Article 51 of the United Nations Charter preserves the right of nations to use military force in self-defense. This broad language would appear to allow nations to use military force in self-defense in response to "armed attacks" by terrorists. But a significant problem has developed over the past twenty years. In a series of resolutions and judicial decisions, organs of the United Nations have attempted to read into Article 51 four very significant and dangerous limitations on the use of military force in self-defense. These limitations find no support in the language of Article 51, they do not accord with general principles of self-defense, and they are inimical to efforts to end terrorism. The United States needs to oppose limitations on the right of self-defense preserved by Article 51, not only for its own safety but also to further the most fundamental goals of the United Nations. Unfortunately, the United States has only a few tools at its disposal for preserving its legal right to act in self-defense. The United States can use its veto power to prevent the Security Council from condemning countries that properly use force in self-defense. It can also use opportunities afforded by the U.N. Charter to express its interpretation of Article 51, thus establishing helpful precedent for future disputes.
GW Paper Series
GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 376; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 376
Gregory E. Maggs, The Campaign to Restrict the Right to Respond to Terrorist Attacks in Self-Defense Under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter and What the United States Can Do About It, 4 Regent J. Int'l L. 149 (2006).