2012 ASIL Annual Meeting: Confronting Complexity

by Harlan Cohen

As Peggy mentioned in her introduction, I’ve had the honor of working with two extraordinary co-chairs, Chiara Giorgetti and Cymie Payne, and an incomparable group of Program Committee members, including OJ’s own Chris Borgen, in planning the 106th Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law. This year’s theme is “Confronting Complexity.” The theme statement can be found here.

In a nutshell, as we looked out at various issues that seemed to be defining the moment in international law, whether the Arab Spring, the global financial crisis, natural disasters, or drone warfare, we kept coming back to the sheer complexity of these issues, both in terms of the range of laws and regimes they implicate and in terms of the masses of information that need to be processed to figure out how to deal with them. More and more, it seems that the real challenge is figuring out how to get a handle on and manage this increasing complexity. The questions we wanted to pose for the Annual Meeting are not only how international law might help do this, but also whether international law is always best the tool to do so. We hope to explore when and how international law can be best be mobilized and when and how it might either partner with or even cede the field to others

We have worked hard to work these themes into the agenda for the meeting, and although the schedule is still coming together, we are excited about what we already have lined up. There are far too many interesting panels to list here – I recommend taking a look at a longer list of highlights here – but to give you at least flavor of what we’ve cooked up:

  • We have a number of panels focused on particularly complex problems: A roundtable on “International Humanitarian Law and New Technology,” panels on “What Makes a State,” “International Energy Governance,“ “An Emerging International Law of Migration” (organized by OJ’s own Peter Spiro), “Financial Crisis in the Eurozone,” “Water: Security Concern, Commodity or Human Right?” (featuring, among others, Catarina de Albuquerque, UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation), and “Transitional Justice and the Arab Spring.”
  • Other panels focus on attempts to manage or cut through the complexity including panels on “Indicators in International Law,” “Fact-Finding in Interstate Disputes” (featuring Rosalyn Higgins, Bruno Simma, Sean Murphy, Lucy Reed, and Lisa Grosh), and “Global Environmental Protection and Transnational Conservation Contracts.” A closing plenary will feature a conversation with UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya and Inter-American Commission Rapporteur Dinah Shelton on their work promoting the rights of indigenous peoples.
  • Still other panels challenge international law’s role in wrestling with complex problems, for example, “Opting Against International Law in International Financial Regulation,” or challenge the assumption that complexity is always a problem to resolve. One panel, “International Law and Its Discontents: The Normative Implications, and Strategic Opportunities, of Complexity,” suggests that legal complexity may open up opportunities for previously marginalized voices.

In keeping with the theme we have also worked hard to bring in voices from outside the law. The roundtable on “International Humanitarian Law and New Technology,” for example, includes Brookings’ P.W. Singer and University of Pennsylvania philosopher Claire Finkelstein. A panel on “Preparation of Cases before International Courts and Tribunals,” includes a geographer (and frequent expert for ICJ maritime boundary disputes) Martin Pratt.

Additionally, we are launching a new feature at the Annual Meeting: ASIL – IDEAS:  Ideas, Direction, Engagement, Action, Solutions. These will be shorter talks, about 20 minutes long, featuring innovative ideas international lawyers will want to think about from people you might not otherwise hear. Among others, we hope to bring in people from other fields – science, technology, entrepreneurship, philanthropy, etc. – who might broaden our understandings of what’s possible. We are already working on some exciting speakers for the Annual Meeting (stay tuned), and if successful, we hope this will become an ongoing ASIL feature. We welcome your thoughts on good candidates.

The Annual Meeting will be held March 28-31, 2012 at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington, DC. Registration is here. We hope you’re getting excited for it. We certainly are!


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