ND Expert: U.S. is “most definitely” involved in hostilities in Libya

by Shannon Chapla

O'Connell, Mary Ellen

The Obama administration is making the case that actions in Libya don’t amount to “hostilities” as defined by the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which limits the ability of the president to unilaterally engage U.S. forces in combat.

As debate continues among foreign policy, military and legal experts over whether Obama has complied with the War Powers Resolution, University of Notre Dame international law expert Mary Ellen O’Connell believes he has not.

“The U.S. has deployed manned and unmanned aircraft to fire missiles and drop bombs—the type of weapons only permissible for use in armed conflict hostilities,” she says.

In a report released last week, the Obama administration wrote, “The president is of the view that the current U.S. military operations in Libya are consistent with the War Powers Resolution and do not under that law require further congressional authorization, because U.S. military operations are distinct from the kind of ‘hostilities’ contemplated by the resolution’s 60-day termination provision. U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors.”

O’Connell chaired the International Law Association’s Committee on the Use of Force from 2005-2010. That committee identified the definition of armed conflict in international law as well the definition of hostilities. She says the president is manipulating the meaning of war.

“The U.S. had better be involved in ‘hostilities,’ or else our forces are engaged in unlawful killing,” she says. “Most U.S. attacks in Libya today reportedly are being carried out by unmanned Predator drones. President Obama’s report to Congress on June 15 tries to minimize the meaning of using Predators. The report refers to ‘occasional strikes by unmanned Predators.’ But, armed Predators carry two Hellfire missiles.

“President Obama uses drones in places where, for political reasons, he does not want a significant U.S. military presence,” O’Connell says. “Yet, that is the fatal attraction of drones – they may not seem like a weapon of war but they are.”

O’Connell is Notre Dame’s Robert and Marion Short Chair in Law and research professor of international dispute resolution at the University’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, as well as vice president of the American Society of International Law. Author of “The Power and Purpose of International Law,” O’Connell’s area of specialty is international legal regulation of the use of force and conflict and dispute resolution.

Media Advisory: O’Connell’s comments may be used in whole or in part. She is available for interviews and can be reached at 574-631-7953, maryellenoconnell@nd.edu