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Arria: The use of force in international law, non-state actors and legitimate self-defense

Statement by Deputy Permanent Representative Trine Heimerback in the Arria Formula meeting 'Upholding the collective security system of the UN Charter: the use of force in international law, non-state actors and legitimate self-defense', 24 February 2021.

Norway would like to thank Mexico for this event which sheds light on a complex and important issue of our collective security. Thank you also to professor Naz Modirzadeh for her insightful briefing, giving us a solid introduction to this issue. We welcome the inclusive format of this discussion and the opportunity to offer a few remarks. 

Norway’s primary foreign policy interest is to prevent any undermining of the international legal order and multilateral governance systems, which are so critical for our security, economy and welfare. Full respect for international law, not least the UN Charter, is the very foundation of our work in the Security Council.

First of all, we agree that it is in our interest that the Security Council is as transparent as possible. Including in the matters before us, as far as it is possible, and that it is necessary to discuss whether more can be done to facilitate this.

We see that the Security Council could, for example, agree that all Article 51 reports should be immediately circulated to all Member States and be made publicly available.
And likewise, any response to Article 51 reports should also be circulated and be made publicly available.

In this regard, given that the Security Council often receives a large number of letters for any one conflict, it would also be a useful practice for all Article 51 reports to be clearly labelled as such by the sending Member State.

Any lack of action by the Security Council following receipt of a report under Article 51, should not be interpreted as an acceptance of the legitimacy of the use of self-defence in that particular situation.

And we should also be careful not to interpret a lack of response or objection from other States to an Article 51 report as an acceptance of its legitimacy. 

The purpose of Article 51 is first and foremost to ensure that the Security Council is kept duly informed about any use of force and the factual basis for the action taken.

Colleagues, additionally on the substantive side, the concept paper raises the question on how Article 51 is to be interpreted with regard to attacks perpetrated by non-State actors based on the territory of other states.

While Article 51 is focused primarily on attacks committed by other states, we believe there is a basis in international law to a limited right to use force in self-defence against such attacks, in certain exceptional situations.

As one such example of an exceptional situation, would be our own Article 51-letter to the Security Council of 3 June 2016, in which Norway reported to the Security Council that we were taking necessary and proportionate measures against the terrorist organization ISIL in Syria, in the exercise of the right of collective self-defence at the request of and on behalf of the Iraqi people and territory.

Above all, it is important for us to underline that respect for the principles of the UN  Charter is vital. The use of force must only be applied as a last resort. The use of military force may sometimes be necessary, but must only be carried out in accordance with international law.

To conclude, we look forward to discussing this further, for example in the Informal Working Group on Documents and Procedures. The discussion here today certainly provides many ideas on how to make necessary improvements.