Posted by: Roncevert | April 1, 2010

Harold Koh and Role of State Dept. Legal Adviser

When considering U.S. statecraft in the 21st century, it is important to highlight the role of international law in guiding foreign policy. To this end, Harold Koh, Legal Adviser of the State Department, recently described his job as encompassing four interdependent roles: (1) counselor; (2) conscience; (3) defender of U.S. interests; and (4) spokesman for international law.

Harold Koh

Before the annual meeting of the American Society of International Law (ASIL), Mr. Koh noted that he serves as: a lawyer charged with identifying and resolving international legal issues; a reminder within government that wise decisions and moral policies are not mutually exclusive; an advocate of U.S. interests within the international system; and a voice of support for international law in the United States.

Most commentators focused on his remarks at ASIL concerning the use of force and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Considering my current work on UAVs in the civil context, I was similarly interested. However, as a former mentor of mine from the Oxford-GW Human Rights Law Program, I was particularly struck by the poignancy of Mr. Koh’s observations about the role of Legal Adviser (L) and its relevancy to this forum.

I strongly support this characterization of the chief international lawyer of the U.S. government and humbly submit that this model may be replicated on a scale appropriate to individuals supporting this Administration and the strengthening of U.S. strategic interests. First, as counselors, we can be attentive to current issues and conflicts in international relations and identify strategies to address such events. Second, with conscience resolve, we can be a reminder to ourselves and each other that values such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not exclusive to the United States. Third, we can zealously pursue U.S. strategic interests and recognize, without apology, the dangers to our way of life and the global order. Finally, we can be outspoken advocates for international law, helping to educate individuals and communities on its impact from the hollers of West Virginia to the hallways of Capitol Hill.

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