Friday, February 23, 2007

Congratulations to J.B. Moore Society of International Law, University of Virginia

I'm blogging tonight from the University of Virginia, where I have just finished attending the J.B. Moore Society of International Law's annual symposium, this year titled, International Law at a Crossroads. It was an absolutely stellar conference, and my congratulations especially to the students who put it together - Melany Grout, the symposium director, and Adil Qureshi, society president. Wonderful hospitality, a wonderful group of panelists - and the presence of the JAG at UVA adds a seriousness and expertise that is quite startling.

John Bellinger, legal advisor to State, opened the conference with a defense of administration policy; former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora delivered a blistering, impassioned keynote address at lunch that, even though I didn't agree with all of it, was both moving and profoundly argued - I hope they pay him a lot as Wal Mart international general counsel, because his departure from government is a great loss to government service. I was on the opening panel, discussing executive power, the war on terror, and international law. The always terrific Elisa Massimino with whom, I am proud to say, I've recently co-authored an article; the distinguished national security law scholar John Norton Moore, who moderated and introduced several sessions; the JAG school's (and now Creighton Law School's) Sean Watts - a fabulous lineup. And my former WCL student, now JAG student, Katharine Brown, caught me during the break - I didn't so much as recognize her in army fatigues.

Among the many comments in the panels, I was particularly struck by - and heartily agree with - Sean Watts' call for the US to develop its own study of customary international law in war. He noted, as I have certainly noted, the astonishing silence on the part of the US government to the ICRC study, now two years old. I have long been concerned that the US government makes no apparent effort to assert its views on laws of war matters formally as opinio juris; this failure seems to me extremely damaging in this period in diplomatic and international law history. The ICRC study is a magnificent piece of scholarship; I've written about it before on this blog, but it has, from the US point of view certainly, grave problems in its methodology. Yet the United States makes seemingly no effort either to offer a serious, official critique - much less anything else in its place.

The other feature of this conference - true of practically all such conferences, but the fact that this one had so many JAG experts present with, presumably, a greater historical knowledge of wars, made it more striking to me - was the virtual absence - let me be stronger, the utter absence - of any reference to state practice, that of the US or anyone else, as state practice, as the international law source of law, state practice. That gap seems to me also a serious issue, when it comes to dealing with areas in which practically everyone seemed agreed that existing law in treaties or ordinary formulations of custom, did not seem workable.


Anonymous said...

Excellent comments on Alberto Mora's speech. I attended and found his presentation outstanding.

Steven G. Keating
Assistant General Counsel
Mission & International Law
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (

DUI Attorney Seattle said...

I just missed that conference. It was nice to read the brief synopsis of conference. I also congrats J B Mooriean's.