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Emerging Threats

Emerging Threats cover image

This online series of essays grows out of the work of the Hoover Institution’s Koret-Taube Task Force on National Security and Law. The essays reflect the task force’s determination to seek out and publish thoughtful and timely writings by leading scholars, policy analysts, and journalists on emerging national security threats and the daunting legal challenges they present.

Gabriella Blum: Invisible Threats

Gabriella Blum
Image credit: Phil Farnsworth

Gabriella Blum is the Rita E. Hauser Professor of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law at Harvard Law School (HLS) and the codirector of the HLS-Brookings Project on Law and Security. Previously, she was a senior legal adviser in the Israel Defense Forces and a strategic adviser in the Israeli National Security Council. She is the author of Islands of Agreement: Managing Enduring Armed Rivalries (Harvard University Press, 2007) and Laws, Outlaws, and Terrorists: Lessons from the War on Terrorism (with Philip Heymann) (MIT Press, 2010).

Technology is progressing at record speed to produce insect-size robots (“spiders”) with lethal capabilities, potentially on a mass scale. Ultimately, spiders will enable individuals to harm other individuals from great distances and with little accountability, making people everywhere simultaneously vulnerable and threatening to others. This essay considers the possible effects of spiders on the incidence of violence, both political and interpersonal, and how this violence breaks down the traditional categories on which we rely for regulation (domestic/international, citizen/alien, war/crime). Finally, it explores how our conceptions of sovereignty, international relations, and the domestic social contract between citizens and governments must adapt to this new threat.

Shane Harris: Out of the Loop: The Human-free Future of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Shane Harris

Shane Harris is an author and magazine journalist who writes about national security issues. His book The Watchers (Penguin Press, 2010) is the story of five men who played central roles in creating a vast national security apparatus and the ensuing rise of surveillance in America. The Watchers won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism; Harris received the 2010 Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. He has been a four-time finalist for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists, which honor the best journalists in America under the age of thirty-five. He is currently a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine.

As aircraft and weapons have become more precise, human beings have become less essential to the conduct of war. The rise of unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones, promises to push human beings further out of the loop.

Drones are becoming autonomous, capable of taking off, flying to a target, and returning to base without much human direction. Although military officials insist that the United States will never deploy drones that can select targets and fire weapons on their own, history and the military's own current research suggest otherwise.

Jeremy A. Rabkin and Ariel Rabkin: To Confront Cyber Threats, We must Rethink the Law of Armed Conflict

Jeremy Rabkin

Jeremy A. Rabkin is currently a professor of law at George Mason University (GMU), where he teaches courses including International Law and The Law of War. He holds a PhD in political science from Harvard University. Before coming to GMU in 2007, he taught for many years in the Department of Government at Cornell University. His most recent book is Law without Nations? (Princeton University Press).

Ariel Rabkin

Ariel Rabkin received his PhD in computer science from UC Berkeley in 2012, where he was advised by Randy Katz. His dissertation concerns making software systems easier to configure and manage; he is also interested in security and cloud computing. Rabkin obtained his bachelor’s degree in 2006 and his master’s in engineering in 2007, both from Cornell University.

Deliberate attacks on websites and computer networks, so-called cyber attacks, are part of life on the Internet, with some foreign governments encouraging, assisting, or directing such attacks.   In a serious international crisis, similar attacks might be launched with dire consequences.  Many prominent commentators insist that retaliating in cyberspace is constrained by the norms of the law of armed conflict, which were designed to protect civilians in conventional conflicts.   If we repudiate some of these inappropriate constraints, we can deter cyber attacks by threatening to retaliate in kind.  Older understandings of international law—notably those familiar to the American founders—provide better guidance for coping with the challenges of contemporary cyber conflict.

Paul Rosenzweig: Cybersecurity and Public Goods: The Public/Private “Partnership”

Paul Rosenzweig

Paul Rosenzweig is the founder of Red Branch Consulting PLLC, a homeland security consulting company. Rosenzweig formerly served as deputy assistant secretary for policy in the Department of Homeland Security. He currently serves as a professorial lecturer in law at George Washington University, a senior editor of the Journal of National Security Law & Policy, and a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He is the coauthor (with James Jay Carafano) of the book Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Freedom and author of the forthcoming book Cyberwarfare: How Conflicts in Cyberspace Are Challenging America and Changing the World.

Cyber security cooperation between the federal government and the private sector is essential, yet our cyber systems are particularly vulnerable to attack. Why is that so, and what can we do to fix the problem? We need to approach the question from fundamental first principles: Is cyber security a public good or a private good? Once we answer that question, we can determine whether our current laws and regulations enhance the government’s proper function or impede the private sector. This essay attempts to begin that effort.