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Trump's Iran strike would have been illegal as well as disproportionate

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23.06.2019

In a much-publicised show of restraint, President Donald Trump said he pulled back from a strike against Iran in retaliation for the shooting of an US unmanned drone because the death toll of 150 would not be "proportionate".

There are so many problems with this from an international legal perspective that it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s start with this. There is a rule of proportionality in the law of armed conflict, and it prohibits any attack likely to cause civilian harm that is excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage.

President Donald Trump on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday.Credit:AP

Because this rule is part of the law of armed conflict, it assumes that there is an armed conflict. It assumes there are parties to that conflict, that each is fighting for a particular military objective, and that attacks are generally launched in order to gain military advantage. Within that overall framework, some things are allowed (like killing combatants or bombing military facilities) and others are not, like killing too many civilians.

In the case of the almost-attack on Iran, there was (and is) no armed conflict. The laws of armed conflict are therefore not the dominant framework that........

© Brisbane Times