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Principles of Self-Defense—A Brief Response

  • Daniel Bethlehem


I am pleased to provide a brief response to the comments in the pages of this Journal on my note on self-defense principles and to welcome those comments, as well as others, as contributing to the kind of debate that publication of the principles hoped to achieve. I do not agree with much that has been said but am pleased that the public debate has been joined.



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1 Bethlehem, Daniel, Self-Defense Against an Imminent or Actual Armed Attack by Nonstate Actors, 106 AJIL 769 (2012).

2 See, e.g., Ashley Deeks, Readings: Daniel Bethlehem on Principles Governing Self-Defense Against Non-state Actors, Lawfare (Jan. 10, 2013), at

3 Bethlehem, supra note 1, at 775 n.*.

4 Id.

5 see Daniel Bethlehem, Mopping up the Last War or Stumbling into the Next?, Harv. Nat’l Sec. J. (Oct. 7, 2011), at

6 White House Press Release, Remarks by the President at the National Defense University (May 23, 2013), at

7 See, e.g., Anthony Dworkin, Drones and Targeted Killing: Defining a European Position, European Council on Foreign Relations Policy Brief (July 2013), available at

8 Military and Paramilitary Activities in and Against Nicaragua (Nicar. v. U.S.), 1986 ICJ Rep. 14 (June 27).

9 Oil Platforms (Iran v. U.S.), 2003 ICJ Rep. 161 (Nov. 6).

10 Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion, 2004 ICJ Rep. 136 (July 9).

11 Taft, William H. IV, Self-Defense and the Oil Platforms Decision , 29 Yale J. Int’l L. 295 (2004).

12 Id. at 305.

13 See, e.g., Tams, Christian J., The Use of Force Against Terrorists, 20 Eur. J. Int’l L. 359 (2009); van Steenberghe, Raphaél, Self-Defence in Response to Attacks by Non-state Actors in the Light of Recent State Practice: A Step Forward?, 23 Leiden J. Int’l L. 183 (2010); Reinhold, Theresa, State Weakness, Irregular Warfare, and the Right to Self-Defense Post-9/11, 105 AJIL 244 (2011).

14 Deeks, supra note 2.

15 See, e.g., Michael N. Schmitt, Counter-terrorism and the Use of Force in International Law, Marshall Center Papers, No. 5 (Nov. 2002), available at

16 See, e.g., Tams, Christian J. & Devaney, James G., Applying Necessity and Proportionality to Anti-terrorist Self-Defence, 45 Isr. L. Rev. 91 (2012); van Steenberghe, Raphaël, Proportionality Under Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bello: Clarifying Their Relationship , 45 Isr. L. Rev 107 (2012).

17 Kretzmer, David, The Inherent Right to Self-Defence and Proportionality in Jus ad Bellum, 24 Eur. J. Int’l L. 235 (2013).

18 See, e.g., Gina Heathcote, Is It the Right Time to Reconsider Jus ad Bellum Proportionality?: A Response to Kretzmer’s “The Inherent Right to Self-Defence and Proportionality in Jus ad Bellum, “EJIL: Talk!(Apr. 18, 2013), at

19 See, e.g., Judith Gardam, Necessity, Proportionality and the Use of Force by States 138–87 (2004).

20 See, e.g., Schmitt, supra note 15, at 22–25.

21 E.g., Tom Ruys, Armed Attack and Article 51 OF The UN Charter: Evolutions in Customary Law and Practice (2010).

22 Harold Hongju Koh, U.S. Legal Adviser, Keynote Address at the Midyear Meeting of the American Society of International Law: What Is Useful International Law Scholarship? (Oct. 20, 2012), available at

23 Published as Wilmshurst, Elizabeth, The Chatham House Principles of International Law on the Use of Force in Self-Defence, 55 Int’l & Comp. L.Q. 963 (2006).

24 Published as Schrijver, Nico & van den Herik, Larissa, Leiden Policy Recommendations on Counter-terrorism and International Law, 57 Neth. Int’l L. Rev. 531 (2010).

25 For the avoidance of doubt, I emphasize that nothing in the principles, or in the exercise that led to their formulation, would presumptively exclude the application of relevant and applicable principles of International human rights law. For a discussion of these issues, see, for example, Bethlehem, Daniel, The Relationship Between International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law in Situations of Armed Conflict, 2 Cambridge J. Int’l & Comp. L. 180 (2013).

26 See, e.g., Schmitt, supra note 15, at 24–25.

Principles of Self-Defense—A Brief Response

  • Daniel Bethlehem


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