Syria: A Case Study in International Law

57 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2017  

Christopher Ford

Government of the United States of America - Stockton Center for the Study of International Law

Date Written: April 11, 2017


The geographic scope of the conflict in Syria, the number and nature of the parties involved, and the brutality of the violence have combined to create a situation that implicates an extraordinary range of international law issues. The conflict is not an aberration. Rather, it is likely a prototype for the future: conflicts driven by some combination of sectarian, tribal or ethnic divisions and fueled by proxy involvement. The issues of international law presented by such conflicts are significant and complex.

The conflict in Syria highlights many of the ongoing debates in international law: the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention as grounds for the use of force; the alleged gap between Article 2(4) and Article 51; the geographic scope of the applicability of LOAC; self-defense against a non-state actor; and the legitimacy of targeting war-sustaining objects.

This presents an opportunity to consider the international law issues both in the context of Syria, and more broadly with regards to all armed conflicts. After a review of the factual background of the conflict, the article is divided into two broad sections: issues arising in the jus ad bellum and those arising in jus in bello. In the first section, the article considers questions regarding the use of force in Syria, including issues arising from the arming and training of proxies. This section will focus largely on the actions of the United States as its activities have implicated many of the topics addressed in this section. The second section addresses issues of conflict classification, the conduct of hostilities, the nature of foreign fighters, and the implications of a cease-fire.

Suggested Citation

Ford, Christopher, Syria: A Case Study in International Law (April 11, 2017). University of Cincinnati Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Christopher Ford (Contact Author)

Government of the United States of America - Stockton Center for the Study of International Law ( email )

686 Cushing Road
Newport, RI 02841
United States

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