Is the U.N. Charter Law?

I think the question of whether the U.N. Charter is law is misleading or meaningless or both, for reasons that I hope this post will make apparent. But now that I have your attention, I want to sketch a few thoughts about the varied reactions to the airstrikes in Syria by the United States, Great Britain, and France. As Oona Hathaway and I have argued, the U.N. Charter clearly prohibits the strikes, and none of the three recognized exceptions—consent, self-defense, Security Council authorization—are present here. But is that the end of the matter? International law is fluid, and “hard” sources of law like treaties can be shaped and even amended by the practice of nations. For example, the U.N. Charter contemplated that the United Nations itself would enforce Security Council authorizations to use force pursuant to military forces provided to it by member states. But these arrangements never materialized, and the relatively rare Security Council…

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