Emerging security challenges require norm development, State lawyer says

IMG_5540At first blush, today’s security challenges may seem familiar. Yet they are new – emerging, in U.S. State Department parlance – because of the novel ways in which those challenges present themselves.

So explained Mallory Stewart (near right), Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Emerging Security Challenges & Defense Policy, during her fascinating talk Monday at Tillar House, the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the American Society of International Law. We at the University of Georgia Law Dean Rusk International Law Center were honored to join ASIL’s Nonproliferation, Arms Control & Disarmament Interest Group in cosponsoring Stewart’s talk, “Common Challenges to Diverse Security Threats.” (For the event video, see here.)

Stewart’s talk followed introductions by IntLawGrrl Kathleen A. Doty, Interest Group Co-Chair and our Center’s Associate Director for Global Practice Preparation, as well as opening remarks by yours truly (above, at right) respecting the arms control legacy of our Center’s namesake, former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

Stewart pointed to technological change, in outer space and elsewhere, as one of the emerging challenges. Within this category was what is essentially garbage; that is, the debris left in outer space by state actors and, increasingly, nonstate/commercial actors, whose celestial flotsam and jetsam continue to orbit and present hazards to active satellites, space stations, and the like.

Another challenge is dual-use technology. Items as seemingly innocent as chlorine – a chemical essential to everyday cleaning – can become a security threat when deployed as a weapon, as is alleged to have happened during the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Yet another is ubiquity, the reality that technologies, such as cyber capabilities, are, literally, everywhere, and thus not easy to contain.

Containment – regulation – thus is difficult both to design and to effectuate. With regard to dual-use technologies, for instance, Stewart posed questions of intent: How, exactly, does one define and identify the moment that an innocent item is transformed into a weapon? What about attribution – in areas like cyberwarfare, how can the perpetrator be identified? How can attacks waged with such weapons be prohibited in advance?

Stewart gave due respect to the 20th C. arms control treaties that form the core portfolio of State’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification & Compliance, where she practices. Nevertheless, stressing global interdependence, she stressed the need for more nimble forms of international lawmaking. To be precise, she looked to mechanisms of soft law, such as codes of conduct, as ways that states and other essential actors might develop norms for responsible behavior in the short term. In the longer term, if the internalization and implementation of such norms should prove successful, eventually legally binding treaties may result.

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes blog.)

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