UNITED NATIONS: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday that the use of force is only legal when it is in self-defense or with Security Council authorization, remarks that appear to question the legality of U.S. plans to strike Syria without U.N. backing.
Ban was speaking to reporters after President Barack Obama won the backing of two top Republicans in Congress in his call for limited U.S. strikes on Syria to punish President Bashar al-Assad for his suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians on Aug. 21.
"The use of force is lawful only when in exercise of self-defense in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations charter and/or when the Security Council approves of such action," Ban said. "That is a firm principle of the United Nations."
Obama said on Saturday he was "comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that so far has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable."
Russia, backed by China, has used its veto power in the Security Council three times to block resolutions condemning Assad's government and threatening it with sanctions.
Ban also questioned whether the use of force to deter Syria or other countries from deploying chemical arms in the future could cause more harm than good in the 2-1/2-year Syrian civil war, which the United Nations says has killed over 100,000 people.
"I take note of the argument for action to prevent future uses of chemical weapons," he said. "At the same time, we must consider the impact of any punitive measure on efforts to prevent further bloodshed and facilitate a political resolution of the conflict."
Ban said that if U.N. inspectors determine that chemical weapons were used in Syria, the Security Council, which has long been deadlocked on the civil war, should overcome its differences and take action.
"If confirmed, any use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances will be a serious violation of international law and outrageous war crime," he said.
"Almost a century ago, following the horrors of the First World War, the international community acted to ban the use of these weapons of mass destruction," Ban said. "Our common humanity compels us to ensure that chemical weapons do not become a tool of war or terror in the 21st century."
"Any perpetrators must be brought to justice," he added. "There should be no impunity."