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International Law and the War in Iraq

19 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2004  

John Yoo

University of California at Berkeley School of Law; American Enterprise Institute


Many international legal scholars and foreign governments have argued that the recent war in Iraq violated international law. This paper, published as part of an Agora in the American Journal of International Law, criticizes this view on two grounds. It explains that these scholars have failed to properly read existing United Nations Security Council resolutions that authorized the use of force against Iraq. Even putting the United Nations to one side, this paper explains that the use of force could have been justified, at the time of the invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, as an exercise of self-defense. It argues that traditional notions of self-defense, which permit the anticipatory use of force before an offensive attack occurs, have changed to take into account the greater magnitude of destruction of weapons of mass destruction and the behavior of rogue states.

Keywords: international law, use of force, Iraq war, self-defense

Suggested Citation

Yoo, John, International Law and the War in Iraq. American Journal of International Law, Vol. 97, p. 563, July 2003. Available at SSRN:

John Choon Yoo (Contact Author)

University of California at Berkeley School of Law ( email )

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States
510-643-5089 (Phone)
510-643-2673 (Fax)

American Enterprise Institute ( email )

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Washington, DC 20036
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