From an article in The Christian Science Monitor (Oct. 5) by Alfred P. Rubin, professor of international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University: On Sept. 21 the United States captured an Iranian minelayer in the Persian Gulf, killing some of its crew in the process. Assuming the facts alleged by the U.S. government to be complete and correct, the incident was unjustifiable and the United States will be paying for it in many expensive ways.
First, arguing that minelaying is a "belligerent act" is no justification for initiating the action against the Iranian ship. Iran has been a belligerent against Iraq for seven years, and belligerency includes rights against neutrals at sea, including the right to interdict neutral vessels on the high seas. . . . Minelaying can be a part of the exercise of these rights . . .
Second, it is irrelevant to Iran's mining the Gulf that our mining of harbors in Nicaragua was held by the World Court to be illegal. The United States was not claiming belligerent rights at that place and at that time. Moreover, mining Nicaraguan waters violated Nicaraguan territory. Iranian mining of the Persian Gulf is not an attack on U.S. territory or even on U.S. shipping as such; it is at worst a threat to world shipping, calling for world action.
We are not the mine-sheriffs of the Gulf or the policemen of the international legal order, and can derive no right to act from the fact that others do not classify events as the United States does.