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Justification for the Use of Military Force


Military intervention was a feasible alternative for averting external aggression in the past, and it is still the most viable option for fighting global terrorism. Potential military interventions range from defusing terrorist camps to liberating captives. According to Feaver and Gelpi, “military intervention entails launching direct strikes against targets verified as the infrastructures for state-sponsored training and support complexes of terrorist groups” (45).

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The use of military force is an integral part of a larger plan designed to punish individuals who support terrorism or intend to engage in terrorist activities. Besides, the use of military force is aimed at preempting possible terrorist attacks, therefore minimizing the number of casualties. Military intervention should abide by the established international law. A state has to justify its use of military force. Otherwise, its actions will be identical to the crimes it intends to curb. Numerous factors may prompt a country to use military intervention. They include collective self-defense, international peacekeeping, and invitation from other nations (Feaver and Gelpi 47). This paper will discuss the justification for the use of military force.

International obligation

States have multiple responsibilities in international law. They have the responsibility to resolve disagreements peacefully, refrain from military aggression and abstain from supporting any country against which the United Nations is taking enforcement actions (Feaver and Gelpi 51). Besides, states have the duty to “refrain from recognizing any territorial acquisitions made by a state in violation of the United Nations (UN) Charter” (Haspel 103). Under the UN Charter, states have the obligation to respect the sovereignty of their neighboring countries. Countries are supposed to refrain from funding or supporting groups that endeavor to commit crimes in foreign states.

On the other hand, countries have the right to use military force against a country that denies its citizens the right to self-determination and freedom. However, it is imperative to evaluate the circumstances that amount to a denial of liberty. Individuals who support the current involvement of Russia in Ukraine may argue that the Ukrainian government has denied the people of Donetsk their right to freedom. However, the situation in Ukraine is different. The Russia’s military intervention is unjustified. Rather than helping to solve the crisis in Ukraine, Russia is determined to annex the affected region. What Russia is doing amounts to external aggression, and warrants military intervention from other countries in aid of Ukraine.

A country that fails to meet the requirements of state duties, either through omission or act, commits an international transgression (Haspel 107). In such a situation, the lawful relations between the offending country and the indignant state changes. Based on the nature of the offense, the affected state may opt to use military force. For instance, in case a country harbors a criminal gang that poses a threat to another state, the endangered nation is justified to use military force to preempt potential danger. On numerous occasions, the United States has resorted to a military intervention aimed at neutralizing potential threats. In 2002, the United States invaded Afghanistan in a bid to neutralize the Taliban militants. Such a military incursion is justifiable as it is in line with the international laws (Haspel 108).

Afghanistan had a duty to prevent its country from being used as an origin of hostile dealings with the United States. However, the Afghan government was unable to prevail over the Taliban group. Consequently, the United States did not have an alternative but to use military force to safeguard its citizens.

Individuals opposed to the use of military force against a foreign country argue that countries have a duty to abstain from armed aggression. Instead of using military force, countries should assist the affected country through training and military supplies (Haspel 112). However, such an intervention has in most cases failed to achieve the desired results. For instance, the United Nations has avoided sending its troops to Syria and Yemen to fight the Islamic State’s incursion. Instead, it has decided to help the affected countries through military supplies and training. The approach has proved to be unproductive. The Islamic State militants continue to capture new territories. It has reached a point where the use of military force is the only viable alternative. Countries cannot condone the ongoing massacre in Syria and Yemen in the name of respecting the sovereignty of the two nations.

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Preemption of potential threats

Countries cannot illuminate or predict the degree and diversity of national demands, or the correspondent amount and range of the measures that may be essential to satisfy them (Hensel 73). Today, countries are faced with numerous emergencies. Thus, they should always be prepared to respond to any unforeseen circumstances that might threaten their peace. The conditions include terrorist activities and proxy wars. Failure to deter terrorist activities at the lowest level may have severe repercussions on a state. The use of military force has never been questioned when the sovereignty of a country is at stake (Hensel 75). Besides, cases of countries using military force to conquer, attack, or subdue other nations are not typical. The present governments are faced with a contemporary absurdity referred to as the gray area conflict. The origin and temperament of a majority of the current problems are uncertain. Thus, countries ought to have precise and explicable response mechanisms.

The use of military force should only arise in the event that a government deems it necessary. For instance, a government may use military force to protect its citizens from external aggression. Such cases are common in Israel. The Israeli government is never hesitant to use military force whenever its people are threatened (Hensel 77). For instance, in 2014, the Israeli government attacked Gaza in a bid to prevent Palestinians from occupying its territory. The occupation would have posed a significant threat to the survival and freedom of the Israelites. Some people argue that the use of military force in Gaza Strip constituted a violation of human rights.

The attack was indiscriminate and did not spare even the civilians. However, it is worthy to note that the Israeli government had warned the civilians of an imminent military attack. Besides, a majority of the civilians who occupied the Gaza Strip sympathized with the Hamas. It was hard for the Israeli government to prevent the Hamas from firing rockets into its space. The Hamas was determined to assault Israel as evidenced by an increase in the number of rocket attacks and continued digging of tunnels. The only way that Israel could stop this attack was by using military force.

Some scholars argue that states have no right to use military force to preempt an imminent armed attack. They argue that the United Nations Charter does not recognize preemptive or anticipatory self-defense (Hensel 82). Instead, countries ought to use military force only when they are attacked. Individuals opposed to the use of military force insist that a state can only prepare itself to resist a potential attack but not engage in the actual self-defense. According to them, a country ought to report to the Security Council any upsetting military preparation by rival states rather than resort to the use of military force. Such an approach may not work in the modern society.

Currently, numerous countries have weapons of mass destruction, and failure to take stringent measures may be disastrous. Individuals opposed to the use of military force maintain that a state should tolerate the first rocket launched into its space. They claim that a country is justified to use military force if and only if the attacking group resorts to the use of fast aircrafts and other sophisticated weapons.

Tolerating an aggression until it escalates to the level of using fast planes would subject citizens to immense danger (Lian and Oneal 281). The government has the duty to protect its citizens. Therefore, it is justified to use military force upon detecting potential threats. If a country or an insurgent group mounts an attack, the targeted state should treat such an aggression as an adequate reason to use military force. If countries had to wait for the real armed attack to occur, it would be hard to maintain international peace. Instead, countries would struggle to restore peace and safety. The support of preemptive self-defense does not mean that states are justified to use military force to combat sheer training by an opponent. A country has to consider other factors before opting to use military force. For instance, it has to prove beyond reasonable doubt the possibility of an imminent attack (Lian and Oneal 289).

The right to self-defense does not allow states to use military force in anticipation of an attack. Simultaneously, we must acknowledge that there may well be “situations in which the imminence of an attack is so clear and the danger so great that defensive action is essential” (Lian and Oneal 293).

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Protection of Important Rights and Armed Attack

The use of military force is justified if it is intended to protect certain essential rights. Indeed, not all wrongs committed against a state will require the use of military force (Lieuwen 33). International law prohibits the use of military force unless in the case of illegality. Nevertheless, not all illegalities call for the use of military force. Only the illegalities that pose a threat to essential rights like political autonomy and territorial integrity require military intervention. Disagreements arise concerning when to use military force. Some pundits argue that it is imperative to use military force to protect human life or safeguard human rights.

Others argue that the international community has the exclusive right to decide when to call for military intervention (Lieuwen 37). Nonetheless, it is worthy to note that a country may not resort to military intervention to advance national interests or goals. Besides, it is hard for a country to use military force to take vengeance on past biases or justify legal rights. The use of military force is acceptable in the event of self-defense. A country can deploy its forces to combat a full-scale invasion. For instance, Germany was justified to use military force against Belgium in 1940 as a way to curb potential attacks from France (Lieuwen 39).

The current international law does not delineate the idea of self-preservation and self-protection (McLain 235). Besides, some countries may take advantage of the weak definition of self-defense to pursue selfish interests. For instance, Iran has sent its troops to Syria to “fight” the ongoing Islamic State insurgency. While Iran may justify its actions as a measure to protect its essential rights and interests in Syria, the move can be interpreted differently. Iran has tried to enforce its influence on the Arab countries for a long time. Therefore, it is using the ongoing conflicts as an avenue to win the trust of the Syrian government. As a result, even though Iran is helping Syria to fight the insurgents, its military intervention may not be justified.

The UN agrees that countries have the right to use military force to prevent the armed attack (McLain 238). However, most countries do not agree on what constitutes an armed assault. Besides, the United Nations Charter does not delineate the term armed attack. However, the international community uses the term armed attack to refer to the military incursion of one country by another. In case of armed attack, the affected state is justified to use military force. There are people who argue that a state is not warranted to use military force to curb armed attacks perpetrated by combatants from a different country. They contend that the fact that one country supports guerrilla movements that operate in a different state does not constitute armed attack (McLain 241). On the contrary, state sponsorship should be a substantial ground to justify the use of military force.

Take for instance what is happening between Israel and Hezbollah. For decades, the Israeli government has blamed Iran for supplying Hezbollah with military equipment. However, Iran has always denied the allegations. Despite Israel lodging a complaint to the international community, no steps have ever been taken to stop Iran from arming Hezbollah. As a result, Israel has opted to use military force to protect its citizens from potential attacks by Hezbollah.

The level of power that a country must exercise over people and organizations that constitute the basis of armed attack is in dispute. Nevertheless, it is beyond reasonable doubt that any form of armed attack can result in self-defense (Miller 44). Article 51 of the United Nations Charter talks about armed confrontation and does not limit it to direct attack. It would be cruel for any country to restrict self-defense to direct armed attack. Both direct and indirect armed attacks pose a significant threat to national security (Miller 48). Therefore, a country is entitled to use military force to combat any form of aggression.

Last Resort

The United Nations Charter requires countries to resolve their international conflicts through peaceful means. States have the duty to preserve international peace and security (Twiss and Chan 449). Therefore, states are obliged to exhaust all peaceful means of dispute resolution before they turn to the use of military force. In case countries fail to resolve the international conflict through peaceful means, they are justified to use military force. In some instances, states may not necessary exhaust peaceful means if they learn that such an endeavor will not be productive. Additionally, a state that is under armed attack does not have time to use peaceful means (Twiss and Chan 454).

In other words, a country is justified to use military force if it is the only viable option. In case of an imminent threat, it may be hard for a country to convince an adversary to look for an alternative way to solve the dispute. However, some people may argue that a state that is under imminent attack should seek the help of international community instead of using military force. Such a move may take time. Besides, the endangered nation would be required to attest that it is under imminent attack (Twiss and Chan 461). The fact that it may be hard to predict when an attack will occur leaves a country with no other option but to use military force. On the other hand, a state is not justified to use military force to respond to an attack that has already ended.

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Most countries use military force to combat external and internal aggressions. There are numerous reasons that justify the use of military force. A state is justified to use military force to respond to an international obligation. Countries have the duty to ensure that their neighbors uphold the right to self-determination and respect the freedom of the citizens. A State can use military clout to intervene in a situation where its neighbor deprives the citizens of their liberty. On the other hand, a country is justified to use military force to preempt potential threats. A state that is under imminent attack may use military force for self-defense. Apart from preempting impending attack, a country is also justified to use military force to protect essential rights and respond to an armed assault. In case a country has exhausted all the available peaceful means of dispute resolution, it is justified to use military force. The government is obliged to protect its citizens at all costs. Hence, it is justified to use military force whenever necessary.

Works Cited

Feaver, Peter, and Christopher Gelpi. Choosing Your Battles: American Civil-Military Relations and the Use of Force; with a New Afterword. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005. Print.

Haspel, Michael. “Justification of Force in the Trans-Atlantic Debate: Towards a Moderate Institutionalist Cosmopolitanism.” Studies in Christian Ethics 20.1 (2007): 102-117. Print.

Hensel, Howard. The Legitimate Use of Military Force: The Just War Tradition and the Customary Law of Armed Conflict. London: Ashgate Publishing, 2008. Print.

Lian, Bradley, and John Oneal. “Presidents, the Use of Military Force, and Public Opinion.” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 37.2 (1993): 277-300. Print.

Lieuwen, Edwin. “The Military: A Revolutionary Force.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 334.1 (2003): 30-40. Print.

McLain, Patrick. “Setting the Score with Saddam: Resolution 1441 and Parallel Justifications for the Use of Force Against Iraq.” Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law 2.4 (2003): 233-251. Print.

Miller, Richard. “Justifications for the Iraq War Examined.” Ethics & International Affairs 22.1 (2008): 43-54. Print.

Twiss, Sumner, and Jonathan Chan. “The Classical Confucian Position on the Legitimate Use of Military Force.” Journal of Religious Ethics 40.3 (2012): 447-472. Print.

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