President Obama could also announce that from now on, when Sudan violates the U.N. ban on offensive military flights in Darfur by bombing villagers, we will afterward destroy a Sudanese military aircraft on the ground in Darfur (we can do this from our base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa).
Kristof deserves credit for his columns, which repeatedly pique public consciousness -- and consciences -- about human rights violations in the 3d World and, on occasion, here at home. But paragraphs like that quoted above sap his efforts.
As all international lawyers know, for a country to enter another's air space and destroys its property likely violate 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.
► qualify as individual or collective self-defense meeting all requirements of Article 51 of the Charter (requirements that guest/alumna Valerie Epps analyzed in her recent post); or
Neither exception would cover the scenario that Kristof proposes:
► Self-defense does not apply for the simple reason that Darfur is not a U.N. member state; it represents yet another tragic example of a state attacking its own populace.
► There seems almost no chance that all 5 permanent members of the Security Council would vote to authorize the use of force.
One presumes that Kristof -- or whoever suggested this scenario to him -- is operating on the assumption that such a U.S. military foray could be justified as an exercise of humanitarian intervention or its younger sibling, responsibility to protect. Put to one side the fact that just because a state can do something does not mean that it should. Put to one side as well the fact that taking out a Sudanese military jet seems far more like old-fashioned reprisal than an act promising to advance a humanitarian goal. The core legal problem is that no international law -- no customary norm, no treaty provision -- allows either humanitarian intervention or intervention in service of a responsibility to protect. Even commentators favorable to articulation of such a law often limit its scope to genocide, and, rightly or not, both a U.N. Commission of Inquiry and a panel of the International Criminal Court have refused to label the horrors in Darfur genocide.
There seems little doubt that other international offenses -- crimes against humanity and war crimes -- have occurred in Darfur. (map credit) No doubt, then, that the crisis in Darfur deserves all our best efforts. That's why the 1st venture of our California International Law Center at King Hall, UC Davis School of Law, is to partner with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights to craft a framework for peace and reconciliation in that troubled region of Sudan. (See here and here.)
But those who argue for unauthorized military strikes do not make use of best efforts.
Rather than urge yet another American President to order unilateral military action, humanitarians ought to push for collective solutions achieved within the bounds of law.