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The Government’s legal position on intervention in Syria states that humanitarian intervention without authorisation from the UN Security Council is permitted under international law if three conditions are met:

• strong evidence of extreme and large-scale humanitarian distress;

• no practicable alternative to the use of force; and

• the proposed use of force is necessary, proportionate, and the minimum necessary.

World leaders’ agreed position on the principle of military intervention as a last resort to respond to mass atrocities is set out in the Outcomes Document of the World Summit on the Responsibility to Protect. It gave only very general conditions – peaceful means are inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations – and did not say what happens if the Security Council fails to authorise such intervention.

Although the conditions set out in the Government’s legal position reflect several other sources on humanitarian intervention, it is not clear whether under current international law meeting such conditions could be an alternative to Security Council authorisation. Could this position contribute to setting a new precedent?

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