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More on Why the U.S. Is Not Violating the Outer Space Treaty By Allowing Asteroid Mining

by Julian Ku

I’ve received some very good (though pretty much all critical) comments to my original post defending the consistency of the recently enacted U.S. Space Act with the Outer Space Treaty. I will concede that my reading of the statute and treaty is not exactly a cut and dried simple legal issue. But I think too much of the reporting on the Space Act has made it seem like it is a clear violation the other way.  (See here, here, and here.)

One thing that few of these articles note is that the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology did study the question of the Outer Space Treaty when it reported out this legislation.  They reasonably concluded that allowing private companies to exploit celestial bodies is not a “national appropriation” within the meaning of the Outer Space Treaty.  Indeed, this has long been a position of the United States. For instance, the House Committee noted that in 1980, the U.S. State Department’s Legal Adviser explained that

`The United States has long taken the position that Article 1 of that treaty [Outer Space Treaty] . . . recognizes the right of exploitation. We were and are aware, however, that this view is not shared by all States or commentators, some of whom take the position that the nonappropriation provisions in Article [II] of the 1967 Treaty preclude exploitation of celestial natural resources and the reduction to private property.”

It is also worth noting that State Practice seems to lean in favor of allowing the use of materials from outer space. Again, from the Committee’s discussion:

State practice is consistent with finding that exploration and use of outer space includes the right to remove, take possession, and use in-situ natural resources from celestial bodies. The United States, Russia, and Japan have all removed, taken possession, and used in-situ natural resources. These activities have never been protested by a State party to the treaty or judged in a court of law to be in violation of the Outer Space Treaty.

Indeed, some moon rocks taken by the Russian government have actually already been sold to private parties at Sotheby’s auctions in recent years.

Finally, the Committee cites Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty as recognizing that non-governmental entities can carry on activities in outer space, as long states bear international responsibility for those private activities.

States Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty. The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty.

I will again note that this reading of the Outer Space Treaty is hardly slam-dunk, but I think it is a quite reasonable one that is at least as persuasive as the interpretation offered by the critics.  I think it is worth noting that State practice leans in favor of the U.S. here, which is not decisive, of course, but it is helpful nonetheless.  I also don’t think the U.S. ever would have committed itself to a flat out ban on commercial exploitation of outer space when it signed the Outer Space Treaty.

In any event, we will see how things spin out. As I noted, it is possible we will one day need an “Authority’ like that created for the international seabed, but not just yet.

The UK Government’s Position on Unwilling & Unable

by Jens David Ohlin

Happy Thanksgiving.  As those of us in the United States celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday, it is of course imperative to remember that many people outside our country are facing serious problems and perilous circumstances.

In response to the terror attacks in Paris (and in Mali), the government of UK Prime Minister David Cameron has once again called on British lawmakers to authorize the use of military force in Syria. Cameron released a document that not only articulates the strategic necessity for military action against ISIS, but also outlines the Cameron administration’s legal position regarding the legality of the proposed strikes under international law. Unsurprisingly, the argument relies on the fact that the Syria government is unwilling or unable to stop the ISIS threat.

The following excerpt is taken from a longer document released by Cameron and sent to the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Here is the critical section dealing with international law:

There is now a UN Security Council Resolution. Resolution 2249 (of 20 November 2015) has now made a clear and unanimous determination that ISIL “constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security”, and called upon Member States to take “all necessary measures … to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL… and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria.” There is a clear legal basis for military action against ISIL in Syria. The legality of UK strikes against ISIL in Syria is founded on the right of self-defence as it is recognised in Article 51 of the UN Charter. The right to self-defence may be exercised individually where it is necessary to the UK’s own defence, and collectively in the defence of our friends and allies. This reflects the multi-faceted and evolving threat that ISIL poses, and the response that is required to bring that threat to an effective end.

Collective Self Defence of Iraq

On 20 September 2014 the Government of Iraq wrote to the President of the UN Security Council seeking international assistance to strike ISIL sites and military strongholds, in order to end the constant threat to Iraq, protect Iraq’s citizens and, ultimately, arm Iraqi forces and enable them to regain control of Iraq’s borders. The main basis of the Global Coalition’s actions against ISIL in Syria is the collective self-defence of Iraq. The UK is already supporting the Coalition’s efforts to degrade ISIL in Syria as a necessary aspect of effectively bringing an end to ISIL’s armed attack on Iraq. On 21 October 2014, the Defence Secretary announced to Parliament that he was authorising flights of manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft over Syria to gather intelligence against ISIL. There is a solid basis of evidence on which to conclude, firstly, that there is a direct link between the presence and activities of ISIL in Syria and their ongoing attack on Iraq and, secondly, that the Assad regime is unwilling and/or unable to take action necessary to prevent ISIL’s continuing attack on Iraq.

In light of these considerations and the scale of the threat posed by ISIL, military action that is necessary and proportionate to bring an end to ISIL’s attack on Iraq is justified in accordance with the right of collective self-defence that is preserved in Article 51 of the UN Charter. The Coalition has relied on this legal basis for military action in Syria. Numerous States, including the USA, Australia, Canada and France have written to the UN Security Council explaining that they are taking action on the basis of the right of collective self-­defence. In accordance with the requirements of Article 51 of the UN Charter, the UK notified the UN Security Council that it was taking military action as part of the Coalition’s efforts in the collective self-defence of Iraq by a letter of 25 November 2014. The underlying considerations which justified collective self-defence of Iraq for UK activity in Syria in 2014 remain today. The collective self-defence of Iraq provides a clear legal basis for the UK to increase its contribution to the Coalition’s efforts against ISIL in Syria by taking direct military action itself, provided such activity meets the ongoing requirements of necessity and proportionality.

ISIL’s threat to the UK and its attack on our Allies and partners

The threat from ISIL continues to evolve and now goes far beyond Iraq and Syria, as is all too clear from the external attack planning disrupted by the precision UK strike of 21 August (as I reported to the House on 7 September) and the tragic events of 13 November in Paris. For several months now, UK security agencies have been monitoring the development of ISIL’s external attack planning capacity, which seeks to target both the UK and our allies and partners around the world. Resolution 2249 (2015) both condemns the ISIL’s horrendous attacks that have taken place and notes ISIL’s intent and capability to carry out further attacks. It then calls upon States to take lawful action to prevent such attacks. It is clear that ISIL’s campaign against the UK and our allies has reached the level of an “armed attack” such that force may lawfully be used in self-defence to prevent further atrocities being committed by ISIL. As well as the collective self-defence of Iraq, there is therefore an additional legal basis to take action in our own self-defence and that of other allies and partners as well, where they request our assistance. The use of force in self-defence is of course limited to what is necessary and proportionate and we have made clear that we will act at all times in accordance with the law.

The Unwilling Part of “Unwilling or Unable”

by Deborah Pearlstein

Marty Lederman last week posted a typically comprehensive treatment of the legal issues raised by Charlie Savage’s account of the administration decision to send forces into Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. I’d earlier criticized the CIA’s apparent view that non-self-executing treaties are not legally binding on the President, and I take Marty plainly to agree with this principle. It’s no doubt true there is yet more to learn and understand about how the CIA’s position on this question has actually manifested itself in administration decision-making, but given what we already know, I’m not sure how to avoid the already deeply concerning conclusion that as a general matter the CIA seems to have badly misunderstood the legally binding nature of treaties the United States has signed and ratified.

Where Marty and I appear to disagree is on the question (a question I set aside at the beginning of the last post) whether the United States’ incursion into Pakistan during the bin Laden mission violated Article 2(4) of the UN Charter (one of those legally binding (even if non-self-executing) treaty provisions) prohibiting the “use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” There is of course vigorous ongoing disagreement (e.g. here and here, but this is only the tip of the iceberg) about the argument that there is any exception to the Art. 2(4) principle on the grounds that the target country is “unwilling or unable” to address the threat a non-state actor on its territory poses to the targeting country. But let’s ignore all that for now and just assume for the sake of argument that one embraces some “unwilling or unable” exception to the Article 2 prohibition. Even assuming as much, the argument the administration lawyers appear to have made in the bin Laden case goes a step beyond. In particular, because the United States did not want to risk alerting Pakistan of the operation in advance for fear that Pakistani officials would inform bin Laden, the lawyers would have had to argue that the targeting country could conclude on its own that the target country is “unwilling” to address the non-state actor threat, whether or not the country would in fact be willing if asked. In Marty’s conception, the argument would go as follows. (1) The “unwilling or unable” test “is best understood as an application of the jus ad bellum requirement of necessity.” (2) Because the United States had a reasonable and well-founded fear that elements of the Pakistani government would have tipped off bin Laden, making any subsequent intervention impossible, it was reasonable for the lawyers to conclude that the U.S. use of force “without prior Pakistani notification/coordination was, more likely than not, necessary to interdict the threat posed by bin Laden.” (emphasis mine) Put more directly, a target country can be deemed “unwilling” to address a non-state actor threat if the targeting country thinks it is “necessary” to do the targeting itself.

Marty forthrightly notes that there is no current law that informs this argument – an artifact, it seems to me, of the reality that only a handful of countries have yet recognized the “unwilling or unable” exception at all. But that does not mean there is no law here that applies. (more…)

Remembering Professor Burns Weston

by Duncan Hollis

Professor Burns Weston passed away on October 28, 2015.  His daughter, Rebecca Weston, wrote the following obituary, which she passed on to us to circulate among the international law community.  I never had the privilege of meeting Professor Weston, but was a regular user of his textbooks (on both international law and international environmental law).  I know I speak for all of us here at Opinio Juris when we offer our condolences to Rebecca, her family, Burns’ former students, as well as all his friends and colleagues.

Burns H. Weston, Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Iowa and founder and senior scholar of the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR) died on October 28, 2015, just a few days before his 82nd birthday.  After surviving numerous intense challenges to his health, Weston’s death was unexpected and sudden.  To the end, he was excited about upcoming birthday celebrations with his wife and visits to his children over Thanksgiving; he was steadily writing and developing new projects.

Weston was fond of quoting EB White, who said:  “If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy.  If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem.  But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.  This makes it hard to plan my day.”

In his own life, Weston also felt the pull of these choices every day – including in his first pivotal career decision to discontinue a promising career as a pianist or conductor to focus on the then relatively new field of international law.

As loved ones, friends and colleagues from around the world witnessed, Weston had a limitless capacity to enjoy so much about this world – and an equally tenacious drive to improve it.

After receiving his J.D. from Yale Law School, Weston began his legal career in 1961 with the distinguished New York City law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkand, Wharton & Garrison.  Wanting to teach, he subsequently joined The University of Iowa College of Law, where he remained for the rest of his professional life.  He devoted himself to the cause of international law, human rights and environmental sustainability.

As his close friend and colleague, Richard Falk said, Weston was one of “the most talented and dedicated international law scholar[s] of his generation.”  Weston authored over 28 books, innumerable articles, and was on the editorial board of over 10 professional journals, including the American Journal of International Law.  Among others, he published in the Harvard International Law Journal, Human Rights Quarterly, and the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment.

Over the years, Weston participated in fact finding missions, lectured, wrote and taught about some of the most pressing issues facing our planet: nuclear weapons and disarmament, child labor, human rights and in the latter part of his life, environmental survival.  And in doing this work, Weston was often bold and inventive.  As close collaborator David Bollier wrote, he was an “irresistible disruption” – a force of such optimism, conviction and potential – that he emboldened and challenged those around him.

At the University of Iowa, Weston inspired generations of law students and “put Iowa Law on the map” of international law and international human rights. He developed a path-breaking, problem-oriented approach to teaching international law and wrote the award-winning textbook, International Law and World Order: A Problem-Oriented Coursebook.   Always broad and expansive in his thinking, Weston also founded and directed an interdisciplinary, university-wide Center for World Order Studies (later known as the University’s “Global Studies Program”) in the 1970s.

At the same time, Weston was a dedicated teacher who paid close attention to and nurtured his students.  As one student wrote, he “will always be the internationally-renowned scholar, writer, and teacher who was also generous enough to write two e-mails to a very desperate law student when she needed it most.  And there’s not a lot of those out there.”

Prior to the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Weston took part in a human rights fact-finding mission to Havana Cuba in 1984, a protective conflict-mitigation mission in 1985 to accompany former political dissident (and later president) Kim Dae Jung upon his return to Korea following involuntary exile in the United States; and in 1987, a human rights fact-finding mission in the Israeli-Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

Later, Weston (usually with his wife Dr. Marta Cullberg Weston), organized and/or participated in a number of human rights fact-finding and conflict-mitigation missions in the former Yugoslavia, Central Asia, and beyond.

In the latter part of his career, Weston founded the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UIHCR) and turned his scholarly attention to issues of the environment.  He immersed himself in the politics and the social dynamics of ecological crisis and climate change.  In 2012, Weston authored the International Environmental Law and World Order: A Problem-Oriented Casebook. 

Subsequently, in 2013, Weston co-authored a ground-breaking book titled Green Governance: Ecological Survivial, Human Rights, and the Law of the Commons.   As co-author David Bollier has written about their collaboration on the Commons Law Project, Weston “attacked these questions with the enthusiasm of a first-year law student and the sagacity of a gray eminence. […] He wasn’t afraid if they might require social and political struggle.”

At the time of his death, he was in the final stages of completing the 4th edition of Human Rights in the World Community: Issues and Action, with co-author, Anna Grear.

In his non-academic, non-activist life, Weston embraced the world “with all five senses.”  Above all, he was passionate about and constantly immersed in classical music:  friends and family can easily recall moments when Weston’s attention drifted into a musical score; they remember often urging him to lower the volume just enough to hear themselves talk in the car or over a dinner table conversation.

He also loved art, taking drives and going to movies.  He had a strong sense of aesthetics and a gifted ability to create beautiful spaces. In no place were Weston’s senses more alive or more soothed then in his beloved Adirondack Mountains.  Until the end, Weston was a devoted spouse, father and grandfather: he was consistently and steadily available, curious about and eager to support and connect with his children and grandchildren.

Weston is survived by his wife, Marta Cullberg-Weston (Sweden) and his two children, Timothy Bergmann Weston (Boulder) and Rebecca Burns Weston (Montana), four grandchildren (Leah and Emma Yonemoto-Weston, Elijah and Isabella Weston-Capulong) and three stepchildren, Malin Cullberg, Johannes Cullberg, and Martin Cullberg and five step grand-children John Birger Wedinger, Olivia Lampenius Cullberg, Sima Wiernik Cullberg, Joar Wiernik Cullberg, and Cecilia Lampenius Cullberg.

A memorial service in honor of Weston will be held at the University of Iowa College of Law on December 5, 2015, from 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.  Donations in Weston’s honor will be accepted at the Iowa Law School Foundation for the benefit of the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights, 130 Byington Road, Iowa City, Iowa 52242

Can You Be Pro-Free Trade and Anti-Investor State Dispute Settlement?

by Julian Ku

Simon Lester of and the Cato Institute offered a very interesting pro-free trade argument against the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in trade agreements like the TransPacific Partnership or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.  I disagree and we discussed and debated the issue today in a lively conversation hosted by Columbia University’s Center for Sustainable Investment.

So It’s Settled: The President Can Violate Customary International Law

by Julian Ku

There is a lot of interesting material revealed in the Charlie Savage NYTimes article on the legal justification for the Bin Laden raid (including how the Attorney General and Office of Legal Counsel were kept in the dark and out of the loop).  But I want to focus on one paragraph in the article, which explained the lawyers’ backup justification for their conclusion:

There was also a trump card. While the lawyers believed that Mr. Obama was bound to obey domestic law, they also believed he could decide to violate international law when authorizing a “covert” action, officials said.

Deborah has done some very good analysis here on the CIA’s views on this question, as applied to non-self-executing treaties. I think that is a tricky question. But there is also an easier question that was also probably settled in the lawyers’ legal memos.  Like the Bush administration lawyers, the Obama Administration lawyers concluded that the President can choose to violate that customary international law without violating the Constitution or other domestic law.

Although this may seem obvious, it used to be a highly contested question.  I dug up this discussion from a 1986 panel between leading international law scholars Louis Henkin, Anthony D’Amato, Michael Glennon, Abe Chayes and others.  Almost none (even President Reagan’s legal adviser Abe Chayes) would have openly admitted that the President could violate customary international law. The Restatement of U.S. Foreign Relations Law suggests, but does not completely endorse the view that the President can openly violate customary international law.  Indeed, there used to be a fair number of law review articles explaining why the President’s obligation to “Take Care” that the laws are faithfully executed include customary international law. But, if Savage’s reporting is accurate, the U.S. government (under both George Bush and Barack Obama) is no longer troubled by this question, and has moved on. So should the rest of us, apparently.

More Memos Anyone?

by Jens David Ohlin

Today the New York Times reported on the existence of four secret memos covering the various aspects of the U.S. Navy Seals raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.  It would be great to see the memos, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. They aren’t likely to be released in the very near future, though I think each of them would, in very significant ways, increase our understanding of how the United States executive branch understands crucial questions of international law.

For now, until the memos arrive, here are a few brief comments about the underlying issues contained in them. First, let’s discuss the duty to capture. I think the memo (at least from its description in the New York Times) gets this exactly right. If Bin Laden effectively communicated his intention to surrender, the attacking forces are required to respect that decision and take him into custody instead of killing him. However, there is no affirmative obligation under IHL to offer targets the opportunity to surrender before attacking them. In other words, one does not need to ask a target if they wish to surrender before killing them. Based on this analysis, it is entirely legal under IHL for a military operation to proceed with the intention to kill the targets rather than to capture them (although query whether Ryan Goodman, presently at DoD, might disagree with this conclusion).

Another memo dealt extensively with the putative violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty caused by the Navy Seals raid. According to the Times article, the focus of the memo was the Unwilling or Unable standard, which has been extensively vetted on this blog in the past (including some intense back-and-forth between Kevin Heller and Marty Lederman). I wanted to make two quick points about the nature of this debate. First, I think the discourse is focused far too much on customary international law, which to my mind is of limited–or even no–relevance to the issue. (In this respect, various statements regarding self-defense from the ICJ, including in Nicaragua, have contributed to this confusion.) In reality, the law of self-defense is a question of treaty interpretation, governed by article 51, which recognizes and preserves, but strictly speaking does not create, an inherent right under international law. Indeed, even if customary international law were to purport to eliminate the right of self-defense, the right would still endure as legally effective, in part because it is an inherent right that cannot be taken away–a point recognized by the text of article 51 as central to the UN Charter regime. Consequently, the real test of the unwilling or unable standard is whether it is consistent with both the natural right of self-defense and the text of article 51–something that the current debate has shown insufficient attention to. And, dare I say it, the text of article 51 suggests that the provision was designed to carve out, as an exception from the general prohibition on the use of force, the defensive rights that existed pre-charter going back as far as natural law. That should be the focus of the analysis.

OK, now back to watching the GOP debate.

Contra CIA, Non-Self-Executing Treaties Are Still the Supreme Law of the Land

by Deborah Pearlstein

Let’s set aside for now the apparent reliance on the “unwilling or unable” exception to justify the U.S. invasion of Pakistan without that country’s consent – even without having asked the country for its consent. Let’s also set aside the apparent designation of the bin Laden operation as a “covert action” under U.S. law – when it’s not at all clear the operation was intended “to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad,” as the U.S. law of covert action requires (as opposed to, for example, just killing or capturing bin Laden). The most troubling sentence in Charlie Savage’s new New York Times piece on the legal theory underlying the United States’ 2011 incursion into Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden is this: “While the lawyers believed that Mr. Obama was bound to obey domestic law, they also believed he could decide to violate international law when authorizing a ‘covert’ action, officials said.” (more…)

Constitutionality of Congressional Restrictions on Guantanamo Prisoner Transfers

by Deborah Pearlstein

Harold Koh has an interesting post over at Just Security thinking through what options would remain available to President Obama to close Guantanamo if Congress once again imposes restrictions on the transfer of prisoners off the base. Congress has imposed a range of such restrictions in annual legislation since 2009, invariably prohibiting the transfer of prisoners to the United States. As Koh notes, Congress has accomplished this on each occasion not by imposing an outright ban, but through its capacious Spending Clause power under Article I of the Constitution. Congress famously holds the purse strings for all U.S. government spending, and it has prohibited the expenditure of any funds for the purpose of such transfers. Are these restrictions an unconstitutional infringement by Congress on the President’s own powers under Article II (as Commander in Chief, etc.)? Koh stops short of answering directly, but he does say this (quoting President Obama’s recent veto statement and past signing statement):

“[M]ost likely, the President’s action would stand even if challenged, as Prosecutor-in-Chief to ‘determine when and where to prosecute them, based on the facts and circumstances of each case and our national security interests,’ and as Diplomat-in-Chief and Commander-in-Chief to decide and arrange through negotiations ‘when and where to transfer them consistent with our national security and our humane treatment policy.’”

Koh is surely right there must be some limits to Congress’ power to act through spending restrictions, as with all constitutional power; legislation will be held unconstitutional if it violates Bill of Rights prohibitions, for example. Particularly to the extent the legislative restrictions impinge on the President’s prosecutorial powers (although only to that extent – it seems clear the administration still contemplates criminally prosecuting only a fraction of the remaining detainees), the President has a constitutional case to make that the Constitution gives him, and only him, not only the power but the duty to execute the laws that are established. Koh might also have added that the weight of history, such as it is, is on the President’s side. As I’ve written in detail elsewhere, in all of the major wars of the 20th and 21st centuries in which U.S. detention operations are now concluded – World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam, the 1991 and 2003 Iraq Wars – conflicts during which the United States held hundreds of thousands of prisoners in total, the imprisonment of enemies held pursuant to wartime authorities has always come to an end, and the resolution of these detentions has always been handled by the executive branch. Indeed, Congress has not imposed anything like the current restrictions on the exchange, transfer or release of prisoners, during or after the period of armed conflict in any of the previous conflicts over the past century.

Nonetheless, I remain deeply skeptical of the strength of the constitutional argument that the President has sufficient Article II power to succeed in demonstrating that the spending restrictions are an unconstitutional infringement on presidential power. (more…)

China’s Weak Legal Basis for Criticizing the US Navy’s Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea

by Julian Ku

The US Navy executed a much anticipated “freedom of navigation operation” (FONOP) today within 12 nautical miles of Subi reef, the site of one of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea.   Predictably, China has reacted sharply to this operation by sending two Chinese destroyers to shadow the U.S. ship and planes, summoning the U.S. ambassador, and issuing angry public statements (see below).  Although it is not the main focus of their complaints, the Chinese have repeatedly described the U.S. operation as “illegal” thus highlighting the legal conflict underlying this naval showdown.

The most detailed official reaction was presented by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Lu Kang.

The USS Lassen illegally entered waters near relevant islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands without the permission of the Chinese government on October 27. Relevant authorities of the Chinese side monitored, followed and warned the US vessel. Relevant actions by the US naval vessel threatened China’s sovereignty and security interests, put the personnel and facilities on the islands and reefs at risk and endangered regional peace and stability. The Chinese side hereby expresses strong dissatisfaction and opposition.

It is unclear exactly how the U.S. ship put personnel on the islands and reefs at risk, but in any event, the spokesperson went on to assure the world that China has, and always will, respect the freedom of navigation consistent with international law.

China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui echoed these remarks, although this statement focused more on China’s “indisputable sovereignty” than on the legality of the U.S. actions.  China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi simply warned the U.S. against “stirring up trouble.” Perhaps more seriously, China’s Defense Ministry spokesperson called the U.S. action an “abuse” of the principle of “freedom of navigation under international law” that would cause “harm” to bilateral trust and relations.

As I suggested in a previous post, the US and China might have chosen to downplay this incident by treating the U.S. naval visit as an “innocent passage” through China’s territorial seas.  But China believes even innocent passage requires its permission, and the U.S. Navy made sure that its destroyer was accompanied by naval surveillance aircraft. The inclusion of the aircraft makes it clear that the U.S. is not trying to claim an “innocent passage.” Rather, the U.S. is stating (through its actions) that it does not believe Subi reef (where the Chinese have added an artificial island) is a rock or island generating a territorial sea.  Therefore, US naval vessels should be free to conduct any activity they wish in this area.

It is interesting that at least one Chinese media outlet is claiming that there is no real conflict over international law between the two sides.  In this portrayal, China’s actions in building artificial islands is “completely legal” and the U.S. is just trying to flaunt its power by “harassing” China.  China’s legal position appears to be that it is building artificial islands on reefs that are entitled to a 12 nautical mile territorial sea.  Or, as another commentator sympathetic to China’s position has argued, because China claims every land feature in the South China Sea, even if the relevant reef is not entitled to a territorial sea, other nearby land features (also claimed by China) probably generate such rights.

In my view, the U.S. has a much stronger legal position.  Indeed, China is barely offering any serious legal defense other than repeating the words “indisputable sovereignty” repeatedly.  China is not doing itself any favors by calling US actions illegal, but failing to offer any specific criticism or explanation of its own legal position.

On the other hand, perhaps it is China’s interest to downplay the legal aspects of this dispute, and to feed the narrative that the U.S. is “provoking” a confrontation.  To some degree,this is working, as the global and Chinese media are feeding the narrative about a US-China naval showdown and ignoring the niceties of the U.S. legal position.  Indeed, if China raises the stakes by threatening some military response (as it is getting close to doing), it will be hard to convince the world (or the U.S. public) that such a conflict is worthwhile in order to vindicate an abstract legal principle like “freedom of navigation.”

2016 Lieber Prize: Call for Submissions

by Chris Borgen

Professor Laurie Blank of The American Society of International Law’s Lieber Society on the Law of Armed Conflict has sent along the request for submissions for the 2016 Francis Lieber Prize. The prize is awarded to:

the authors of publications that the judges consider to be outstanding in the field of law and armed conflict. Both monographs and articles (including chapters in books of essays) are eligible for consideration — the prize is awarded to the best submission in each of these two categories.

Here are the details

Criteria: Any work in the English language published during 2015 or whose publication is in proof at the time of submission may be nominated for this prize. Works that have already been considered for this prize may not be re-submitted. Entries may address topics such as the use of force in international law, the conduct of hostilities during international and non international armed conflicts, protected persons and objects under the law of armed conflict, the law of weapons, operational law, rules of engagement, occupation law, peace operations, counter terrorist operations, and humanitarian assistance. Other topics bearing on the application of international law during armed conflict or other military operations are also appropriate.

Age Limit: Competitors must be 35 years old or younger on 31 December 2015. Membership in the American Society of International Law is not required. Multi-authored works may be submitted if all the authors are eligible to enter the competition. Submissions from outside the United States are welcomed.

Submission: Submissions, including a letter or message of nomination, must be received by 9 January 2016. Three copies of books must be submitted. Electronic submission of articles is encouraged. Authors may submit their own work. All submissions must include contact information (e mail, fax, phone, address). The Prize Committee will acknowledge receipt of the submission by e mail.

Printed submissions must be sent to:

Professor Laurie Blank
Emory University School of Law
1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, Georgia 30322

Electronic submissions must be sent to:

Please indicate clearly in the subject line that the email concerns a submission for the Lieber Prize.

Prize: The Selection Committee will select one submission for the award of the Francis Lieber Prize in the book category and one in the article category. The Prize consists of a certificate of recognition and a year’s membership in the American Society of International Law. The winner of the Lieber Prize in both categories will be announced at the American Society of International Law’s Annual Meeting in April 2016.

In 2015, the winners were:

Book prize:
— Gilles Giacca, “Economic, social, and cultural rights in armed conflict” (OUP:2014)

Essay prize:
— Tom Ruys, “The meaning of ‘force’ and the boundaries of the jus ad bellum: are ‘minimal’ uses of force excluded from UN Charter Article 2(4)?’, 108 AJIL 159 (2014).

Reviewing Scott Shane’s New Book on Anwar Al-Awlaki

by Deborah Pearlstein

New York Times reporter Scott Shane recently published his book-length treatment of American Anwar Al-Awlaki – who he was, and what and why President Obama decided to order him targeted by drone strike in 2011. Not sure the book adds much for those who follow these things closely to what is already known from Shane’s own reporting and other sources, but it is certainly timely reading in light of the latest leaked administration documents regarding its process for drone strikes. My review of Shane’s book in the Washington Post is here. The leaked papers, published by The Intercept, are here.