US, Israeli threats of force against Iran are illegal and harm chances for a deal
Even if we set aside the ethical and political implications of America's threatening Iran in the course of negotiations, there are two major legal issues with these threats. First, the 'threat of force' is illegal under international law. And second, any agreement reached by threat is invalid.
Speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) annual conference, Vice President Joe Biden insisted last week that President Obama was not bluffing about using force to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, too, called for a “clear and credible military threat” against Tehran, underscoring that sanctions alone would not make Iran cave at the negotiation table.Skip to next paragraph
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These threats were issued at a time when the latest round of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Kazakhstan were positively characterized, by many accounts, as a “turning point.” New rounds of negotiations were set to take place in April.
If we set aside all the ethical and political implications of threatening a negotiating party in the course of negotiations (especially at a time when talks seem finally to be heading in the right direction), there are at least two major legal issues with these threats that seem to have fallen into America’s blind spot.
First, the “threat of force” against a sovereign member of the United Nations is illegal under international law. It violates Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, which unequivocally requires all member-states to “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force.”
The term “threat” refers to a government's announcement of an act of violence for the purpose of intimidating another government into changing its policies. Under the Charter, only the Security Council is qualified to make such threats. Every other threat of force is unlawful.
It should also be understood that "threat" within the meaning of Article 2(4) must be understood in a restrictive sense. Hostile statements that are common between antagonistic countries, especially when they're uttered by officials who do not have the constitutional authority to materialize them, do not carry the same legal weight as potent military threats directly issued in a particular context (for the purpose of influencing negotiations) by top officials who actually have the power to order military operations.