the post-Saddam occupation, so that we could all move beyond the previous unpleasantness.)
But, in the case of Iran, there will be no legal justification for an attack. All of the relevant Security Council resolutions dealing with the nuclear issue say explicitly that they do not authorize the use of force against the Islamic Republic and that such authorization would require further and separate action by the Council. That action will not be forthcoming. And while, no doubt, the U.S. government has lawyers at the State Department, Pentagon, and the National Security Council who would do their best to come up with a self-defense case under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, literally no one—even advocates of attacking Iran—will be able to take that case seriously. There will be no casus belli.
As we wrote in May, see here, “a proper assessment of Iranian military capabilities should put to rest the constantly recycled, hyperbolic rhetoric in the United States and some quarters of the Middle East about the Iranian ‘threat’ to peace and security. Iranians correctly point out that their country has not invaded any of its neighbors for centuries—and, since 1979, they have not developed the military capabilities that would let them carry out large-scale offensive operations”. In the end, we will be attacking Iran because it is enriching uranium."