As usual, the New York Times lies in a way that serves to manufacture consent for U.S. policy. In this case, the deception is to suggest that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declined to answer whether the U.S. use of force against Syria would violate the U.N. Charter, thus leaving it an open question to readers who do not already know the answer. Here is how the Times reported Ban’s press conference:
Asked if Mr. Obama’s proposal would be illegal under the United Nations Charter, Mr. Ban answered, “I have taken note of President Obama’s statement, and I appreciate efforts to have his future course of action based on the broad opinions of the American people, particularly Congress, and I hope this process will have good results.”
He did not specify what he meant by “good results.”
Mr. Ban also reiterated, “We should avoid further militarization of the conflict, revitalize the search for a political settlement.”
So, from this reporting, we conclude that Ban declined to answer the question, leaving it ambiguous. I was myself fooled by this, commenting on social media that Ban was a coward for declining to answer the question. I have to retract that now, as I see he did in fact answer it. The Times‘ deception becomes clear turning to the actual transcript of Ban’s press conference. Ban was asked:
My question is, since you are talking about an end to impunity and you are also talking about the primacy of the Charter, which would prohibit any military strike without UN Security Council authorization and with a stalemate in the Security Council, what is it that you are proposing?
We see, therefore, that the questioner already knew the answer to the question of whether the U.S.’s planned bombing of Syria would violate the U.N. Charter: yes, indeed, it would. And Ban in his answer confirmed that:
As I have repeatedly said, the Security Council has primary responsibility for international peace and security. For any course of actions in the future, depending upon the outcome of the analysis, the scientific analysis, will have to be considered by the Security Council for any action. That’s my appeal — that everything should be handled within the framework of the United Nations Charter. The use of force is lawful only when in exercise of self-defence in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and/or when the Security Council approves such action. That is the firm principle of the United Nations.
A follow up was then asked:
Do you mean, Secretary-General, that the position taken by President [Barack] Obama that in his opinion there should be a strike is illegal….?
To which he replied:
I have taken note of President Obama’s statement. And I appreciate his efforts to have his future course of action based on the broad opinions of American people, particularly the Congress, and I hope this process will have a good result.
While it is true that he did not restate his answer in reply to this follow-up question, he hardly needed to do so, since the fact is that he had already answered it by making it explicitly clear that any use of force absent Security Council authorization would be a violation of the U.N. Charter.