Was it legal for the United States to enter Pakistan, without their consent, to kill or capture Osama bin Laden? The successful raid by the SEALs on May 2, 2011, which apparently occurred without the express or implied permission of Pakistan, has kicked off a debate in policy and legal circles.

The short answer is, under these circumstances, yes.

There are, to be sure, several legal and policy issues surrounding this operation. The broad legal question, however, as succinctly put by former State Department Legal Advisor Ashley Deeks, is this: “may one state use force in another state’s territory in self-defense against members of a non-state armed group, and what constraint does the principle of sovereignty impose on that action.”

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