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Biden Administration Relies on Constitutional Authority and Unwilling or Unable Theory of Self-Defense for Airstrikes in Syria
American Journal of International Law  (IF3.091),  Pub Date : 2021-07-21, DOI: 10.1017/ajil.2021.32


On February 25, 2021, the United States conducted a strike targeting Iranian-backed militia group facilities in Syria. The strike, which came in response to a February 15, 2021 attack on U.S. interests in Iraq, marked the Biden administration's first known exercise of executive war powers. As domestic authority for the strike, President Joseph Biden, Jr. cited his authority under Article II of the U.S. Constitution and did not rely on the 2001 or 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs). For international legal authority, Biden relied on individual self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter, stating that Syria was “unwilling or unable” to prevent further attacks on the United States by these non-state actors within its territory. The strikes garnered mixed reactions from Congress, where efforts are underway to repeal or reform extant AUMFs as well as the War Powers Resolution (WPR). The Biden administration is also undertaking a review of current U.S. military policy on the use of force, and during this process, it has prohibited drone strikes outside of conventional battlefields, absent presidential approval.