Author Archive for
Chris Borgen

Besides the Year-End Reviews, How About Looking Forward to the Year, or the Century, to Come?

by Chris Borgen

‘Tis the season for year-in-reviews, for taking stock or where we’ve been. ‘Tis also the season for making resolutions about what we want to do in the coming year. (And a week from now will be the season for breaking those resolutions.)

But in the midst of the backward glances and hopeful promises, it might be interesting not only to make promises about what we want to do (Exercise more! Live “in the present!” Reconsider the scope of the drone program! Close Guantanamo!) but also consider where we are going, given our current paths.

I’m not about to get all Nate Silver statistical. I wish I could, but I can’t; I don’t have the quantitative chops. (And Nate Silver may not be globally scalable… but then again, who is?) However, I do suggest that, as international lawyers, it is good to think about some trends about where society is headed.

I am especially interested in the implications of technological change on efforts at coordinated multinational regulation… where regulation of new tech may be beneficial and where it may be detrimental to society and/or to innovation. (Uh, you know, issues having to do with African cyberpunk, DNA hacking and stuff like that. And don’t even let Ken Anderson (1, 2, 3, etc.) or me (1, 2, etc.) get started on robots…)

So I was happy to see that the current issue of Scientific American looks at “The Future of Science: 50, 100, and 150 Years from Now.” Heady stuff. Ubiquitous computing, biotech, colonizing Mars, possibly even my long-awaited flying cars. But reading this with the cool eye of a lawyer (as opposed to with the racing heart of my geeky Star Trek-loving, flying car-coveting self) one begins to see how intertwined these various scientific and technological topics are with questions of law and regulation.

When it comes to conversations about economic and technological innovation, the standard result is that domestic lawyers get slagged and international lawyers get ignored. But as a general matter, that shouldn’t be the norm in either case. And in these essays, and in some other recent writings on technological change, it isn’t…

(Continue reading via the link)

Treaties, Fear-Mongering, and the Limits of the Bully Pulpit

by Chris Borgen

John Bellinger’s op-ed in today’s New York Times,Obama’s Weakness on Treaties,”  is clear on an important tactical issue on treaty passage but somewhat muted on a more improtant, strategic, issue.   His main argument is that, given rising Republican intransigence against treaties–any treaties–, President Obama should be trying harder to pass treaties like the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

OK, but I think Bellinger’s argument puts the emphasis on the wrong issue.  It should be, given rising Republican intransigence against treaties–any treaties–, President Obama needs to work harder than previous Presidents to get any treaty passed. (And, I would add, the President actually may not be the most important voice in this discussion.)

The question of emphasis is not about the blame game.  There are plenty of missteps to go around and Bellinger catalogues those of the Administration.  But there have always been missteps and false starts; the difference is that now there are so many Republicans who refuse to even consider the possibility of treaty passage as an end point. The Obama administration may have made a tactical error with the timing of when it brought the Disabilities Convention to the Senate, but the bigger issue, the issue that Republican foreign policy leaders really need to address, is the black helicopter talk and fear-mongering by the right wing.

The ironic thing, of course, is the great heritage of internationalism in the Republican party.  A heritage being carried forward by leaders like John Bellinger and Richard Lugar. But then again, Senator Lugar was defeated in his own primary by a Tea Party Republican.  So what I would say to Bellinger is this: your advice to the President is helpful, but the elephant in the room is that the Republican base is scared and is not interested in listening to the President, especially on the issue of treaties. There is a limit to what the President, who is constantly villified on right wing radio and TV, can do to calm the Republican base on the issue of treaties, which are incessantly described by right wing pundits and pols as giving away our sovereignty and capitulating to the UN.  In other words, by these mutually reinforcing arguments, the person you would most like to use the bully pulpit to ensure passage of these treaties is the person least likely to be trusted by the right wing.

So, my advice to my Republican friends would be this: Please talk amongst yourselves a little bit. This is a moment for Republicans to calm their own party’s fears about treaties. We can have a great national dialogue about which treaties to sign, but first we need to have someone to talk to. Right now, what you hear coming from the Republican Party is “No, No, No.” No to this treaty. No to that treaty. No to any treaty. Of course there are Republicans who at times support the passage of various treaties. But far too few. Thirty-eight Republican senators voted against the Disabilities Convention, largely focusing on its (perceived)  implications for that Tea Party favorite issue, home schooling.

I’m sure the Administration will work on improving the timing of when it brings treaties to the Senate and on its bully pulpit issues. But relying on the bully pulpit has its limits. I prefer reasoned discourse. It is one thing not to push as hard as possible for a treaty; it is another to constantly push against any and all treaties. That is the real problem.  And that is a problem that the Republican leadership and punditocracy, not the President, is in the best position to address. Should they choose to do so.



Kristen Boon Joins Opinio Juris

by Chris Borgen

We are happy to announce that this Monday Professor Kristen Boon of Seton Hall Law School will join Opinio Juris as our newest member.

Kristen’s articles range across a variety of topics in international law and, in particular, she has become a respected scholar regarding questions of the responsibility of international organizations and of states. She also writes on issues related to international law and post-conflict zones, and, among other things, is planning to track developments in the law of international organizations for the blog.

Kristen is a tenured faculty member at Seton Hall and is the Director of the Law School’s International Programs. Her previous experience includes clerking for Justice Ian Binnie of the Supreme Court of Canada and working as a litigation associate at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York.

And, by the way, you can also credit/blame Kristen for having introduced Julian and me to each other about thirteen years ago, which later played a part in this blog even being founded.

So it is with great pleasure that we welcome Kristen Boon, a long-time colleague, as our newest member.

Harold Koh on International Law in Cyberspace

by Chris Borgen

Yesterday, Harold Koh, the Legal Adviser of the U.S. State Department, spoke at the U.S. Cyber Command Inter-Agency Legal Conference on the applicability of international law to cyberspace and, particularly, cyberwar/ cyberconflict. For a couple of takes on the speech, see the Washington Post here and Defense News, here.

In our ongoing efforts to make full-text presentations of international legal relevance more easily accessible, we attach the text of Koh’s speech, as prepared for delivery.


USCYBERCOM Inter-Agency Legal Conference
Ft. Meade, MD
September 18, 2012

Harold Hongju Koh [Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State]

Thank you, Colonel Brown, for your kind invitation to speak here today at this very important conference on “the roles of cyber in national defense.” I have been an international lawyer for more than thirty years, a government lawyer practicing international law for more than a decade, and the State Department’s Legal Adviser for nearly 3 ½ years. While my daily workload covers many of the bread and butter issues of international law—diplomatic immunity, the law of the sea, international humanitarian law, treaty interpretation—like many of you, I find more and more of my time is spent grappling with the question of how international law applies in cyberspace.

Everyone here knows that cyberspace presents new opportunities and new challenges for the United States in every foreign policy realm, including national defense. But for international lawyers, it also presents cutting-edge issues of international law, which go to a very fundamental question: how do we apply old laws of war to new cyber-circumstances, staying faithful to enduring principles, while accounting for changing times and technologies?

Many, many international lawyers here in the U.S. Government and around the world have struggled with this question, so today I’d like to present an overview of how we in the U.S. Government have gone about meeting this challenge….

NYU Journal of International Law and Politics Becomes a Peer-Reviewed Journal

by Chris Borgen

NYU’s Journal of International Law and Politics (JILP) has recently announced that it “is transforming from a purely student edited journal into a peer reviewed journal in which all leading articles will henceforth be selected with the assistance of leading academics in the field.” See the announcement here.

Why the change? The announcement explains:

Authors publishing in the new JILP will benefit from additional editorial input and our readers can expect high-quality scholarship in all areas of international law and politics.

This transformation was student-initiated. The JILP will continue to involve students in all respects but will involve legal scholars who are affiliated with NYU (either as members of the permanent faculty or in other capacities) in the selection and substantive editing of articles in their area of expertise. The new JILP will continue to publish student notes and book annotations. It will maintain its broad focus on all aspects of international law and seek the finest scholarship from both established authors as well as younger scholars.

The inaugural issue will have as its managing editor José E. Alvarez

While JILP will now use peer-review for all articles, it is clear that students will still be involved throughout the process (and as a former JILP Symposium Editor, I’m happy to hear this). The new submissions process will include both student and faculty involvement:

All manuscripts received will be evaluated by our Editor in Chief and the Faculty Managing Editor for that particular issue, by several senior articles and managing editors from its Editorial Board, and by one or two referees from the panel of peer reviewers listed on its mast head consisting of NYU faculty members and other affiliated faculty.

Student-run law journals in the U.S. often turn their law school’s faculty for guidance on whether or not to accept certain articles. What JILP is doing, though, is regularizing and institutionalizing this relationship, as well as placing the faculty in the role of substantive editors and putting a faculty member in charge of the whole process. Whether this is a harbinger of similar shifts by other journals remains to be seen…

Movsesian on “Ax Murderers, Values, and International Law”

by Chris Borgen

My colleague Mark Movsesian has a post at the St. John’s Center for Law and Religion Forum concerning the case of Ramil Safarov. He begins:

At a NATO conference in Hungary in 2004, an Azeri officer, Ramil Safarov, murdered one of the other participants, an Armenian officer named Gurgen Margaryan. Actually, that doesn’t quite capture it. Safarov broke into Margaryan’s room, stabbed him while he was sleeping, then severed his neck with an ax. Safarov confessed to the crime; Hungary convicted him of murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Two weeks ago, Hungary extradited Safarov to Azerbaijan, which promptly pardoned him, promoted him, restored his back pay for his years in the Hungarian prison, and generally gave him a hero’s welcome.

He then asks “How can one begin to make sense of this incredible episode?” His answer touches on the tensions over Nagorno-Karabakh, conflicting  interpretations of the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, and Hungary’s foreign policy.

I had not known about this surprising incident before hearing about it from Mark. His post is well worth the read.

International Law and Literature: Daredevil and the Right to a Fair and Public Hearing

by Chris Borgen

Courtesy of Christopher Libertino, my favorite film composer (and former college roommate), I want to point out that a recent post by James Daily on Subculture for the Cultured is about the international law ramifications of the actions of the superhero Daredevil in his current story arc. Daily is an attorney and a research associate at the Hoover Institution’s Project on Commercializing Innovation. His entries often focus on various legal issues in superhero comics. Here’s the set-up:

The most recent issue of Mark Waid’s fantastic run of Daredevil raises some interesting questions related to international law, which is always a tricky area. Spoilers ahead!

If you haven’t been following Daredevil lately, you should because it’s really great, but here’s the story so far: The main story arc over the past few issues has been about Daredevil’s theft of a disc containing financial information about all of the major criminal organization in the world (e.g. AIM, HYDRA). Daredevil uncovered a plan to turn Latveria into a financial haven for these organizations, which would be highly profitable for Latveria. By stopping the plan, Daredevil made Latveria more than a bit unhappy, and so he was abducted from New York and taken to Latveria’s capital, where he was summarily punished for his actions. (I won’t reveal the punishment because it’s a spoiler for the next issue). Just before the punishment commences, Daredevil demands “an opportunity to mount a defense in accordance with international law!” But just what does this mean?

Daily goes on to explain the basics of obligation under treaties and customary international law and is savvy enough to ask whether Latveria, which is controlled by Dr. Doom, would actually sign-on to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The one thing I would adjust in his pithy summary is the cross-wiring of customary international law and jus cogens. See this:

Some aspects of international law are so fundamental and universal that they are considered jus cogens, also called “peremptory norms.” This is the highest kind of customary international law, and it is considered binding on a state even if the state has no explicit law on the subject. Examples of jus cogens include the right to self defense and the prohibitions against slavery and genocide. Judge Patrick Robinson, who presided over the trial of Slobodan Milošević, has written that the right to a fair trial is also a peremptory norm. So according to customary international law, Daredevil has a right to a fair trial, which presumably includes the right to mount a defense. In what way is this binding on Latveria?

Customary international law “is not binding on a nation in the same measure that municipal law is binding on the citizen, but it is sustained by very cogent considerations of morality, commercial advantage, and fear of hostile attack.” 44B Am. Jur. 2d Int’l Law § 7. Alas for Daredevil, Latveria is a nation unconcerned with morality and only vaguely concerned with commercial advantage or fear of hostile attack.

I would pull these strands apart. First, considering customary international law, my main concern would be whether Latveria was a persistent objector to the establishment of a right to a fair trial.  While I am not conversant in the full state practice of Latveria, a quick perusal of Dr. Doom’s shenanigans make this a real possibility (but which of his actions are state action in his official capacity and which are ultra vires and imputable only to him?).

Anyway, from there we can make the second argument based on jus cogens, not likening it to advanced customary international law, but as an independent source of law not based on the prevalence of state practice. And here we would fall into the standard arguments of how one can–or cannot–discern jus cogens.

I hope Daily posts more on international law, national security, and superheroes. As we’ve been writing (for example: 1, 2, 3) getting a conversation going on representations of international law in popular culture can inform the public as to how international law does and does not work. And, in any case, somebody needs to sort out the (real) Pentagon’s snit over the operational mandate for SHIELD.

UPDATE: see also Daily’s blog Law and the Multiverse!  It includes a long post on SHIELD and illegal orders under the UCMJ.  I’ll definitely be reading this blog going forward.  ‘Nuff said.

Book Discussion “Outsourcing War and Peace”: Intelligence Contracting and the Ballad of Dewey Clarridge

by Chris Borgen

This is the third day in our discussion of Professor Dickinson’s book Outsourcing War and Peace: Preserving Public Values in a World of Privatized Foreign Affairs. Links to the related posts can be found below.

Following-up on my earlier post on the difficulty of changing contracting practices by executive agencies, I thought I’d highlight a few quotes from a January 2011 NY Times article about Dewey Clarridge. Clarridge has had a long and storied career in and out of the CIA. He  (proudly) claims responsibility for having the idea to mine Nicaraguan harbors back in the ‘80’s (great quote appended at the end of this post).  He’s spent quality time with the Contras, was a CIA station chief, had plans to use special ops to oust Saddam Hussein in the 1990’s, and so on. Read his account in his autobiography.

Anyway, Clarridge popped back up into the public consciousness when the New York Times ran the story of an outsourced intelligence op in Afghanistan run by… you guessed it.

Read the whole article, it goes into much greater detail about Clarridge and intelligence outsourcing but here are a few choice quotes for our discussion. First, keep in mind that Pentagon contractors are not supposed to actually act as spies. That being said:

To get around a Pentagon ban on hiring contractors as spies, the report said, [the DOD official’s] team simply rebranded [Clarridge’s company’s] activities as “atmospheric information” rather than “intelligence.”

[The DOD official,] Mr. Furlong, now the subject of a criminal investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general, was accused in the internal Pentagon report of carrying out “unauthorized” intelligence gathering, and misleading senior military officers about it. He has said that he became a scapegoat for top commanders in Afghanistan who had blessed his activities.

So why go to all the trouble of outsourcing actual intelligence operations in the first place?

The private spying operation, which The New York Times disclosed last year, was tapped by a military desperate for information about its enemies and frustrated with the quality of intelligence from the C.I.A…

As for what happened when the operation was discovered:

On May 15 [2010], according to a classified Pentagon report on the private spying operation, [Clarridge] sent an encrypted e-mail to military officers in Kabul announcing that his network was being shut down because the Pentagon had just terminated his contract. He wrote that he had to “prepare approximately 200 local personnel to cease work.”

In fact, he had no intention of closing his operation. The very next day, he set up a password-protected Web site,, that would allow officers to continue viewing his dispatches.

I can’t quite decide if this is an example of effective monitoring or not. They found the illegal op and the shady contract but Clarridge does not seem much deterred by this.

In any case, a colorful example of the problems of outsourcing intel operations.

Oh, and as for mining the Nicaraguan harbor? Here’s Clarridge’s recollection:

So I was sitting at home one night, frankly having a glass of gin, and I said you know the mines has gotta be the solution. I knew we had ‘em, we’d made ‘em outta sewer pipe and we had the good fusing system on them and we were ready. And you know they wouldn’t really hurt anybody because they just weren’t that big a mine, alright? Yeah, with luck, bad luck we might hurt somebody, but pretty hard you know?

Book Discussion “Outsourcing War and Peace”: Executive Power and Foreign Affairs Contracting

by Chris Borgen

This is the third day in our discussion of Professor Dickinson’s book Outsourcing War and Peace: Preserving Public Values in a World of Privatized Foreign Affairs. Links to the related posts can be found below.

On behalf of all of us at Opinio Juris, I’d like to thank Laura (and our guest bloggers) for joining us this week to do a discussion about her timely new book, Outsourcing War & Peace. As someone who teaches National Security Law and Contracts, I was particularly struck by an observation she made early in the chapter on contracting: “although typically conceived as the quintessential private law form, contracts… might be a tool to instill broader public values—in short, to ‘publicize’ the process of privatization.”

This is, as Laura notes, an inversion of the classic story that we tell about contracts: that they allow for private ordering among parties, setting new rules that might be different than “public” rules that apply to all. (I am thinking, for example, of Lisa Bernstein’s scholarship on the diamond industry.)

But Laura is looking at contracts as a means to apply public law rules on private actors that undertake quasi-governmental activities in foreign affairs. It is a suggestion that opens up many possibilities for better regulation of prvate military contractors, foreign aid providers, intelligence shops, and so on. Laura describes the details of the types of requirements that can be made via better contracting including the incorporation of human rights and humanitarian law standards, and baseline training requirements. She also tackles the difficult issue of how to monitor contractual compliance. But I want to focus on a different impediment: how do we shift from the current habit of lax contracting standards in foreign affairs contracting to this new form that incorporates international and domestic public law standards… [Continue reading via the link]

International Law and Literature: Peter Watts’ “Malak”

by Chris Borgen

Following on Ken’s most recent post on autonomous battlefield robots, I came across the short story Malak by Peter Watts (you can read it here). What jumped out at me was a short story that beginning with epigrams such as these:

“An ethically-infallible machine ought not to be the goal. Our goal should be to design a machine that performs better than humans do on the battlefield, particularly with respect to reducing unlawful behavior of war crimes.”

–Lin et al, 2008: Autonomous Military Robotics: Risk, Ethics, and Design

“[Collateral] damage is not unlawful so long as it is not excessive in light of the overall military advantage anticipated from the attack.”

–US Department of Defense, 2009

So, yes, a short story that touches on the legal and ethical questions of using autonomous—not just unmanned—aerial combat drones. The epigrams, by the way, are to real reports. The Lin study was prepred for the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research by the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic. (It is available in .pdf here.) The definition of collateral damage can be found in various places, included the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Available here in .pdf).

Watts is a scientist whose fiction has gained some notice for its intelligence and for grappling with unpleasant aspects of the interactions of scientific revelation, technology, and society…

[More via the "Continue Reading" link]

Where Did the Tradition of a European IMF Managing Director Start? Thank J. Edgar Hoover.

by Chris Borgen

Benn Steil, director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations has an interesting peek at the history of the formation of the World Bank and IMF in a New York Times op-ed. From their inceptions, the World Bank has traditionally had an American President and the IMF a European Managing Director. But why? I had learned in college that it was a grand bargain needed to ensure European (particularly French) support. But Steil examines a more precise question: why did the Europeans get the IMF post, particularly when the IMF was the institution that the Americans viewed as being more central to their own interests? The answer, it seems, relates less to theories of international organization management and more on J. Edgar Hoover.

Harry Dexter White, the Treasury Department’s key representative at the Bretton Woods conference and a key architect of the IMF had a “vision of a postwar global financial architecture dominated by the American dollar.” Steil continues:

[O]n Jan. 23, 1946, Harry S. Truman nominated White to be the first American executive director of the I.M.F. (such directors representing the major member countries). Truman was also widely expected to nominate White for the fund’s top post of managing director.

But trouble soon arose in the form of J. Edgar Hoover, the F.B.I. director. White had been under surveillance for two months, suspected of being a Soviet spy. Hoover prepared a report for the president, based on information provided by 30 sources, including the confessed spy Elizabeth Bentley, asserting that White was “a valuable adjunct to an underground Soviet espionage organization,” was placing individuals of high regard to Soviet intelligence inside the government. If word of his activities became public, Hoover stressed, it could jeopardize the survival of the fund.

Oblivious, the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency approved White’s nomination on Feb. 5, the day after Hoover’s report was delivered.

Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, having read the report, wanted Truman to withdraw the nomination; Treasury Secretary Fred M. Vinson wanted White out of government entirely. Truman, who did not trust Hoover but who knew he had a major political problem on his hands, decided to quarantine White as the American I.M.F. executive director, a huge step down from managing director.

And what started as a defensive manoeuvre, hardened onto tradition and expectation.  The whole op-ed is interesting, with some great bits on John Maynard Keynes. I look forward to Steil’s forthcoming book, The Battle of Bretton Woods.

Comment Thread to Legal Adviser Harold Koh’s Statement on Syria

by Chris Borgen

We thank Legal Adviser Harold Koh for guest posting the statement on Syria that he delivered earlier today at the American Society of International Law Annual Meeting.  As this posting is a release of a speech text and Legal Adviser Koh will not be online to respond to comments, we at OJ didn’t place a comment thread under the released text. However, we open the following comment thread to encourage discussion of the speech.