Posts Tagged ‘Nobel Prize’

REPRISE (from 2009): Wanted in Oslo—President Obama’s Vision of Peace

Friday, December 9th, 2011

December 10 is Human Rights Day, commemorating the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Two years ago, the world awaited President Obama’s Nobel Prize speech, to be delivered in Oslo on December 10, 2009.

It is well worth reflecting now on his visit to Oslo, and what he did and did not say in his speech, particularly in the light of developments on the ground since then. The following article sets forth what the world needed to hear from the President in his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech two years ago:

Wanted in Oslo: President Obama’s Vision of Peace

(First published December 5, 2009)

On December 10, 2009, President Barack Obama will accept the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009, and deliver a Nobel “lecture” or acceptance speech.

This speech, following his December 2 speech on U.S. military and civilian strategy in Afghanistan, constitutes an extraordinary opportunity for the President to set forth his vision of peace, and how we, the citizens of the planet, can move on a path that leads beyond vague aspirations to concrete achievements in the conquest of peace.

With his renewed emphasis on the vision of a non-nuclear world, Mr. Obama has outlined a core requirement for lasting peace. To his credit, he has resumed the strategic arms control process, withdrawn plans for antiballistic missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland, and now stands on the verge of a new SALT agreement with Russia.

But there are other, important elements of the fabric of peace which he has not yet addressed with clarity. One is the status of international human rights as binding legal rights under both treaties and customary international law. He has spoken of universal norms, but needs to address the specifically legal nature of international human rights. December 10 is Human Rights Day, and this year it will be the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. President Obama needs to speak unambiguously of the importance he believes should be given to international human rights by the United States, and other countries.

A second critical element in the battle for peace is the emphasis given by the United States and other countries to the creation, use, and observance of international law. To be sure, in the United States “international law” has become such a politically charged term that even its staunch advocates shrink from publicly saying the words. However, we need to speak clearly, and we cannot talk clearly about the path to peace without being able to speak forthrightly about international law, and the international law and institutions that must be used, modified, and created in order to coordinate the actions of over 200 countries in managing the affairs of the planet. President Obama should share with the world his thoughts on the subject.

It is commonly recognized that the President is a great orator. On December 10, 2009, the world will be listening intently to hear what he has to say about his vision of peace, and the path we must follow to achieve peace.

The Trenchant Observer

International Law and the Use of Force: Drones and Real Anarchy Unleashed Upon the World

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Recently a number of articles have been published that are of particular interest with respect to the development and use of drones.


William Wan and Peter Finn, “Global race on to match U.S. drone capabilities, Washington Post, July 4, 2011

Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker, “War Evolves With Drones, Some Tiny as Bugs,” New York Times, June 19, 2011

Peter Beaumont, “Campaigners seek arrest of former CIA legal chief over Pakistan drone attacks: UK human rights lawyer leads bid to have John Rizzo arrested over claims he approved attacks that killed hundreds of people,” The Guardian, July 15.2010

Michael Tennant, “U.S. Begins Drone Strikes in Somalia,” The New American, July 14, 2011

In previous articles, The Trenchant Observer has pointed to some of the troubling issues in international law raised by the use of unpiloted aircraft or drones in situations removed from the active battlefield in an on-going armed conflict.

Now, with other countries driving to develop comparable military capabilities in the form of drones, some as tiny as bugs, the short-sightedness of U.S. military policy regarding drones has come fully into view.

Moreover, as far as is publicly known, the United States has done nothing to develop in cooperation with other countries new international legal regimes and norms that might help to control what appears to be a headlong rush toward real anarchy among the nations of the world.

President Barack Obama rarely, if ever, speaks of international law. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he spoke not of international law and legal norms, but rather of international “rules” or “norms”. The words “international law” are absent from his discourse.

One consequence has been an approach to international law that can be summed up as “If I can get away with it I can do it,” a formulation that goes back to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s famous dictum about “the bad man theory of law”.

The system of international law is different from the domestic system in which a “bad man” might focus on the law only in terms of what he might be able to get away with. For the nations that are subject to international law are themselves the creators of the norms of international law. They are at once the legislature, the sheriff and the potential offender. This creates a dual responsibility on the part of nation states and their lawyers: They must not simply interpret international legal norms in a permissive way that allows them to do what they want, but also act to safeguard and strengthen the system of international law, and the way international legal norms wiil be interpreted by other countries. This is sometimes referred to by international lawyers as the “double-function” (or “dédoublement fonctionnel”) of international lawyers and states: in choosing a course of action they must not only seek to pursue their own short-term objectives, but also the critically-important longer-term objectives of building a viable international legal order that will contribute to their own security.

It is precisely in this area, of the obligation to build future international norms and regimes, while not weakening those that exist, that the United States has utterly failed with respect to drones. In past eras, legal regimes to prevent the use of space for military purposes, or the seabed, were developed in order to shape the future environment in which force might be employed. This the Obama administration has failed to do with respect to drones, both as a result of a very short-sighted pursuit of immediate military advantages through their use, and as a result of the fact that President Obama does not seem to understand very deeply the function of international law in safeguarding the nation’s security.

To facilitate reflection on these issues and the legality under international law of the use of drones, a review of the following articles previously published here might be useful.


UPDATE: Anwar al-Aulaqi: Targeted Killings, Self-Defense, and War Crimes, August 6, 2010

Targeted Killings: U.N. Special Rapporteur Alston Publishes Report to U.N. Human Rights Council, June 2, 2010

Targeted Killings by Drone Aircraft: A View From India, and Some Observations, May 20, 2010

Targeted Assassinations: Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, International Law, and Strategic Implications, February 17, 2010

U.S. Targeted Assassinations Violate Citizen’s Right to Life and Due Process, Undercut International Law
February 3, 2010

As Thomas M. Frank (1931-2009), a distinguished international lawyer and professor of international law at New York University, and Edward Weisband once observed, we should be careful whether to observe and how to interpret international law, because “the law you make may be your own.”

See Thomas M. Franck and Edward Weisband, “The Johnson and Brezhnev Doctrines: The Law You Make May Be Your Own,” Stanford Law Review, Vol. 22, pp. 979-1014 (1970).

The Trenchant Observer