The Sukhoi Su-24 Incident between Russia and Turkey

Full Text:


This note presents an analysis from the viewpoint of public international law of the event that occurred on November 24, 2015, when a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber jet was downed by the Turkish Air Force over the border region between Syria and Turkey. While some of the basic circumstances of the case remain controversial, enough elements have emerged from media coverage to permit for the identification of the main legal issues, if not also to assess the legality of the Russian behavior and of the Turkish reaction in all its details. The known facts warrant the conclusion that the attack and the downing of the Russian jet can be seen as a disproportionate reaction on the part of the Turkish Government and, therefore, as a violation of the prohibition of the use of military force under Art. 2(4) of the UN Charter and under the corresponding customary rule of international law.

About the Author

Etienne Henry
University of Neuchâtel

Visiting Researcher at Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, Lecturer, Researcher and Ph.D. Candidate at University of Neuchâtel,

Avenue du 1er-Mars 26, Neuchâtel, CH-2000


1. Blum, Yehuda Z. The Gulf of Sidra Incident, 80 Am. J. Int’l L. 668 (1986).

2. Corten, Olivier. Les résolutions de l’Institut de droit international sur la légitime défense et sur les actions humanitaires, 2007(2) Revue belge de droit international (R.B.D.I.) 608–13.

3. D’Aspremont, Jean. Premises of Diplomatic Missions, in 8 Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law 413, 418 (Rüdiger Wolfrum, ed.) (2nd ed., Oxford University Press 2012).

4. Dinstein, Yoram. The Conduct of Hostilities under the Law of International Armed Conflict 144–45 (Cambridge University Press 2004).

5. Dinstein, Yoram. War, Aggression and Self-Defence 207–13 (5th ed., Cambridge University Press 2012).

6. Distefano, Giovanni. Use of Force, in The Oxford Handbook of International Law in Armed Conflict, 545, 554–55 (Andrew Clapham & Paola Gaeta, eds) (Oxford University Press 2014). doi: 10.1093/law/9780199559695.003.0022

7. Fenrick, William J. 9. Specific Methods of Warfare, in Perspectives on the ICRC Study on Customary International Humanitarian Law, 238, 242–43 (Elizabeth Wilmshurst & Susan Breau, eds.) (British Institute of International and Comparative Law; Chatham House; Cambridge University Press 2007).

8. Fitzgerald, Gerald F. The Use of Force against Civil Aircraft: The Aftermath of the KAL Flight 007 Incident, 22 Can. Y.B. Int’l L. 291 (1984).

9. Gardam, Judith. Necessity and Proportionality in Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bello, 87 Am. J. Int’l L. 391 (1993).

10. Guillaume, Gilbert. Les grandes crises internationales et le droit 61–78 (Seuil 1994).

11. Hassan, Farooq. The Shooting down of Korean Airlines Flight 007 by the USSR and the Future of Air Safety for Passengers, 33 Int’l & Comp. L.Q. 712 (1984).

12. Hingorani, Rupchand C. Aerial Intrusions and International Law, 8 Neth. Int’l L. Rev. 165, 167 (1961). doi:10.1017/S0165070X0003196X

13. Hobe, Stefan. Airspace in 1 The Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law 263, 266 (Rüdiger Wolfrum, ed.) (Oxford University Press 2012).

14. Hughes, William J. Aerial Intrusions by Civil Airliners and the Use of Force, 45 J. Air L. & Com. 595 (1980).

15. Jahn, Ingrid L. Applying International Law to the Downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 on September 1, 1983, 27 German Y.B. Int’l L. 444 (1984).

16. Kalshoven, Frits. Reflections on the Law of War: Collected Essays (= 17 International Humanitarian Law Series) 69–70, 268–71 (Martinus Nijhoff 2007).

17. Kido, Masahiko. The Korean Airlines Incident on September 1, 1983, and Some Measures Following It, 62 J. Air L. & Com. 1049 (1997).

18. Laveson, Jeffrey D. Korean Airline Flight 007: Stalemate in International Aviation law – A Proposal for Enforcement, 22 San Diego L. Rev. 859 (1985).

19. Legal Argumentation in International Crises: The Downing of the Korean Air Lines Flight 007, 97 Harv. L. Rev. 1198 (1983).

20. Linnan, David K. Iran Air Flight 655 and Beyond: Free Passage, Mistaken Self-Defense, and State Responsibility, 16 Yale J. Int’l L. 245 (1991).

21. Lissitzyn, Oliver J. The Treatment of Aerial Intruders in Recent Practice and International Law, 47 Am. J. Int’l L. 559, 587 (1953).

22. Maier, Harold G. Ex Gratia Payments and the Iranian Airline Tragedy, 83 Am. J. Int’l L. 325 (1989).

23. Merrills, J.G. The Aerial Incident of 10 August 1999 (Pakistan v. India), Judgment on Jurisdiction, 50 Int’l & Comp. L.Q. 657–662 (2001).

24. Mullany, Nicholas J. The Legal Implications of the Soviet Union’s Assertions Concerning the Downing of Kal Flight 007, 19 U. W. Austl. L. Rev. 419 (1989), available at <> (accessed Mar. 6, 2016).

25. Nahlik, Stanisław E. Development of Diplomatic Law: Selected Problems (= 222 (1990-III) Recueil des Cours / Collected Courses of the Hague Academy of International Law) 310–19, 323 (Martinus Nijhoff 1991).

26. Nanda, Rajiv. International Law and the Aerial Incident Case: Pakistan vs. India (Universal Law Pub. 2002).

27. Odom, Jonathan G. A‘Rules-Based Approach’ to Airspace Defense: AU.S. Perspective on the International Law of the Sea and Airspace, Air Defense Measures, and the Freedom of Navigation, 47 Belg. Rev. Int’l L. 65, 67 (2014), available at <> (accessed Mar. 6, 2016).

28. Oeter, Stefan. 4. Methods and Means of Combat, in The Handbook of International Humanitarian Law 119, 178 (Dieter Fleck, ed.) (2nd ed., Oxford University Press 2008).

29. Park, Ki-Gab. La protection de la souveraineté aérienne 51–62, 74, 190–92, 291–98 (A. Pedone 1991).

30. Piris, Jean-Claude. L’interdiction du recours à la force contre les aéronefs civils, l’aménagement de 1984 à la Convention de Chicago, 30 Annuaire français de droit international (AFDI) 711 (1984). doi:10.3406/afdi.1984.2630.

31. Ratner, Steven R. Gulf of Sidra Incident of 1981: A Study of the Lawfulness of Peacetime Aerial Engagements, 10 Yale J. Int’l L. 59 (1984).

32. Rochère, Jacqueline de la. L’affaire de l’accident du Boeing 747 de Korean Airlines, 29 Annuaire français de droit international (AFDI) 749 (1983). doi:10.3406/afdi.1983.2579

33. Ruys, Tom. The Meaning of ‘Force’ and the Boundaries of the Jus ad bellum: Are ‘Minimal’ Uses of Force Excluded from UN Charter Article 2(4)?, 108 Am. J. Int’l L. 159 (2014).

34. Schladebach, Marcus. Lufthoheit: Kontinuität und Wandel (= 236 Jus Publicum) 216, 253–61 (Mohr Siebeck 2014).

35. Wright, Quincy. Legal Aspects of the U-2 Incident, 54 Am. J. Int’l L. 836, 850 (1960).

Supplementary files

For citation: Henry E. The Sukhoi Su-24 Incident between Russia and Turkey. Russian Law Journal. 2016;4(1):8-25.

Views: 1439


  • There are currently no refbacks.

ISSN 2309-8678 (Print)
ISSN 2312-3605 (Online)