Military Intervention by Government Request

Introduction

The military intervention by foreign powers in a country’s internal armed conflict may be necessary based on different factors.1 However, this issue remains controversial because of a number of factors. The principle of self-determination limits any direct or indirect military involvements of foreign troops in internal conflicts. Drawing the line when it is appropriate for the international community to intervene can be a challenge. In 1994, there was an internal armed conflict in Rwanda between the Hutus and Tutsis.2 The international community decided not to intervene because of the sovereignty of the country. The non-interference policy that was embraced by the international community created a perfect environment for the government-backed troops to commit serious crimes against humanity. The genocide led to the death of almost one million people. Many more were displace and countless others raped and physically abused in different ways.3

The international community was blamed for its lack of action. In Libya, the international community acted swiftly to help the rebels eliminate Muammar Gaddafi. The country has never known peace since then. In fact, it is posing a serious threat to regional peace as rebels, and extremist groups control different parts of the country, a situation that was not witnessed during the reign of Gaddafi. One of the biggest questions that often emerge is when it is necessary to intervene in the internal armed conflicts. Sometimes the intervention may worsen the situation. In other cases, lack of intervention would result in serious crimes against humanity. In this paper, the researcher will discuss the requirement of the International Court of Justice that intervention is allowable only at the request of a government of a state.

Understanding the Concept of Intervention

The customary international law and the United Nations Charter limit military activities of foreign troops in a given country unless they are invited by the state or in extraordinary circumstances.4 The concept of intervention prohibits arbitrary entry of foreign troops into a sovereign state without intervention and clear coordination by the government of the concerned state. The concept is often applied in a civil war where internal forces are unable to control the conflict, and humanitarian concerns start to emerge. According to Dinstein, the intervention may take different forms depending on various factors.5 The external troops can opt to be neutral and only concerned with the distribution of relief food and other supplies or evacuation of displaced people who need to move to safer places. The intervention can also be in the form of provision of supplies, especially food and weapons that can facilitate ending of the conflict within the shortest time and with minimum casualties possible. In extreme cases, the foreign troops can join government troops or insurgents depending on the prevailing circumstances.6

Effective Control School

One of the schools of thought where foreign forces can intervene in internal conflicts within a country is the effective control school. According to Dinstein, the foreign troops can join the government to help it restore peace within a country.7 Many African states and those in the Arab world have experienced the problem of insurgency. A good example is the Afghanistan that has been battling insurgents such as ISIS keen on taking control of the country. The government can make a formal request to the international community for military assistance. In Iraq, the United States responded to the request and has played a critical role in pushing away the insurgents from major cities across the country. In such cases, the foreign troops work closely with the government forces to ensure that civilians are protected, and government rule is restored across the country. The primary goal of such intervention is to cripple any uprising that may compromise the rule of law, especially when the current government is legitimately in power.

According to Lieblich, the effective control school provides procedures and standards that must be met before a foreign power can be mandated to intervene.8 One of the main factors that must be considered is the intention of both parties in the conflict. As Lieblich says, the government exercises power on behalf of its people.9 In case an armed conflict arises that threatens the capacity of the government to exercise power, the international community can help if it is convinced about the legitimacy of the government. There should be no doubt about the intention of the government. There should be no deliberate attempt by the government to use its legitimacy and instruments of power to oppress or exterminate a section of the community. Another ground that may illegitimate foreign assistance is if it is determined that the existing government is keen on prolonging its stay in power against the will of its people. In Iraq, the government’s primary goal was to eliminate the terror groups, and to have an empowered central government. It is the reason why the involvement of the United States and other western country’s military has not been subject to legal actions at the International Criminal Court of Justice.

Negative Equality School

The negative equality school is the other approach that can be used to legitimize the intervention of foreign forces in internal conflicts within a country. In such cases, the foreign forces can offer support to the insurgencies to overthrow the existing government. The United Nations Charter is very strict on when such interventions would be permitted.10 One of the grounds on which such interventions can be acceptable is when the current government is clinging to power illegitimately. In Ivory Cost, Allassane Ouattara won the election against Laurent Gbagbo, who was the incumbent. However, the incumbent refused to leave office, a scenario that led to a civil war in the country. The French troops intervened and succeeded in forcing Gbagbo out of the office. The action helped in restoring peace and stability in the West African country. The same incident was experienced in the Gambia when Yahya Jammeh, who had ruled the country for over 23 years, was defeated in an election by Adama Barrow. The regional forces, led by the Nigerian military, had to intervene to force the incumbent out of office and restore normalcy in the country.11 These two countries currently enjoy political stability after the foreign forces’ intervention.

According to Salamey, the right of a government to invite foreign intervention does not exist if it commits international crimes against its own population.12 This issue is what has caused a stalemate in Syria. The Syrian government has been fighting insurgents who are keen on toppling it because of claims of corruption, mismanagement, and crimes against humanity. When the war broke, the Syrian government used excessive force to suppress it. The use of chemical bombs was one of the major accusations made against the government.13 The United Nations Charter prohibits foreign forces from assisting governments, which are keen on exterminating a section of its population. It explains why the west expressed their concern against the Assad’s government for its use of biological weapons against its people. The primary interest of the international community is to stop the current government from using its instruments of power against civilians, most of who may not be properly armed. In such cases, the goal would be to eliminate an oppressive government and to replace it with one that can represent the interest of its people effectively.

Recognition of Belligerency

The condition for the recognition of belligerency is another ground that can facilitate intervention by foreign states. It is a common case when a section of the country feels misrepresented by the government but lack ways of expressing their concerns within the existing legal structures and systems. As such, they feel that the only way through which they can express their feelings is to secede and form an independent nation. However, some conditions must be met to warrant such intervention. Salamey explains that one of the conditions that must be met by the foreign forces is the rule of neutrality.14 The foreign forces should not have interests in the war that may make them favor one party unfairly against other the other parties. Belligerency may be justified in case the region has experienced long periods of civil war and the insurgents are in control of a substantial part of the territory. The insurgents may be interested in establishing a single command. The scholars explain that external state supports the insurgents if they are fighting for self-determination against an oppressive government.15

The move by the Russia Federation to annex Crimea from Ukraine was partially based on this ground, though the justification failed one fundamental principle of neutrality. The charter states that the intervening foreign forces should not have a personal interest in the process. However, Russia benefitted from the intervention directly by expanding its territory. The armed conflict in Southern Sudan lasted for decades. The southerners complained that Khartoum was not representing their interest effectively.16 After years of armed conflict and intervention from the United Nations, it was decided that the southerners will form their nation, South Sudan. The foreign forces played a critical role, alongside the diplomacy that was embraced by the regional and international organizations, to ensure that South Sudan became an independent state. The goal is always to ensure that people exercise their sovereignty without being subjected to systems and structures that go against their beliefs and practices, especially if they control a substantial section of the country.

Discussion

The Charter of the United Nations under Chapter VII, Article 51 defines when it is necessary and permissible for foreign troops to intervene in the armed conflicts of a given country.17 The law acknowledges the fact that it is possible for conflicts to arise within a country because of socio-economic and political reasons. Sometimes the conflicts are resolved internally by the government or other relevant agencies. At other times, it may require the intervention by the external forces to ensure that the issue is addressed. Of primary interest is to ensure that the sovereignty of the people is protected and crimes against humanity are prevented at all costs.

According to Brownlee, some foreign military intervention in internal conflicts is viewed as illegal and primarily focused on meeting selfish interests of the foreign power.18 In other cases, such interventions are very important and relevant in protecting civilians. Sometimes the international community fails to take actions when that is needed to save a section of the community from extermination. Although there is no illegality in failing to act, it is immoral to let a government slaughter its people because of the need to respect the principle of sovereignty. As Brownlee observes, the sovereignty of a country lies with its people and the government is only its custodian.19 When it is apparent that the government is not keen on serving the interest of its people, it may be necessary for the international community to act appropriately.

Preventive diplomacy is one of the initial initiatives that should be taken by the international community to address such conflicts, as enshrined in the Common Article 2 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949.20 The statute mandates the Secretary-General of the United Nations to appoint third parties to help in the mediation process. The mediators are expected to investigate the cause and course of the conflict and find common ground for the parties. This approach was witnessed during the post-election violence that erupted in Kenya in January 2008.

Koffi Anan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, led a team of experts that brokered peace at a time when mass murders were becoming common in different parts of the country. If this approach fails, the charter proposes the use of preventive disarmament. This approach is meant to ensure that the number of arms and ammunition is maintained at the lowest level possible in conflict-prone areas. It is important to note that this must be done in a way that does not create an unfair imbalance. It is not appropriate to disarm one group, leaving them vulnerable to attacks from the groups that still have the dangerous weapons. It is based on the principle that when dangerous artillery is eliminated from the region, the magnitude of the armed conflict will be managed. The strategy has been used in Liberia, El Salvador, and Sierra Leon among other countries.21 In this section of the paper, the researcher will look at the grounds for intervention and non-intervention to internal conflicts.

Grounds for Intervention

The International Humanitarian Laws, popularly known as the IHL Statutes, define the steps and conditions under which intervention may be necessary for internal conflicts. The Geneva Convention, the Rome Statutes, The Hague Conventions, and the Ottawa Treaty are some of the international laws that define how and when it is necessary to intervene.22 They provide the grounds upon which the United Nations and individual member states can send foreign troops to be involved in armed attacks in a specific country of interest. In Non-International Armed Conflicts (NIAC), Davis explains that Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and Article 1 of Additional Protocol II are the main sources of law that define the appropriate actions that should be taken by the international community.23 It is necessary to look at the some of the major interventions that were made by the major powers around the world, the grounds upon which such interventions were made, and the legality of such actions.

The Syrian Civil War

The Syrian civil war took a very strange twist compared to that in Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria. When the riots against the government erupted in various parts of the country May 2012, another substantial section of the society started demonstrating in support of the president. The violent demonstrations started in small towns and then moved to Aleppo and Damascus. The two opposing sides started clashing in main streets around major cities and urban centers in the country.24 When the demonstrations turned violent, the government troops moved in to support the pro-Assad demonstrators.

The leadership vacuum created made it possible for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to find its way into the country. They joined the forces against the government. The government realized that something had to be done to quell the uprising. On August 2013, the government used chemical weapons to attack opposition strongholds in Ghouta, leading to the mass killings of thousand Syrians, including those who were not actively involved in the war. In the midst of the war, Syria conducted a presidential election as had been previously scheduled. As would be expected, the election could not be conducted in the opposition strongholds where the government forces were battling the rebels. As such, President Assad won the election with almost 90% of the total votes cast.25 It gave him the mandate to serve as the president of the country even if many considered it a sham election.

The mass murders continued, and the humanitarian crisis was getting out of hand by mid-2014. Over 100,000 people were already murdered and close to one million displaced. The United States was one of the foreign powers to intervene in the Syrian war by October 3, 2014. At first, the mission of the United States was to target ISIL, a terror outfit that was spreading very fast in the region and had attacked the United States territories in the past. The government of Assad and the Syrian opposition rebels accepted the move to eliminate ISIL from the country.

The United States had consulted the government of Syria through its envoy to the United Nations, and it was assumed that the entry was partly justified by the need to restore the rule of law. It was a legal move because the government did not oppose the assistance that focused on crushing the terror groups that threatened peace and stability in the country. The fact that ISIL had attacked United States’ territories also gave it a further mandate to launch an attack on them within Syria. As the problem of ISIL escalated, Australia joined the United States and local rebels to fight ISIL. The United States announced that it was arming the rebels to enable them to fight ISIL appropriately, a move that angered President Bashar al-Assad. The move was partly influenced by the mass murders committed by the government against the opposition.

The Russian military, at a direct invitation from the Syrian leader, joined the government troops to fight against the rebels and ISIL. According to the International Court of Justice, foreign powers can intervene in an internal conflict when directly requested to do so by the government.26 As such, the decision by Russia to join the war was also legally acceptable, although many questioned the ethical basis of such support given that the government had been accused of crimes against humanity. This move worsened the situation in the country as the number of deaths skyrocketed to over 300,000.27 Two superpowers were at the extreme ends in a conflict that had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and millions more were already displaced.

The United States and allied forces insisted that the solution to the conflict could only be obtained after President Assad stepped out of office. On the other hand, Russia and forces friendly to the Syrian government insisted that the uprising, including the existence of ISIL in the country, had to be crushed to restore the rule of law before a new leadership could be installed. By the time the United States withdrew from active combat in the region in 2017, over 400,000 people had been murdered, and another 8 million Syrians rendered homeless.28 The war is still going on, seven years after it broke out, and without a clear way in which the problem should be addressed.

Nicaragua v. USA

Nicaragua experienced a serious problem of political instability from 1900 to 1980s. The United States was directly involved in the war from 1909 to 1933. The American involvement in the war started on November 18, 1909, when 2 Americans, alongside 500 other Nicaraguan revolutionaries, were murdered by the government troops under an order from President Zelaya. The United States marine was sent to the country and forced President Zelaya to resign. President Adolfo Diaz took over power. When an uprising started in various parts of the country, Adolfo invited the United States marine to help restore peace in the country. He also signed a treaty with the United States in 1914, the Brayan-Chamorro Treaty, which gave the U.S full control over the planned canal that passed through Nicaragua.29

The United States continued with its intervention plans, always keen on ensuring that the leadership of the country was friendly to the United States. It played a critical role in thrashing the rebellion organized by forces keen on toppling the pro-American government. The United States marine played a role in the assassination of Augusto César Sandino. He was a rebel leader who had fought against the American occupation in the land for years. His elimination was widely seen as favorable to the United States interest to control the canal. The Nicaraguan government later decided to take the United States to the International Court of Justice for its unfair intervention in the country’s internal conflicts. In the case, the Republic of Nicaragua v.30 The United States of America, it was held that the United States had interest in the conflict and its intervention was not based on any humanitarian ground. The United States was ordered to withdraw from active involvement in the country’s internal affairs.

Grounds for Non-Intervention

The need to intervene in internal armed conflicts within a given country is sometimes affected by various factors. As Gelvin explains, there are cases when the international community failed to intervene because of different reasons.31 In some of the cases, the internal conflict was resolved relatively fast and with limited casualties. In other cases, it led to mass murders, massive destruction of property, displacement of persons, and serious disruption of the way of life of the affected individuals. It is necessary to evaluate some of the major cases where the international community failed to intervene.

1994 Genocide in Rwanda

The 1994 Rwandan genocide is the darkest part of the country’s history. The deliberate attempt by the radical Hutu military officers and politicians to eliminate Tutsi’s and the moderate Hutus resulted in the death of over one million people in a tiny nation that had a population of fewer than 8 million people at that time.32 The initial murders, including the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana, his prime minister, and prominent government officials considered to be moderates or Tutsi, might have happened too fast for the international community to intervene effectively. However, the activities following the initial assassinations on April 6 to April 8, 1994, were carefully planned and the international community, especially the Belgian government, knew about it. Despite this knowledge, the Hutu junta that took over power was still able to import weapons that were used to commit the mass murders.33 The international community, especially the west that had the military capacity to intervene, failed to do so claiming that Rwanda is a sovereign state, and that intervention would only be possible if the government requested for it.

Given that the government was responsible for the killings, it was not necessary to make such a request. In fact, a report by McMillan indicated that the United States president Bill Clinton had an intelligence report that the Rwandan military had resolution to eliminate all Tutsis in the country.34 The intelligence was gathered soon before the assassination of the president of Rwanda at that time. However, the events in Somalia are believed to have shaped the United States’ foreign policy, and military intervention was one of its most undesirable initiatives in territories where it lacked direct interest. Rwanda was such a country, and the government was reluctant to send troops to save the people. Other western nations such as the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany lacked interest in the war. Belgium, the former colonial power, was overwhelmed after a handful of its officers were murdered in the country. The war was left in the hands of Rwandans, and the outcome was the massacre of one million people. Many others were displaced. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) did very little to help end the war. It was through the military campaigns and victory of Rwandan Patriotic Front that normalcy was restored in the country.35

The Holocaust

A legitimate government can commit a crime against humanity, and when that happens, Talani explains that it is the responsibility of the government to take appropriate measures to protect civilians.36 However, sometimes grounds for non-intervention may be the incapacity by the foreign troops to enter the country and rescue the affected group. A perfect case is the 1941-1945 Holocaust, also known as the Shoah, in Germany during the Second World War. During this time, Germany was a major world power that could not be easily attacked by the foreign forces. In fact, it had taken over France, one of the major powers at that time, and crippled the Soviet Unions’ forces.

The United Kingdom was concerned with protecting its borders, and planning a rescue for Jews who were already taken to the concentration camps in Nazi territories was not part of their plans. The United States, the only remaining power, was coming out of a major recession and could not attack Nazi Germany without the direct support of other major European powers. As Boening explains, the international community was concerned about the murders, but the military power of the aggressor meant that little could be done to address the issue.37 At that time, there were limited laws that defined how such intervention would be made. The League of Nation, established after the First World War, did not articulate measures that would be taken in such eventualities. As such, it was possible for the Nazi government to eliminate over 6 million Jews in its territories.

The Arab Spring in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Oman, Jordan

The principle of self-determination must have played a critical role in the decision by the international community not to intervene in the civil wars in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Oman, Jordan, and various other states that were hit by the Arab Spring. In Tunisia, the need for intervention by the international community was eliminated by the speed with which the government was toppled. Although a few people lost their lives, the relevance of intervention was not necessary after President Ben Ali fled the country. In Egypt, the civil war lasted longer than that of Tunisia. President Hosni Mubarak was finally overthrown, and Muhamed Morsi came to power. However, he was also overthrown after a series of street protests against his rule.

The events of this country, although they attracted the attention of the international community, did not justify the use of force by the international community. In Algeria, there were major protests that led to the death of 8 people.38 However, the government was able to resolve concerns of its citizens, and it remained in power. The same case happened in Oman and Jordan where these governments introduced major policies in line with the demands of the people. The international community had to respect the sovereignty of these countries, and the disputes were solved internally without armed force from foreign troops.39 Incidences of protests were also witnessed in Djibouti, Sudan, Bahrain, Morocco, Mauritania, and Saudi Arabia where the governments were able to quell the protests by meeting the demands of the masses, making military intervention by foreign troops unnecessary.

Conclusion

The international laws, through the United Nations, respect the sovereignty of a country and the need for it to be respected. Foreign forces are not expected to interfere with the internal affairs of a country. As discussed in this paper, it is normal for political differences to emerge whether a country embraces a democratic or dictatorial form of governance. The United States, which is largely regarded as the leading democracy in the world, witnessed demonstrations when the current President Donald Trump was declared the winner of the elections. It means that a large section of the society was not convinced or pleased with the outcome of the electoral process. It does not warrant other states to intervene militarily to satisfy the interest of the disgruntled members of this society. Sometimes the conflict may escalate to the level where people are losing their lives, and others are getting displaced.

The paper strongly suggests that when humanitarian crisis starts to emerge, the international community should be concerned. One of the initiatives that are often taken is to initiate a dialogue between the warring parties. In case that is not possible and the humanitarian crisis is getting worse, then measures should be taken to address the issue. If the current government is legitimately in power and its activities show that it is keen on restoring normalcy, the international community may wait for its invitation to help defeat the insurgency and restore the rule of law. If it is established that the current regime is illegitimately in power, then the foreign forces should intervene even if it is not invited. Most importantly, foreign forces should not wait for intervention in case the humanitarian crisis is getting worse. The world should never witness genocide, such as the one that took place in Rwanda, without taking timely and effective actions.

Bibliography

Andrea Teti, Pamela Abbott and Francesco Cavatorta. The Arab Uprisings in Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia: Social, Political, and Economic Transformations (Palgrave Macmillan 2018).

Astrid Boening, The Arab Spring: Re-Balancing the Greater Euro-Mediterranean (Springer 2014).

Beverley Milton-Edwards, The Muslim Brotherhood: The Arab Spring and its future face (Routledge 2016).

The Charter of the United Nations 2016, s 7(51)(c).

CHRISTOPHER Mon, ‘Unilateral Intervention by Invitation in Civil Wars: The Effective Control Test’ (2003) 35, JILP 7, 741.

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Footnotes

  1. Espinosa Escudero, Self-determination, and Humanitarian Secession in International Law of a Globalized World: Kosovo V. Crimea (Springer 2018) 41.
  2. Ibid 58.
  3. Ibid 74.
  4. Yoram Dinstein, Non-International Armed Conflicts in International Law (Cambridge University Press 2014) 67.
  5. Ibid 83.
  6. Raphael Israeli, From Arab Spring to Islamic Winter (Transaction Publishers 2013) 108.
  7. Ibid 122.
  8. Eliav Lieblich, International Law and Civil Wars: Intervention and Consent (Taylor & Francis Group 2013) 44.
  9. Ibid 78.
  10. The Charter of the United Nations 2016, s 7(51)(c).
  11. Imad Salamey, The Decline of Nation-States After the Arab Spring: The Rise of Communitocracy (Routledge 2017) 56.
  12. Ibid 81.
  13. Ibid 97.
  14. Ibid 119
  15. Jason Brownlee, Tarek Masoud and Andrew Reynolds, The Arab Spring: Pathways of Repression and Reform (Oxford University Press 2015) 52.
  16. Ibid 47.
  17. United Nations Human Rights Act 1998, s 15(1)(a)
  18. Brownlee (n 15) 28.
  19. Ibid 39.
  20. Ibid 82.
  21. John Davis, The Arab Spring and Arab Thaw: Unfinished Revolutions and the Quest for Democracy (Taylor & Francis Group 2013) 47.
  22. Ibid 34.
  23. Ibid 113.
  24. Mohammad-Munir Adi, The Usage of Social Media in the Arab Spring: The Potential of Media to Change Political Landscapes Throughout the Middle East and Africa (Lit Verlag GmbH 2014) 71.
  25. Imad (n 11) 45.
  26. CHRISTOPHER Mon, ‘Unilateral Intervention by Invitation in Civil Wars: The Effective Control Test’ (2003) 35, JILP 7, 741.
  27. Khalifa Alfadhel, The Failure of the Arab Spring (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2016) 79.
  28. Andrea Teti, Pamela Abbott and Francesco Cavatorta. The Arab Uprisings in Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia: Social, Political, and Economic Transformations (Palgrave Macmillan 2018) 115.
  29. TRISTAN Ferraro, ‘The ICRC’s Legal Position on the Notion of Armed Conflict Involving Foreign Intervention and on Determining the IHL Applicable to This Type of Conflict’ (2015) 97, IRRC 21, 1227.
  30. The Republic of Nicaragua v the United States of America (1986) ICJ 1 (1986) 27 CJ 14.
  31. James Gelvin, The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know (2nd edn, Oxford University Press 2015) 69.
  32. Rand Hochman, Roots of the Arab Spring: Contested Authority and Political Change in the Middle East (University of Pennsylvania Press 2013) 68.
  33. Ibid 93.
  34. Edward McMillan, From the First World War to the Arab Spring: What’s Really Going on in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan 2016) 112.
  35. Ibid 122.
  36. Leila Talani, The Arab Spring in the Global Political Economy (Palgrave Macmillan 2014) 55.
  37. Astrid Boening, The Arab Spring: Re-Balancing the Greater Euro-Mediterranean (Springer 2014) 41.
  38. Beverley Milton-Edwards, The Muslim Brotherhood: The Arab Spring and its future face (Routledge 2016) 84.
  39. Ibid 61.