Eric Posner on the UN Charter
Whether or not President Obama executes the planned military attack on Syria, one thing will be clear: The United Nations charter rules regulating the use of military force lie in ruins. Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power have all said that the Security Council cannot block American action. Obama supporters who believed that he would bring to the Oval Office a commitment to legality, after what they saw as the lawlessness of the Bush administration, must be confused or furious. And yet, whatever the merits of an attack on Syria, Obama is right to disregard the U.N. charter. It’s broken. Now he needs to explain how to fix it.
The U.N. charter speaks in unusually clear terms: Countries may not use military force except in self-defense or with the authorization of the Security Council. The Security Council consists of 15 countries, 10 of which rotate on and off, and five of which have permanent seats. The permanent members—the United States, China, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom—possess vetoes that can block any resolution they disapprove of. If none of these countries veto, a resolution requires at least nine of the 15 total votes for approval.