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UN Charter Provided Basis for U.S. Action Against Libya; Also Used by Israel for Self-defense Action

The right of a nation to defend itself under provisions contained in the United Nations Charter, invoked by President Reagan as a basis for the United States air attack on Libya Monday, has also been used by the State of Israel to defend its actions in recent years.

Whenever a nation speaks in an international forum on self-defense, said Eyal Arad of the Israeli Mission to the UN, “this is based on Article 51 of the UN Charter.” While he added that invoking Article 51 may merely be a “rhetorical action,” it nonetheless remains one of many international provisions which can be used to explain defensive actions, such as the Libyan raid.

Article 51 states: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.

“Measures taken by members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

While prohibiting international aggression, the UN Charter recognizes the right of self-defense, including at times, allowing for a preemptive strike when there is overwhelming evidence of a planned attack by a hostile force. In 1967, for example, the UN Security Council did not condemn Israel for its Six-Day-War attack on Egypt.

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