Thursday, April 22

4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Public Keynote Panel Moderated by Professor Claire Finkelstein
Panelists: Admiral (ret) Cecil Haney, Professor. Elizabeth Sherwood Randall, Dr. John Harvey

Friday, April 23

8:30 am - 9:30 am

Registration and Continental Breakfast

9:30 am – 9:45 am Welcoming Remarks

9:45 am – 11:00 am

Session 1: Nuclear Weapons as a Form of Strategic Communication

The size of nuclear arsenals, the positioning of nuclear weapons, and the intricate wording of policy pronouncements have as much to do with internal military readiness as they do with sending deliberate signals to one’s adversaries. This “signaling” aspect of nuclear weapons and policy is, at its base, a form of communication - and the Cuban Missile Crisis serves as the benchmark for these high-stakes, political conversations. These conversations, of course, are not unbounded. Though it has failed to establish an outright ban on nuclear weapons, international law has been instrumental in shaping the nuclear conversation. The first panel will discuss how nuclear-capable nations signal to one another, both during times of relative peace and during periods of crisis. The participants will also consider whether this form of communication is effective at promoting the peaceful resolution of disputes, or whether it increases the chances of a deliberate or an inadvertent nuclear crisis. Implicit in this conversation is an exploration of the factors that frustrate the delivery and receipt of an intended message. For example, is the signal inconsistent with other strategic messaging, is the signal blocked or occluded by cyber operations, or is the signal unintentionally creating time pressures which further complicate complex crisis management? Finally, what limits does international law place on these communications?

11:00 am – 11:30 am  Break

11:30 am – 12:45 am

Session 2: Determining the Rules-Based Order with Respect to Threats to Use Force and Anticipatory Self-Defense

The law of armed conflict recognizes that sovereign states possess the inherent right to use force to defend themselves against certain acts perpetrated by others. The “acts” which may trigger invocation of the right of self-defense may include threats to use force. This right of self-defense also extends, in some cases, to the right to anticipate an attack and act in advance of the attack – though how much in advance remains an issue of contention. Panel 2 will focus on the legal predicate of the authority of states to issue threats and, when threatened, to respond in self-defense from both a domestic and an international law perspective. Domestically, does a President have the authority to threaten other sovereigns unilaterally? Is it permissible for a President to threaten to take actions that are not legally permissible for the President to unilaterally direct? Do such threats constitute acts of war? If so, must the President comply with the War Powers Resolution after making the threats? Under international law, does threat-making comply with Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter? Is it possible for nations, acting pursuant to Article 51 of the Charter, to create the conditions for their defense, thereby opening the door to anticipatory military strikes?

12:45 pm – 2:15 pm


2:15 pm – 3:15 pm

Session 3: Current Nuclear Policy and Nuclear Capability

The legal doctrines supporting the issuance of threats and anticipatory self-defense were developed in the crucible of conventional warfare. Panel 3 will examine how these doctrines apply, if at all, in the context of nuclear weapons. This discussion will begin with a review of U.S. nuclear capability and nuclear policy. It will include an examination of the stated goals of current U.S. nuclear policy, and whether the policy serves to achieve those goals. The discussion will also explore whether current U.S. policy needs revision for philosophical or efficacy-based reasons and whether other policy options might better satisfy U.S. strategic ends. Does the use of nuclear weapons follow the same legal analysis as its contemporary counterparts? Does the analysis fall short when it comes to nuclear weapons? Should the analysis change, or the underlying rules? The answers to these questions will involve discussions of applicable international humanitarian law, the 1996 opinion by the International Court of Justice on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, and the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

3:15 pm – 3:45 pm


3:45 pm – 5:00 pm

Session 4: Should a Sovereign be Constrained?

There is ongoing and vigorous debate about a sovereign leader’s ability to unilaterally use force against another sovereign. What has received less attention, however, is the ability of sovereign leaders to issue threats to use force against another sovereign. What is it about threats that seem to have shielded them from an exacting legal review? What role might international humanitarian law play in constraining threats to use force when it can be ignored without consequence? Assuming such constraints are possible, should the international community even want to circumscribe behavior that might prove beneficial for preventing or mitigating threats to international peace and security? Panel 4 will examine these issues, with a particular emphasis on threats in the emerging “new” nuclear age. Given the current geopolitical situation, do nuclear-laced threats promote peace and security or undermine the global order?

5:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Cocktail Hour and Reception for Conference Participants

Saturday, April 24

9:00 am – 9:30 am Registration and Continental Breakfast

9:30 am – 10:45 am

Session 5: Other Constraints Within the U.S. Polity

Within the United States, the interplay between the executive branch and the legislative branch over the exercise of war powers has evolved throughout U.S. history. The executive branch now plays the dominant role in our system. This panel will examine the practicality of having a Commander-in-Chief who is unfettered by domestic hard law concerning the issuance of threats to use force. In this regard, the panel will discuss the origin and history of the War Powers Resolution and its attempt to reset the balance of war powers between the two political branches. The panel will also examine other constraints that operate within the U.S. political system and discuss whether new political processes are warranted…or even wanted. The discussion will also cover the impact that technological advances in the means and methods of warfare will have on the need to constrain unilateral executive action.

10:45 am – 11:15 am Break 

11:15 am – 1:00 pm

Session 6: Looking Forward – What role will international law play in shaping nuclear dialogue?

Technological advances have improved current weapons systems and led to the development of more precise means and methods of warfare. Compounding the danger is the fact that advances in technology reduce traditional barriers to entry, increasing the likelihood these new weapons will fall into the hands of rogue actors. The speed at which new weapons are being developed severely impacts the ability to create adequate defenses and nations are impelled into increasingly offensive postures as they address their expanding national security concerns. While these concerns generally concern conventional weapons, they apply with equal force to nuclear weapons. What role will international law play in managing the complexity of future nuclear communications? Can law compete with the speed of change, and the intransigence of key actors? What does the withdrawal of leading nations from existing nuclear treaties say about the ability of law to anticipate and manage future nuclear communications? Are there other ways for the international community to compel recalcitrant nuclear states to comply with emerging norms? What role will “new voices” play in shaping future nuclear conversations? Can the signatories to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons drive the conversation internationally towards a nuclear free world?

1:00 pm – 1:15 pm

Concluding Remarks

1:15 pm – 2:15 pm