The IS, the US and Us


When President Obama gave his speech at the opening of the UN General Assembly in September this year, much of it sounded like a declaration of war on the so-called Islamic State (IS but also known as ISIS, ISIL, ISIG, EIS and even Daesh) within the territories of Iraq and Syria. Of course, by that time the war against the IS had already begun. This was not the Obama we knew. He looked sad and the arguments may not have been convincing for a majority of the delegates he was speaking to. The US President who wanted to end repeated US military adventures abroad had now to justify a war that in many ways is a continuation of the military intervention in Iraq that his predecessor, President George W. Bush, had begun and that had gone so terribly wrong. He had wanted to bring the US out of this messy war, but may now have triggered an even messier one.

Although Obama spoke at the UN, this new military intervention raises questions about its legality under international law. While one could argue that the operation in Iraq is in response to an Iraqi government request for help, bombing IS sites on Syrian territory – though this may be necessary from a military point of view – is far more problematic. With so many governments around the world wanting to see the IS destroyed, such questions can be easily ignored, at least for now. It could, however, come to haunt us later when things may not go so smoothly.

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Written by

Michael von der Schulenburg

Michael von der Schulenburg, former UN Assistant Secretary-General, escaped East Germany in 1969, studied in Berlin, London and Paris and worked for over 34 years for the United Nations, and shortly the OSCE, in many countries in war or internal armed conflicts often involving fragile governments and armed non-state actors. These included long-term assignments in Haiti, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sierra Leone and shorter assignments in Syria, the Balkan, Somalia, the Balkan, the Sahel, and Central Asia. In 2017, he published the book ‘On Building Peace – rescuing the Nation-State and saving the United Nations’, AUP.

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