By Paul H. Robinson* & Adil Ahmad Haque** —
Current international law imposes limitations on the use of force to defend against unlawful aggression that improperly advantage unlawful aggressors and disadvantage their victims. The Article gives examples of such rules, governing a variety of situations, showing how clearly unjust they can be. No domestic criminal law system would tolerate their use. There are good practical reasons why international law should care that its rules are perceived as unjust. Given the lack of an effective international law enforcement mechanism, compliance depends to a large degree upon the moral authority with which international law speaks. Compliance is less likely when its rules are perceived as obviously unjust. This common sense perspective is supported by social science research showing the importance of law’s moral credibility in gaining assistance and compliance, in reducing resistance and subversion, and in helping to shape shared norms. The current practice of victim states ignoring legal limitations, with studied indifference to such “violations” by the international community, only legitimizes and habituates law-breaking, further undermining international law’s moral credibility. One important opportunity for reforming international law is currently being squandered. The Assembly of State Parties to the International Criminal Court has recently approved a resolution defining the international crime of aggression. However, rather than confront international law’s existing problems, the drafters compounded them by imposing individual criminal liability on leaders of victim states who authorize defensive force in violation of flawed current law. Fortunately, the resolution will not go into effect until 2017 at the earliest. There is still time to change course.
* Colin S. Diver Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania. The authors would like to thank William Burke-White, Margaret DeGuzman, Robert Sloane, Deborah Pearlstein, and Lori Damrosch, as well as workshop participants at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Temple Law School for their comments, and Nicole Barna for her invaluable research assistance.
** Associate Professor of Law, Rutgers School of Law – Newark.