Ryan Goodman to Work at DoD for One Year

by Kevin Jon Heller

Ryan — friend of Opinio Juris and friend of Kevin — has been appointed Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense. Here is a snippet from NYU’s press release:

In his new role at the Department of Defense Goodman will focus primarily on national security law and law of armed conflict. “I am very humbled to have this opportunity to work with the General Counsel and the outstanding people of the Defense Department,” said Goodman. “I look forward to the hard work and challenges ahead in this arena of public service.”

One of the nation’s leading scholars in national security and human rights law, Goodman co-founded Just Security, a blog for the rigorous analysis of law, rights, and national security, in 2013. With Goodman serving as co-editor-in-chief, Just Security quickly achieved international prominence for providing balanced and broad analysis of major legislation and executive action, information about the impact of US national security policies around the world, and scrutiny of international legal developments in the national security area.  During his time with the Defense Department, Goodman will discontinue his work with Just Security.

I’m sad that we will not have the benefit of Ryan’s blogging for a year, but the blogosphere’s loss is the DoD’s gain. Readers know that I have reservations about academics going into government service, but I have no doubt whatsoever that Ryan — like his mentor Harold Koh before him — will be a principled, conscientious, and even courageous voice in government. Indeed, Ryan has never shied away from criticising the USG when he thinks its approach to international law has been misguided. I just regret that we will probably never get to know how he spent his year with the DoD!

Please join me in congratulating Ryan — though I think the DoD is really the one that deserves congratulations.


6 Responses

  1. I wish him great luck ….

  2. Kevin, I don’t understand your reservations about academics stepping away from their work to serve in government. My assumption is that you would see an opportunity like Ryan’s as one that can improve the academic community upon his return. Obviously, there will be some things he will be unable to discuss due to classification, but overall his exposure to a operational perspective would deepen his understanding of the issues that influence decisions relating to national security law. The military willingly sends its lawyers to civilian national security programs every year in order to broaden DoD perspective and improve the technical proficiency of the individual, which in turn aids commanders in making better decisions.

  3. Eric,

    Your points are well taken. My reservations about academics entering government service are two-fold. First, ex ante, I think far too many academics — especially American ones — are willing to remain silent about or even amend their actual views of international law in order to maximise their chances of getting a government position. Indeed, without naming names — and I do not include Ryan in this category, not remotely — I can think of at least three government-minded scholars whose views are, from private discussions, considerably different than the views they air in their writing and in the media.

    Second, ex post, I find it difficult to assess an academic’s work once I know they have addressed the same issues in government — especially when, as is almost always the case, the positions they took in government will always remain secret. There are some scholars, such as Harold Koh and Ryan, who I know would not take positions in government that are at odds with the positions they have taken in their scholarship. But there many other scholars in whom I would not have the same confidence. On the contrary, I think far too many would be happy to tell the government what it wants to hear and then take precisely the opposite position in their scholarship after returning to academia. I hope that’s too cynical — but I don’t think it is.

  4. Kevin, I understand your concerns, but couldn’t some of your concerns about academics changing/altering their position be attributed to their academic opinions colliding with the realities of implementing national security law against a very real adversary. Moreover, when a lawyer leaves academia for government service he/she now has a client that must be served/represented. My assumption is that when an academic comes into government and reviews the DoD decision making process with respect to national security law decisions they realize those decisions are based on tangible facts and a reasonable interpretation of the law. I completely understand how a lawyer can have certain beliefs in academia and have opposite views while in government service — and I don’t see it as an ethical dilemma to have those varying views. As an example, I have my own views on the concept of imminence and how it should be applied when deciding to use force. However, the DoD has defined imminence and I must apply that definition in making decisions and recommendations. Whether you are talking about cyber, jus in bello use of force, or the concept of transparency, unfortunately academics are not working with all the facts.

  5. Congrats to Ryan Goodman. I am not surprised. Just subscribed to Just Security too.

  6. Well done, Ryan. Drop me a line when you plan to visit the Australian DoD General Counsel.

    As for legal opinions varying, surely a good lawyer would, in at least some cases, be able to make sound legal arguments for either the plaintiff or the defendant, the prosecution or the accused etc. If that wasn’t the case, then we wouldn’t need judges ruling on the law, but rather just being triers of fact. I fear that a lawyer that could not do that might in fact be letting his or her personal views cloud their legal judgment.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. There are no trackbacks or pingbacks associated with this post at this time.