Advertisement Close

How Disregard for International Law Affects the Security in the Middle East

posted on: Jul 1, 2021


By: Pamela Dimitrova / Arab America Contributing Writer

For years there is a question in international politics, that remains unanswered – What is the main challenge to peace and security in the Middle East? There are many suggestions -terrorism and extremism; civil war and foreign interventions; sectarianism, corruption, and authoritarianism. With so many factors, it is hard to define which one is the biggest challenge. As Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg state in his article, it seems that the biggest challenge from many is the weak role if the international law and institutions, who fail to impose and obey the legal promises and treaties made

The disregard of international law in the region by both Arab and third states is nothing new. The United States and the United Kingdom have disregarded international laws of war numerous times by providing logistical and intelligence support for the Saudi-lead coalition in its military intervention in Yemen.  They carried 87 unlawful attacks resulting in nearly 1,000 civilian deaths.

The colation tried to use the ‘unclearness’ of the law to justify their actions. Under the Geneva Conventions (1949) and their two Additional Protocols (1977), the laws of war applicable to an international armed conflict apply to any armed conflict that is between two or more states. Although the conflict in Yemen and the involvement therein of the Saudi-led coalition entails the involvement of a number of states, it is not a conflict between states. It is, instead, a conflict between the forces of the Yemeni Government and a non-state armed group/groups, making it a non-international armed conflict.

Just a few months after this, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France launched strikes against targets at three sites in Syria. The airstrikes were justified by many since they were a response from the Western nations to another legal disregard from the Middle East country. Back in April, the Assad regime allegedly (Assad himself denied responsibility, but the allegations appeared credible, in light of his track record) used chemical weapons against its own population in Syria, which resulted in more than 500 victims. The attack was in clear violation of the universally accepted Chemical Weapons Convention. According to UN reports, the regime has used chemical agents dozens of times, frequently causing devastating loss of life among civilians.

Damascus skies erupt with anti-aircraft fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the Syrian capital

However, this intervention was still illegal and if anything, it just flued the international tension between the West, the Middle East, and Russia/China, who showed their support for the Assad regime by backing their military actions in the country and by vetoing Security Council resolutions against Assad.

Even in a dire situation like Syria, international law does not actually authorize other nations to use force against the offending regime. Our current international legal order is based on state sovereignty, and on the notion that such sovereignty may be breached in exceptional situations only. Using force against a sovereign nation may constitute the most supreme breach of state sovereignty, and under international law, force may be used against sovereign nations in two limited instances: pursuant to Security Council authorization and/or in self-defense. International law does not authorize nations to use force against another sovereign nation in other situations – no matter how devastating and limiting such a rule may be.

The United States, the United Kingdom, and France didn’t have authorization from the Council, neither acted in self-defense.

The biggest effect of the disregard of the international law in the region, however, is connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is going for years now and it keeps getting worse.
Just last month, the president of the United States vocally expressed his opinion that international law, calling it ‘fictions’’, in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “A comprehensive and lasting peace will not be created by fiat of international law or by these heavily wordsmithed, unclear resolutions,” he said. “The vision for peace that we plan to present will not be ambiguous, unlike many resolutions that have passed in this chamber,” referring to the so-called peace plan Washington had been developing without Palestine’s consent to end the conflict.

Israel, on the other hand, has ignored the international humanitarian law more than once by using excessive force against protesters and disproportionate collective punishment against whole families and entire communities. It has consistently flouted Geneva Conventions, universally considered as the binding rules of war, especially the Fourth Convention regulating the governance of occupied territories. It has for years failed to accept Arab offers to negotiate a peaceful end of the conflict.

On the matter many third states ‘close their eyes’ and refuse to intervene, even though the crimes against the Palestinians are no less horrifying than the chemical attacks in Syria. Under the relevant international law, Palestine ‘satisfy’ the criteria of statehood: (1) a permanent population; (2) a defined territory; (3) a government; and (4) the capacity to enter into relations with other states.

Moreover, the formal existence of a state is always independent of recognition by other states. According to the 1934 Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (the Montevideo Convention):
“Even before recognition, the state has the right to defend its integrity and independence, to provide for its conservation and prosperity, and consequently to organize itself as it sees fit….”

It is true that international rules and the institutions set up to enforce them are not strong enough to fully restrain large powers, especially permanent UNSC members, but it is counterproductive to dismiss them altogether. If countries start to be held accountable for their unlawful interventions and stay true to the treaties they made with other states, the international norms can still play an important and effective role.


For years there is a question in international politics, that remains unanswered – What is the main challenge to peace and security in the Middle East? Find the answer in this article, written by Pamela Dimtirova, Arab America Contributing Writer.