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Assessing the legality of US military intervention against ISIS in Syria under international law

In the wake of the Arab Spring in 2010 and the Syrian Civil War the following year, the Islamic State terror group quickly rose to prominence in Northern Syria and Iraq, rapidly establishing itself as the dominant power in the region. Following numerous acts of brutality against civilian and military hostages, and numerous terrorist attacks attributed to the group, the United States pushed for an international military response, leading the vanguard with Operation Inherent Resolve. The US has offered several justifications in attempting to provide a legal basis for the operation, including the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, invitation to intervene, and the right to individual and collective self-defence. This article examines the relevant justifications for the use of force against ISIS in Syria, and argues that the recent rise in terror attacks by non-state actors has led to a ‘Grotian Moment’ causing a rapid shift in the law, incorporating the US ‘unwilling or unable’ doctrine into the international law of self-defence and the use of force against non-state actors.

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