Self-Defense and the Rule of Law
Schachter, Oscar* (April 1989). Self-Defense and the Rule of Law. American Journal of International Law 83: 259. 83 A.J.I.L. 259
* Of the Board of Editors.
[*259] Self-defense on the international level is generally regarded, at least by international lawyers, as a legal right defined and legitimated by international law. Governments, by and large, appear to agree. When they have used force, they have nearly always claimed self-defense as their legal justification. Governments disputing that claim have usually asserted that the legal conditions of self-defense were not met in the particular case. However, despite the apparent agreement that self-defense is governed by law, the meaning and validity of that proposition remain open to question. There are some who challenge the basic idea that the security of a state -- its self-preservation -- can and should be subjected to international law. Others question whether under present conditions the ideal of a rule of law can be applied on the international level to national security decisions. My aim in this essay is to explore some aspects of the problem raised by these challenges to the applicability of international law to claims of self-defense. It is not my intention, I should add, to consider specific interpretations of self-defense.
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