AuthorCraig Forcese
Chapter 27
Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual
or colleive self-defence if an armed attack occurs.
— un Charter, artiCle 51
I   has become the modern world’s new obstacle
to war, how rigorous a legal rule does it provide? Is it a meme
whose content guides conduct, or simply a mantra repeated rit-
ualistically as a slogan?
As this book has done before, it is simple to paraphrase Webster’s
formula: a necessity of self-defence, instant, overwhelming, leaving
no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation, in which the
defender does nothing unreasonable or excessive; and keeps clearly
within the necessity impelling the defence. Even in Webster’s time,
there was nothing truly novel about a formula built around immin-
ence, necessity, and proportionality as argued earlier, these
elements can be traced to naturalist-infused writings of jurists inf‌lu-
ential during Webster’s times. But 175 years after its coining, it is
dicult to ascribe precise meaning to Webster’s pithy 1841 formula.
Certainly, the three elements of this test can be repackaged in
fuller form. A right to self-defence exists where
“(a) an armed attack is launched, or is immediately threatened,
against a state’s territory or forces (and probably its nationals)”
(the requirements of imminence and armed attack);

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