The legality of attacking Iran (international law version)

Earlier today, Blake wrestled with the question of whether an attack on Iran would be legal under United States law. But what about under international law? After all, the vagaries of the War Powers Act and Congressional resolutions are a sideshow from the perspective of international lawyers. What really matters is whether a U.S. attack would violate the U.N. Charter's prohibition on the use of force. There are two main roads around that prohibition: the U.N. Security Council and a claim of self-defense (Article 51 of the Charter preserves the "inherent right" of self-defense).

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The Security Council, of course, can bestow legality on just about whatever it pleases. If it says that Iran's nuclear program is a threat to international peace and authorizes force, the bombs can lawfully fall. But in today's political climate, that prospect appears remote.  China, Russia, and France show no signs of being ready to authorize force, and they have carefully steered existing resolutions away from that dangerous ground. Unlike with Iraq, there's no web of pre-existing Security Council resolutions authorizing force against Iran. Remember: Creative State Department and British Foreign Office lawyers argued that the current Iraq war was lawful because Iraq never complied with the Council's demands on disarmament, thus activating the previous authorization of force. (I always thought it was a strained argument, but at least  it was—in lawyer's parlance—"colorable.")

That leaves self-defense. The use and abuse of the legitimate doctrine of preemptive self-defense has been well documented. In light of Iraq, the United States would have a very hard time making such a claim stick. But Israel, interestingly, has a stronger case (what with Iran's military support for Hezbollah and the threats to wipe Israel off the face of the map). Could the United States legitimately piggyback on Israel's claim to preemptive self defense—making it collective preemptive self defense? I'm going to do some digging on what legal scholars think about that question and will report back.


The day the Internet nearly died, and no one noticed

That day happened to be Tuesday, which, hilariously, was also Safer Internet Day. Three of the Internet's 13 root servers—the brain stem of the World Wide Web, controlling traffic and site identification—came under sustained attack from a massive network of zombie computers. Hackers essentially tried to overwhelm the system with massive amounts of data, targeting servers operated by the U.S. Department of Defense and ICANN, the Internet's overseer. Analysts say the fact that the vast majority of Internet users barely noticed shows the resiliency of the Web. Meanwhile, computer scientists all over the globe were racing to overcome the threat and trying to track down its origins. It's still unclear where most of the remotely controlled computers used in the attack were based, but initial evidence puts many of them in South Korea.

Bringing down a few root servers would be catastrophic for the web, the global economy, communications, you name it. What's troubling about this attack was its size; it's the biggest sustained attack on the Internet since 2002. But the fact that the servers kept humming in the face of tidal waves of data designed to bring them to their knees is also reassuring. Hackers will need to up the ante next time.

(Hat tip: Security Fix