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Article 51 Self-defense and Use of Armed Force in International Law, visualized | Lex Animata | Hesham Elrafei
Selfdefence and Use of Force in International Law, Visualized.
States are not allowed to use military force to resolve their disputes, except in collective security cases authorized by the security council, and in self-defense cases.
To understand Self-defense, it’s important first to define what an armed attack is?
Selfdefence is regulated under customary international law, as well as in the United Nations Charter. According to Article 51 of the Charter, countries have the right to use military force to defend themselves, if an armed attack occurs against them.
While The meaning of ‘armed attack’ is not defined in the charter, a State is allowed to respond with force against an armed attack, only when the attack is of significant gravity.
Therefore, If the attack is not severe, the defending State does not have the right to use armed force as an act of revenge, and must use peaceful methods.
For example, In the Nicaragua case between the USA and Nicaragua, Nicaragua claimed that the USA had supplied weapons and training, to a rebel group in order to attack Nicaragua’s government.
The USA argued that it was acting in collective selfdefence, favoring Nicaragua’s neighboring States, which Nicaragua had attacked.
The ICJ held that an armed attack did not occur, where logistical and financial support was provided to rebels by a third State, and therefore that self-defense can only be exercised, in response to an armed attack.
In a later case, the world court looked into the Oil Platforms dispute between Iran and the USA.
The case concerns the destruction of the Iranian oil production platforms in the Gulf by the American army, which interrupted the Iranian oil Production for several years.
The USA argued that, the American warships attacked Iranian commercial oil harbors, as it was acting in self defence, after Iran placed sea mines, and fired rockets against commercial vessels flying the American flag.
The world court was asked to decide, whether a single attack against a warship, amounts to an armed attack, and whether collective but minor incidents of armed force also amount to an armed attack.
In its decision, the ICJ recognized the possibility, that the mining of a single military vessel, might be enough to bring into play the inherent right of selfdefence.
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