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France’s Mali War & International Law

France is fighting a rather serious war in Mali. What does international law say about this go-it-alone incursion into a foreign country? Given the controversy over recent interventions with mixed motives, such as the U.S. war in Iraq, it is worth consider the international legal basis for the assault and its conduct.

I. Security Council Resolution.
France has invoked the U.N. Security Council Res. 2085, passed on Dec. 20th, as the basis for their intervention. However, this is not so simple. Yes, the Council did use its Chapter VII authority to “authorize the deployment” of foreign forces to Mali – just not French force. Rather, the entire resolution is about green-lighting the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA), a ECOWACS effort. France is not part of AFISMA, or of ECOWACS. Only AFISMA is authorized to “support the Malian authorities in recovering the areas in the north of its territory under the control of terrorist, extremist and armed groups.” (Par. 9b).

As for other U.N. member states, the resolution merely calls on them to provide logistic, training and other kinds of “support” to the ECOWACS mission (par. 14). France is not providing support, it is taking the lead role in direct combat operations. Indeed, it jumped in before AFISMA got there, because it judges the U.N. authorized African effort would be too little, too late.

Alas, an authorization by one group of countries to intervene is not a carte blanche to all interested parties, and we will have to look elsewhere for France’s authority. One should add that this aggressive reading of UN resolutions is a bit ironic given France’s criticism of US readings of resolution before the Iraq War.

II. Third-party defense: Mali’s invitation.
France’s use of force in Mali is a lot less troublesome because it was [...]

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