Should the International Community Intervene In Syria, Even Without Security Council Approval?

You may have seen Anne-Marie Slaughter argue in the New York Times for the international community to enforce “no-kill zones” inside Syria where Syrians, regardless of creed or political affiliation, can be protected from the civil war and receive humanitarian assistance.  It’s a decent idea in principle, but something like this is tantamount to invading Syria. That would require a Security Council vote, and so far Russia and China are dead set against this sort of action. They would almost certainly use their veto to block the intervention. So, this idea should be a non-starter until Russia and China are on board, right?

As in Libya, the international community should not act without the approval and the invitation of the countries in the region that are most directly affected by Mr. Assad’s war on his own people. Thus it is up to the Arab League and Turkey to adopt a plan of action. If Russia and China were willing to abstain rather than exercise another massacre-enabling veto, then the Arab League could go back to the United Nations Security Council for approval. If not, then Turkey and the Arab League should act, on their own authority and that of the other 13 members of the Security Council and 137 members of the General Assembly who voted last week to condemn Mr. Assad’s brutality.

The thing is, that’s not quite how it works. The Security Council has to approve, under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, the invasion of one country by another country or coalition.  It is a pretty cut and dry principal of international order. Anne-Marie Slaughter, of course, is well aware of this. She is one of the country’s most respected scholars of international law and is a powerful advocate for a liberal international order.

I guess this goes to show that even the most ardent supporters of the rule of law are willing to abandon it in times of crisis. Of course, we have seen this before. NATO intervention in Kosovo was not approved by the Security Council, neither was the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

The question is what does more harm to the liberal international order: violating the principle that only the Security Council can permit the invasion of another country, or letting the Syrian regime flaunt international humanitarian law by continuing its massacre?  If you believe, as I do, that over the long term our best hope for a world without war is a world based on the rule of law, then which is the least bad option?