Air Strikes for What?

Dianne Marie Amann offers a useful corrective to calls by Nick Kristof and others for U.S.-led air strikes against Sudanese military targets.

As all international lawyers know, for a country to enter another’s air space and destroy its property likely violates the pledge, contained in Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter, that it shall “refrain in [its] international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

In the comments, Kevin John Heller retorts.

Do you believe that Obama’s cross-border use of Predator drones to attack terrorists in Pakistan qualifies as aggression? If you don’t, what is the (legal) difference between such attacks and cross-border attacks on Sudanese military aircraft?

To which Amann replies:

In the latter case there are arguments that [sic] the United States acts in self-defense and/or pursuant to an armed conflict that has won some sanction from the Security Council. One may ultimately determine that neither argument is valid, of course, but as advanced both arguments cor/respond [sic] far more to the existing, Charter-based use of force framework than does the Kristof scenario.

And so we have a battle of the internet’s best blogging international lawyers.

Lost in this conversation — and as far as I can tell, lost in most Darfur related commentary of late –is any serious discussion of the strategic purpose of a U.S.-led bombing campaign in Sudan. That is, what do advocates of bombing Sudan believe it will accomplish?

The word “leverage” is often thrown around in these discussions—as in, a bombing campaign would finally give the Unites States and its allies “leverage” over Khartoum. (Kristof makes two vague appeals to “leverage” in the aforementioned op-ed.) But leverage in pursuit of what ends? To reverse Khartoum’s policy of expelling aid workers? If so, should the bombing stop once the humanitarians are let back into Darfur? Or is it that the United States should lead a bombing campaign to secure Omar al Bashir’s extradition to The Hague? If so, is that an outcome likely to be achieved through the use of force?

In the op-ed that kicked off the discussion Merrill A. McPeak and Kurt Bassuener, to their credit, spell out what they mean by “leverage.” They write that through a bombing campaign the West would “finally get enough leverage with Khartoum to negotiate the entry of a stronger U.N. ground force.” But (as I noted at the time) the problem is less that Khartoum won’t accept peacekeepers and more that apathetic UN member states wont pony up the troops and equipment (like helicopters) required for mission success.

So my question remains: what do advocates of bombing Sudan’s air force hope to achieve by it? If someone can offer a coherent argument in support for a US-led bombing campaign against Sudan, I would certainly be open to the suggestion. Until then, the general prohibition against one state bombing another (i.e. aggression) is an important international norm that should not be chiseled away without good reason. I’d like to be persuaded otherwise. Believe me.

Image from flickr.