Humanitarian Intervention and Syria: Russia, the United States, and International Law

18 Barry Law Review 1 (2012)

31 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2012 Last revised: 9 Jan 2015

See all articles by Eric Engle

Eric Engle

Date Written: July 22, 2012


Humanitarian intervention is the use of force to end grave systematic mass violations of human rights. Exceptionally, in the event such be authorized by the UN Security Council. Absent UN Security Council Authorization humanitarian intervention is unlawful. Hence, the paralysis in Syria. Humanitarian relief is the provision of non-military aid such as water, food, medicine, clothing, blankets etc. Humanitarian intervention is not a use of force, and while it may violate another state’s sovereignty can invoke the justification of necessity. Humanitarian rescue (extraction; exfiltration) too may be legal under international law as an act of defense of the nationals of the state justified by the doctrine of necessity. This article examines the positivity of international law and the relationship between international politics and international law. It concludes that while some aspects of international law are deadly ambiguous, most international law is in fact unambiguous. Furthermore, ambiguity can be purged from international law by understanding the sources and methods of international law, and the relationship between national law and international law. Ambiguity may also be purged by way of presumptions and burdens of proof. While the U.S. has no unilateral right to intervene in Syria to secure the emerging right to democracy, the U.S. can provide humanitarian relief. Unfortunately, without Russian and Chinese cooperation, no military force may be lawfully used in Syria by the U.S. or NATO. Consequently, aside from the costs of war, the U.S. is compelled to multilateralism. This paper explores these themes in depth.

Keywords: Syria, Assad, Humanitarian Intervention, Humanitarian Relief, Russia, United Nations, UN, NATO, United States, Public International Law, Customary International Law, International Law, Lavrov, Obama, Clinton, Human Rights, Non-Intervention, Non-Interference, Sovereign Equality, ABM Treaty

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Engle, Eric Allen, Humanitarian Intervention and Syria: Russia, the United States, and International Law (July 22, 2012). 18 Barry Law Review 1 (2012). Available at SSRN: or

Eric Allen Engle (Contact Author) ( email )

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