Updated on 2 November 2015
Chapter 7: DECISIONS AND DOCUMENTS
Section 12: Communications
Syria challenges Article 51 claims of Australia, Canada, France, the UK and the US
The Security Council has rarely addressed the question of whether a specific action reported to it pursuant to Article 51 of the Charter in fact qualifies as “self-defence”. And in recent years, it has been unusual for one Member State formally to dispute the declaration by another Member State that it has been acting in self-defence under Article 51.
However, by a letter dated 17 September 2015 (S/2015/719), the representative of Syria challenged the separate declarations by Australia (S/2015/693), France,* and the United Kingdom (S/2015/688) that the military measures they were carrying out in Syrian territory were justified under Article 51. In Syria’s view, those States were invoking “a distorted reading of the intention of Article 51”, a reading that was also “blatantly inconsistent” with Council resolutions 2170 (2014), 2178 (2014) and 2199 (2015), “all of which emphasize that States must respect the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic”. In a second letter, dated 21 September 2015 (S/2015/727), the representative of Syria again criticized Australia, France and the United Kingdom, and also Canada and the United States,** for invoking Article 51 without having consulted with the Syrian Government.
The first Syrian letter raised particular objection to claims made in the Australian letter. Presumably Syria was contesting Australia’s statement that the Syrian Government “has, by its failure to constrain attacks upon Iraqi territory originating from ISIL bases within Syria, demonstrated that it is unwilling or unable to prevent those attacks.” Such a claim had also been made in the 31 March 2015 letter from the Canadian representative who, referring to Syria, underscored that “States must be able to act in self-defence when the Government of the State where a threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent attacks emanating from its territory” (S/2015/221). And on 23 September 2014, the representative of the United States had affirmed that
“States must be able to defend themselves, in accordance with the inherent right of
individual and collective self-defence, as reflected in Article 51 of the Charter of the
United Nations, when, as is the case here, the government of the State where the threat
is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks. The
Syrian regime has shown that it cannot and will not confront these safe havens effectively
In his rebuttal, the Syrian representative argued that such claims “are belied by the actions taken by the Syrian Arab Army to combat ISIL, the Nusrah Front and other armed terrorist organizations.” The Syrian representative further disputed the entitlement of any State to invoke “the excuse of counter-terrorism in order to be present on Syrian territory without the consent of the Syrian Government, whether on the country’s land or in its airspace or territorial waters”.
(This update supplements page 438 of the book, and three other articles relating to reporting pursuant to Article 51 are posted in this section of the website.)
* The French letter invoking Article 51 (S/2015/794) had not yet been published as an official document of the Security Council at the time of the first Syrian letter.
** The second Syrian letter did not cite specific communications from Canada and the United States, but probably referred to the letters dated 31 March 2015 from Canada (S/2015/221), and 23 September 2014 from the United States (S/2014/695).