The Caroline's Legacy

AuthorCraig Forcese
Chapter 31
The Caroline’s Legacy
The hell with international law. It’s ju a series of precedents and decisions
that have been made in the pa. But this is a unie situation and this is
one in which one can, and should, make international law rather than ju
follow pa precedents.
— dean aCheson, us seCretary of state,
durinG the CuBan Missile Crisis (1962)1
T   mattered, but how it has mattered may be
disputed. Webster’s 175-year-old formula has managed the
difficult feat of constructive ambiguity. In modern inter-
national law, it has been imagined and reimagined to corral states
and their uses of force. These constraints disproportionately af‌fect
more powerful states inclined to use military power.2 But, still, both
in its vocabulary and its practical ef‌fect, the Caroline formula has not
been so constraining a standard as to truly cage use of force in inter-
national relations.
Opinions will divide on whether this has been a good thing or
not. The outsized function played by self-defence and the Caroline
in international relations ref‌lects the unsatisfactory role played by
an often-paralyzed UN Nations Security Council in performing its
responsibilities of ensuring international peace and security. The
Caroline f‌illed a vacuum, as self-defence took centre stage in regu-
lating war and peace.3 Stephen Nef‌f bemoans the consequence in his
magisterial treatise on war and law: “Self-defence claims blossomed
so luxuriantly, and expanded in so many directions as ef‌fectively to
encompass any arguably justif‌iable resort to force.4

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