and Italy) "Operation Brimstone" large scale war games were conducted off
the US East coast in the North Atlantic. Its purpose may have been to
prepare for a naval blockade of Iran. From what's known a naval deployment
may be planned, and a blockade may ensue. The situation remains tense and
Under international and US law, blockades are acts of war and variously
-- surrounding a nation or objective with hostile forces;
-- measures to isolate an enemy;
-- encirclement and besieging;
-- preventing the passage in or out of supplies, military forces or aid in
time of or as an act of war; and
-- an act of naval warfare to block access to an enemy's coastline and deny
entry to all vessels and aircraft.
In 2009, it's believed that the International Criminal Court in the Hague
will include blockades against coasts and ports as acts of war.
International law expert Professor Francis Boyle is very outspoken on this
topic as well as on others of equal importance. He defines blockades under
international and US law as:
-- "belligerent measures taken by a nation (to) prevent passage of vessels
or aircraft to and from another country. Customary international law
recognizes blockades as an act of war because of the belligerent use of
force even against third party nations in enforcing the blockade. Blockades
as acts of war have been recognized as such in the Declaration of Paris of
1856 and the Declaration of London of 1909 that delineate the international
rules of warfare."
America approved these Declarations, so they're binding US law as well "as
part of general international law and customary international law." Past US
presidents, including Dwight Eisenhower and Jack Kennedy, called blockades
acts of war. So has the US Supreme Court.
In Bas v. Tingy (1800), the High Court addressed the constitutionality of
fighting an undeclared war. Boyle explained that it ruled that "the seizure
of a French vessel (is) an act of hostility or reprisal requiring
Congressional approval....The Court held that Congress pursuant to
Constitutional war powers had authorized hostilities on the high seas under
certain circumstances." The Court cited Talbot v. Seaman (1801) in ruling
that "specific legislative authority was required in the seizure...."
In Little v. Barreme (1804), the Court held that "even an order from the
President could not justify or excuse an act that violated the laws and
customs of warfare. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote that a captain of a
United States warship could be held personally liable in trespass for
wrongfully seizing a neutral Danish ship, even though" presidential
authority ordered it. Only Congress has that power. "The Court's position
seems consistent with a typical trespass case, where defendants are liable
even when they have a reasonable, good faith (but mistaken) belief in
authority to enter on the plaintiff's land."
Boyle cites "The Prize Cases" (1863) as the most definitive Supreme Court
ruling on blockades requiring congressional authorization. The case involved
President Lincoln's ordering "a blockade of coastal states that had joined
the Confederacy at the outset of the Civil War. The Court....explicitly
(ruled) that a blockade is an act of war and is legal only if properly
authorized under the Constitution." It stated:
"The power of declaring war is the highest sovereign power, and is limited
to the representative of the full sovereignty of the nation. It is limited
in the United States to its Congress exclusively; and the authority of the
President to be the Commander-in-Chief....to take that the law be faithfully
executed, is to be taken in connection with the exclusive power given to
Congress to declare war, and does not enable the President to (do it) or to
introduce, without Act of Congress, War or any of its legal disabilities or
liabilities, on any citizen of the United States."
Article I of the Constitution pertains to powers "vested in a Congress of
the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of
Representatives." Section 8 relates to powers "to lay and collect taxes,
duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common
defense and welfare of the United States...." Two Section 8 clauses relate
to this article.
-- clause 14: to "make rules for the government and regulation of the land
and naval forces;" and most importantly
-- clause 11: "to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and
make rules concerning capture on land and water."
The framers believed that no single official, including the President,
should ever have sole authority over this most crucial of all constitutional
powers because of how easily it can be abused as post-WW II history shows.
In 1793, James Madison wrote that the "fundamental doctrine of the
Constitution....to declare war is fully and exclusively vested in the
legislature." During the 1787 Constitutional Convention, George Mason said
that the President "is not safely to be trusted with" the power to declare
war. Nonetheless, Congress only observed its responsibility five times in
the nation's history, lastly on December 8, 1941 following Japan's attack on
Pearl Harbor the previous day.
All treaties to which America is a signatory, including the UN Charter, are
binding US law. Its Chapter VII authorizes only the Security Council to
"determine the existence of any threat to the peace, or act of aggression
(and, if necessary, take military or other actions to) restore international
peace and stability." It permits a nation to use force (including blockades)
only under two conditions: when authorized by the Security Council or under
Article 51 allowing the "right of individual or collective self-defense if
an armed attack occurs against a Member....until the Security Council has
taken measures to maintain international peace and security."
Iran poses no threat to the US, its neighbors, or any other nations,
including Israel. Imposing a blockade against it violates the UN Charter and
other international and US law. It will constitute an illegal act of
aggression that under the Nuremberg Charter is the "supreme international
crime" above all others. It will make the Bush administration, every
supportive congressional member, and governments of other participating
nations criminally liable.
Two more events further up the stakes. On April 3, in spite of strong public
opposition, the Czech Republic agreed to the installation of US "advanced
tracking missile defense radar" by 2012. On July 9, a Russian Foreign
Ministry statement responded: "We will be forced to react not with
diplomatic, but with military-technical methods."
Then on August 14, Poland defied its own people and most Europeans by
agreeing to allow offensive "interceptor missiles" on its soil. Legislatures
of both countries must approve it, but that will likely follow. Deployment
is reckless and indefensible and will head the world closer to serious
For two countries wracked by prior wars, these actions are irresponsible and
foolhardy. They further heighten tensions and assure a new Cold War arms
race or much worse. Russia's deputy military chief of staff, General Anatoly
Nogovitsyn, stated: Poland is "exposing itself to a strike, 100%." Russian
President Dmitri Medvedev said: "The deployment (aims at) the Russian
Federation." Even Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk showed fear by his
comment that "We have crossed the Rubicon." Yet he did it anyway. Where this
is heading remains to be seen, but the signs are deeply worrisome.
So is the possibility that Washington will blockade or attack Iran before
year end. Things won't likely crystallize before Congress reconvenes in
September after both parties hold their nominating conventions.
Hopefully a wider Middle East war will be avoided because of what might
follow. What Barbara Tuchman recounted in her 1962 book, "The Guns of
August," on how WW I war began and its early weeks. Once started, things
spun out of control with cataclysmic consequences. Before it ended, over 20
million died, at least that many more were wounded, and a generation of
young men was erased.
Igniting another world conflict should give everyone pause. Especially given
the destructive power of today's weapons and the Bush administration's
design for "full spectrum dominance" and stated unilateral right to achieve
it with first-strike nuclear weapons. Avoiding that possibility is the top
priority of every world leader. It's unclear if any are up to the challenge.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on
Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Global
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