Article 2(4) of the UN Charter

Article 2(4) of the UN Charter
Let’s take a closer look…
 The most important issue that the writers of the UN Charter had to
face was: how to restrain the use of force by states against each other
 Before the UN Charter, states had experimented with the League of
Nations’ Covenant and the Kellogg-Briand Pact – but neither had
succeeded in stopping states from using force
 Article 2(4) of the UN Charter was a new formula
 It was different from the League of Nations’ Covenant and the
Kellogg-Briand Pact
How was Article 2(4)
Article 2(4) was different in at least 3 ways:
1. Article 2(4) prohibits the use of force instead of only encouraging
states to renounce war
2. In addition to actual force, Article 2(4) prohibits the threat of the use of
3. Article 2(4) not only prohibits war but also any use of force
 So, it is much wider in scope than both the League of Nations’
Covenant and the Kellogg-Briand Pact
Source: Abbas, A. International Law: Text, Cases and Materials (Oxford
University Press, 2012) 350-51
Article 2 paragraph 4
All Members shall refrain in their
international relations from the threat or use
of force against the territorial integrity or
political independence of any state, or in any
other manner inconsistent with the Purposes
of the United Nations.
“All members”
 “All Members” means all members of the United Nations
 Currently, there are 193 member states
 Interpreted literally, the UN Charter only applies to its members
 States do not have to join the UN
 But note that Article 2(6) of the Charter provides that the UN shall ensure
that states which are not members will act in accordance with the these
“shall refrain in their
international relations”
 Written in the imperative, “shall”
 “refrain” means “to not do something” or “to hold back
oneself from doing something”
 This article contains a command or an order to member
states – they shall refrain from using force
 But it appears to refer to states in their dealings with one
another: it does not seem to prohibit states from using force
within their own borders – perhaps because of the principle
of sovereignty and territorial integrity
“use of force”
 The word “force” is used, not “war” – the word “force” is broader than
 Does “force” include not only military force but also economic force
(ie, boycotts, economic sanctions)?
 This is a controversial issue which isn’t settled
 Shaw doesn’t think that the use of economic pressures would amount
to a violation of Article 2(4) (see Shaw at p1125)
 Since states can choose whether to trade with one another, threatening
not to trade does not seem to amount to a breach of this clause
“threat or use of force”
 Note that “threats of force” are covered as well as actual force
 It does not matter whether the state has the ability to carry out the
threat – it will still be unlawful
 The International Court of Justice (ICJ) discussed this in an Advisory
Opinion: it said that ‘an intention to use force if certain events occur’
would also amount to a breach of Art 2(4)
 “If the envisaged use of force is itself unlawful, the stated readiness to
use it would be a threat prohibited under Article 2, paragraph 4”
 See Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons Advisory Opinion
“against the territorial integrity or
political independence of any state”
What does this mean? How should this be interpreted?
Does it mean that states can use force so long as it is not against the territorial integrity or
political independence of any state? Can states use force internally against rebel groups, without
The ICJ and the General Assembly have both said that it means: no state has the right to
intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason, in the internal or external affairs of another state
Each state must respect the territorial sovereignty of all other states
Should this phrase be interpreted narrowly or widely?
Narrowly: we could say that it is very specific, so uses of force that do not fall within the
wording are still allowed (eg humanitarian intervention, saving the citizens of one’s own state)
Widely: we could say that the words were intended to be interpreted very broadly to cover
virtually any use of force so there is no force that can be used without violating this clause
1965 Declaration on the Inadmissibility of
Intervention in the Domestic Affairs of States
 This was a UN General Assembly resolution which
emphasized that armed intervention, and all other forms
of interference or attempted threats against a state, are
 The 1965 Declaration was reaffirmed in the 1970
Declaration on Principles in International Law
 If the general rule is: no state shall use force, or threaten
to use force, against another state….
 What are the exceptions?
 There are two main exceptions:
1. In self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter
2. When authorised by the Security Council under Chapter
VII of the UN Charter
Is there one more exception?
Later in this course we will discuss Humanitarian Intervention
Humanitarian Intervention: when States use force to stop a State from violently
repressing its own citizens
Some scholars say that Humanitarian Intervention has become a third way for states to
justify the use of force against other states
It is not expressly provided for in the UN Charter but it has been used on a number of
It seems that it is gaining ground as a means to justify the use of force when there is an
urgent need to use force to save people - especially when the Security Council is not
The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm has been specifically referred to as a means to
intervene with force to prevent genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and
ethnic cleansing
Let’s look briefly at a few
examples of when states
have used force…
Many states use force against other states and then argue that it was lawful
But to be lawful, it must not violate Article 2(4)
States might intervene for these reasons:
Humanitarian Intervention –
NATO forces bombed Serbia and Montenegro in 1999 (there was no Security Council
Libya 2011 (but here there was Security Council authorisation at least for the no-fly zone
Refer to S/RES/1973 (2011)
Regime change
Vietnam’s overthrow of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia in 1978
US intervened in Nicaragua in 1989
US and the UK intervened in Iraq in 2003
To rescue nationals stuck in another state
Israel used force in 1976 to rescue Israelis who were being held hostage at Entebbe airport in
The US used force 1983 to rescue US medical students in Grenada
What can we conclude?
 Each case has to be examined individually
 In some cases (eg the US intervention in Grenada) writers
argue that the US did not violate Article 2(4) because it did not
violate the territorial integrity of Grenada nor did it reduce the
size of Grenada’s territory
 But in other cases (eg the US and UK intervention in Iraq in
2003) most scholars have concluded that the use of force was
unlawful – it did violate the territorial integrity and political
independence of Iraq
 It seems that powerful states can use force first and ask
questions later about its legality

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