Arms Embargoes and the Right to Self-Defense in International Law


Over the past few decades, a number of nations have argued that the mandatory arms embargoes imposed against them violated their right to self-defense. In some cases the Security Council has responded by adjusting the embargo to exclude its application to arms destined for the government, such as in Rwanda and Sierra Leone. But in other cases the Security Council has rejected the argument and refused to lift or adjust the embargo, such as in Bosnia and Liberia. In December of 2005, Somalia put forth a similar line of argument, asking the Security Council to lift the arms embargo imposed against it to allow the government to defend itself against attacks. The Security Council has yet to respond.

My article will clarify and assess the validity of the self-defense argument in the face of mandatory arms embargoes. In addressing this issue, I explore the sources, content, and legal status of the right of self-defense, analyze the substance and success of previous arguments, and reconcile the competing policy interests.


Human Rights Law | International Law | Law and Politics | Public Law and Legal Theory

Date of this Version

March 2006