Updated on 17 December 2015
Chapter 7: DECISIONS AND DOCUMENTS
Section 12: Communications
Letters citing Article 51 sent to the Council in 2014 and 2015
On 26 March 2015, the representative of Qatar sent to the President of the Security Council a letter from the representatives of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (S/2015/217). This letter was the first instance of collective reporting pursuant to Article 51 of the UN Charter, which reads:
“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if
an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken
measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the
exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not
in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to
take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace
The Qatari letter transmitted a joint statement issued by the five Governments stating that they had “decided to respond to President Hadi’s appeal to protect Yemen and its great people from the aggression of the Houthi militias”. According to the statement, the Yemeni President had appealed to the five States,
“in accordance with the right of self-defence set forth in Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations,
and with the Charter of the League of Arab States and the Treaty on Joint Defence, to provide immediate
support in every form and take the necessary measures, including military intervention, to protect Yemen
and its people from the ongoing Houthi aggression, repel the attack that is expected at any moment on
Aden and the other cities of the South, and help Yemen to confront Al-Qaida and Islamic State in Iraq and
By a letter dated 10 December 2015 (S/2015/946), the representative of Germany informed the Security Council President that in accordance with Article 51, “the Federal Republic of Germany, in the exercise of the right of collective self-defence, has initiated military measures against the terrorist organization Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).” The German letter underscored that “These measures are directed against ISIL, not against the Syrian Arab Republic”, and noted also that “ISIL has occupied a certain part of Syrian territory over which the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic does not at this time exercise effective control”. The letter further cited the Council’s determination in its resolution 2249 (2015) that ISIL “constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security”, and its call upon Member States to eradicate the safe haven that ISIL has established in parts of Iraq and Syria. In light of ISIL’s armed attacks against Iraq, France, and other States, the letter declared that Germany “will now support the military measures” taken by those States acting in self-defence.
On 4 December 2015, the Germany’s Bundestag voted to approve the Government’s proposal to provide military support for the campaign against ISIL in Syria. Less than a week later, Germany deployed two Tornado jets and a cargo aircraft to Turkey’s southern İncirlik base as the first stage of its support, but the German military will not itself be conducting airstrikes.
The German letter of 10 December 2015 is the latest in the recent trend for UN Member States from the Western European and Other States Group (WEOG) to transmit letters to the Council President pursuant to Article 51. In 2014 and 2015, a total of eleven such letters were addressed to the Council President by WEOG States (see below). Before 2014, other than a 2006 letter from Israel, WEOG States had not transmitted letters explicitly citing Article 51 since 2001. In that year, responding to the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States, eight such letters were sent by the WEOG States of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Poland sent a letter in that same connection in 2002.
In addition to the 2006 letter from Israel and the 2002 letter from Poland, thirteen letters explicitly citing Article 51 were sent from 2002 to 2013. Of these, eight were from States of the Africa Group, two were from States of the Asia-Pacific Group, and three were from States of the Eastern European Group.
The other ten letters informing of actions taken pursuant to Article 51 sent in 2014 and 2015 by WEOG States are the following:
By a letter dated 3 December 2015 (S/2015/928), the representative of the United Kingdom underscored that in resolution 2249 (2015), the Security Council “recognized that the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Daesh, constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security.” In addition, the representative asserted that “ISIL/Daesh members are known to be actively engaged in planning and directing attacks against the United Kingdom from Syria.” Continuing, he stated that: “In accordance with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, and further to our letters of 25 November 2014 (S/2014/851) and 7 September 2015 (S/2015/688), I am therefore writing to report to the Security Council that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is taking necessary and proportionate measures against ISIL/Daesh in Syria, as called for by the Council in resolution 2249 (2015), in exercise of the inherent right of individual and collective self-defence.” The letter from the United Kingdom was sent the day after its Parliament approved a motion which, inter alia, expressed support for the Government “in taking military action, specifically airstrikes, exclusively against ISIL in Syria”. The letter to the Council President was dated the same day that the Ministry of Defence reported that British jets had conducted “strikes against six targets within the extensive oilfield at Omar, 35 miles (56km) inside Syria’s eastern border with Iraq.”
In a letter dated 9 September 2015, the representative of Australia informed the Council President that in accordance with Article 51 of the Charter, his country was “taking measures against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria in support of the collective self-defence of Iraq as part of international efforts led by the United States.”
In a letter dated 8 September 2015, the representative of France described the terrorist acts of ISIL as “also a direct and extraordinary threat to the security of France”. In addition, he recalled the 2014 appeal from the Iraqi authorities for assistance from the international community in countering attacks by ISIL. Citing Article 51, the representative then stated that “France has taken actions involving the participation of military aircraft in response to attacks carried out by ISIL from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic” (S/2015/745). Later in the month, French President Hollande announced that French aircraft had completely destroyed an ISIL training camp in Syria.
On 7 September 2015, a letter from the representative of the United Kingdom to the Council President cited Article 51 in connection with “a precision air strike” carried out by his Government against an ISIL vehicle in Syria on 21 August 2015 (S/2015/688; see related article on this website).
On 24 July 2015, the Turkish representative wrote to inform the Security Council that Turkey “is under a clear and imminent threat of continuing attack from Daesh”. He added that it was “apparent that the regime in Syria is neither capable of nor willing to prevent these threats emanating from its territory, which clearly imperil the security of Turkey and the safety of its nationals”. Affirming that “Individual and collective self-defence is our inherent right under international law, as reflected in Article 51”, he stated that “On this basis, Turkey has initiated necessary and proportionate military actions against Daesh in Syria” (S/2015/563).
On 31 March 2015, the representative of Canada wrote a letter to the President of the Security Council (S/2015/221) reporting that “Canada is taking necessary and proportionate measures in Syria in support of the collective self-defence of Iraq, in accordance with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations.”
On 22 February 2015, the representative of Turkey wrote a letter informing the Council that from 21 to 22 February, Turkish armed forces had conducted “a military operation for the relocation of the Süleyman Şah Memorial Outpost, a 10-acre area of land of Turkish territory inside Syria”, after it had come under “an imminent threat from the terrorist organization Deash”. The Turkish representative added that his country “respects the territorial integrity of Syria and is committed to protect its rights and interests emanating from international law and to exercise its right of self-defence stipulated in Article 51” (S/2015/127).
On 25 November 2014, the representative of the United Kingdom informed the Council President that in accordance with Article 51, he was writing to report that his country was “taking measures in support of the collective self-defence of Iraq as part of international efforts led by the United States” (S/2014/851). As the American representative had done in her letter of 23 September, the United Kingdom representative cited in this connection a request by the Iraqi Government for assistance in confronting ISIL attacks on Iraq set out in a letter from the Iraqi representative to the Council President on 20 September 2014 (S/2014/691).
In a letter dated 23 September 2014, the American representative informed the Council President that the Government of Iraq “has asked that the United States lead international efforts to strike ISIL sites and military strongholds in Syria”. She asserted that “ISIL and other terrorist groups in Syria are a threat not only to Iraq, but also to many other countries, including the United States and our partners in the region and beyond.” Citing “the inherent right of individual and collective self-defence” enshrined in Article 51, the American representative affirmed that this right to self-defence is applicable “when the government of the State where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks”, as was the case with the Syrian regime. She reported that accordingly, the United States “has initiated necessary and proportionate military actions in Syria” (S/2014/695).
In a letter dated 17 June 2014, the representative of the United States stated that in accordance with Article 51, she was reporting to the Security Council measures taken to capture Abu Khattalah in Libya. She asserted that these measures were necessary to prevent armed attacks, and were taken “in accordance with the United States’ inherent right of self-defence” (S/2014/417).
A more general reference was made to Article 51 in a letter addressed to the Council President during 2014. On 13 March 2014, the representative of Ukraine transmitted to the Council President an address by the Ukrainian Parliament to the United Nations in which the Parliament declared that “in accordance with the right to self-defence, acknowledged by the United Nations Charter (Article 51), Ukraine reserves the right to request the States and the regional collective security systems to assist in restoring its sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability" (S/2014/186).
The recent series of letters related to military actions in Syria has given rise to renewed discussion concerning the parameters of reporting pursuant to Article 51. For example, during the Council’s Open debate on its working methods held on 20 October 2015, the representative of Guatemala pointed to the increase in letters invoking Article 51 and stressed that “it is vital to ensure proper compliance and control of the use of this format”. In the view of her delegation, “we should question whether such communications genuinely comply with the obligation under the Charter to report immediately any action taken under that provision.” The Guatemalan representative further qualified as “questionable” the legality of letters which cite Article 51 in an “open format”, thereby assuming the argument “that once a communication has been sent any future military action can be justified.” In this connection, she stressed that Article 51 communications “do not exempt the Council from its responsibility to maintain international peace and security in each of these situations individually” (S/PV.7539). (This update supplements page 438 of the book.)