Continuing Education at NATO

I spent the past week attending the Operational Law course at the NATO school in Oberammergau, Germany.  The course brought together speakers and participants from over 20 nations to discuss current issues in the law of armed conflict, detention, cyber defense, and several other topics.  The NATO school is a joint endeavor between the U.S. and Germany and it hosts a variety of courses throughout the year.

A representative from the Israeli Ministry of Defense gave a lecture about UN Resolution 1325 (2000) and gender equality.  While the resolution is thirteen years old, many States have made dramatic improvements to their military structure since then.  This spring the U.S. opened all military roles to women.  The U.S. by some accounts, however, lags behind Israel on gender integration in the military.  Israel is the only State that has compulsory service requirements for women.  The nation also passed an amendment to its military service law in 2000 that gives men and women equal rights to serve in any role.  The lecture also demonstrates how non-NATO nations contribute to the NATO community.

A woman from the Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence (COE) in Tallinn, Estonia, lectured on what she called “cyber means” and the legal issues surrounding information and technology security.  This topic was particularly timely as the COE completed its three-year project developing a cyber defense manual last month.  The presenter was careful to point out that the COE does not represent NATO, which has been a potential misconception arising from the publication.  While NATO endorses and certifies the COE, it is outside the NATO command structure and the COE does not have the ability to create NATO policy.  She also steered clear of the term “cyber warfare.”  Her analogies suggest that cyber may not be that different from conventional warfare if you focus on effects rather than means.  This is an incredibly interesting area of law that is still very new.

 Military personnel currently serving as legal advisors in Afghanistan delivered the most interesting lectures in my opinion.  These lectures demonstrated how rules of engagement, concepts of necessity and proportionality, and targeting apply in practice.  Access to this type of real-life application is one of the highlights and strengths of the NATO practicum.  I remember discussing collateral damage and the Geneva Conventions in law school, but it was eye opening to see these colonels discuss the factors they consider before taking action in theatre.  It was a sobering reminder that these legal decisions have real-world implications and that there is a war going on.

 Other highlights of the course included a lecture from Professor Neils Blokker, who writes about international institutional organizations and I had just cited in my term paper on Maritime Security; a lecture from a member of the UN Security Council Committee on Counter-Terrorism; and a lecture from a renowned psychiatrist about the psychological profile of suicide bombers.  An exercise loosely based on the Libyan conflict capped off the week of vibrant discussion.

 Aside from the classroom time, I embraced my first visit to Germany by sampling schweinshaxe (“pork knuckle”), spaetzel, knodle, blaukraut, and plenty of weissbier to wash it down.  The 8+ hour drive between the NATO school and Mons was a picturesque end to the week.


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