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The Soviet-Cuban Quarantine and Self-Defense, 57 American Journal of International Law 597 (1963)


In an article appearing elsewhere in this issue Professor Quincy Wright concludes—among many other things, most of which are largely dependent upon this particular conclusion—that the quarantine imposed by the United States in October, 1962, upon the importation of offensive weapons into Cuba cannot be regarded as a lawful exercise by the United States of the right of self-defense. This conclusion Professor Wright seeks to establish by interpreting Article 51 of the United Nations Charter as limiting the traditional right of self-defense by states to reactions against "actual armed attack." Such an interpretation enables him, since the United States acted before any actual firing of the weapons, to avoid the difficult task of a careful appraisal of the United States' measure for its necessity and proportionality in total context. With greatest deference to Professor Wright, it may be suggested both that his conclusion is not a necessary one and that his reasoning is inimical to appropriate clarification under contemporary conditions of the common interest in a viable minimum world public order.

The broad outlines of a different approach may be indicated by briefly noting, first, the more important characteristics of the traditional, customary right of self-defense, secondly, the considerations which should guide a genuine, as contrasted with a spurious, interpretation of the whole United Nations Charter, and, thirdly, the more obvious factors in the context of this particular confrontation between the United States and the Soviets which should be taken into account in any serious assessment of the necessity and proportionality of the United States' action.

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