Originally published 2/14/07:
Mary Ellen O’Connell of the Notre Dame Law School makes some great points about the legality of a future attack on Iran. What is cause for enough provocation to legally attack another nation?
“This is not only because none of the acts meets the threshold to allow for lawful use of force in self-defense; it is also because the United States is not the victim of these wrongs. Burns alleged that Iran is killing Americans in Iraq. But the U.S. is in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi leadership, namely Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Attacks in Iraq, even on Americans, are still attacks against Iraq. Therefore, Iraq is the state with the legal authority to respond to such wrongs. Maliki, a Shi’a Muslim with close ties to Iran, seems very unlikely to take forceful countermeasures against Iran. But it is Maliki who has the authority to make such a decision, not President Bush. If the U.S. does not like how Maliki is responding to American deaths, its option is to pull Americans out of Iraq and sue Iraq for failing to make efforts within its capacity to protect Americans.”
“Indeed, in response to a United States military briefing in Baghdad on February 11 about alleged Iranian weapons shipments to Iraq, the Iraqi deputy foreign minister was quoted after the briefing in the Washington Post as saying, “‘If they [the Americans] have anything really conclusive, then they should come out and say it openly, then we will pick it up from there and use diplomatic channels’ to discuss it with Iran….” ”
She then goes on to point out the obvious:
“It may be, however, that the United States is not really interested in responding to the wrongs it is complaining about, but rather is developing a pretext for attacking Iranian nuclear research sites. Iran may have aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons in violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  While unlawful and open to countermeasures, the acquisition of nuclear weapons is not an armed attack giving rise to a right of self-defense. Thus, the U.S. simply has no right to take armed action against Iran for developing nuclear weapons. “
She makes some other good points. Read her op-ed piece here: