February 25, 2003
The talk will focus on the limits of self-defense under international law, in the case of Iraq and more generally under the President's new National Security Strategy. As background, the National Security Strategy of the USA, issued in September 2002, states the following: “For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack. Legal scholars and international jurists often conditioned the legitimacy of preemption on the existence of an imminent threat – most often a visible mobilization of armies, navies, and air forces preparing to attack. … We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries. Rogue states and terrorists do not seek to attack us using conventional means. … The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.”
Dr. Ruth Wedgwood is the Edward B. Burling Professor of International Law and Diplomacy at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Dr. Wedgwood is a Senior Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, Member of the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on International Law, Member of the Defense Policy Board, U.S. Member of the U.N. Human Rights Committee, Co-Director of Studies of the Research Center of the Hague Academy of International Law, and Independent Expert for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Dr. Wedgwood served as the Charles Stockton Professor of International Law at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI and as Professor of Law at the Yale University Law School, 1986-2002. Dr. Wedgwood received the J.D. degree from Yale University Law School.