The Problem with a Grand Bargain on the Senkaku Islands

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Lately there have been a variety of proposals for cooperative solutions to the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku Islands, but these proposals seem to suffer from a common problem in that they misapply international law in ways that uniformly disfavor Japan. Today I published a short article with The National Interest to explain this point; it’s available here.



Back From Japan: What I Learned

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Recently I went to Japan as part of a small group of American academics and researchers who are interested in Japanese foreign policy. During the trip, we met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Coast Guard, and Cabinet Secretariat to discuss recent developments in regional security and U.S.-Japan relations. Unsurprisingly, many of the meetings focused on the Senkaku Islands. In this post, I’ll share a few things I learned.

There’s Still “No Dispute”

During the meetings, it quickly became apparent that some media outlets in the West haven’t accurately characterized current Japanese policy. Tokyo’s longstanding position has been that there’s “no dispute” over the Senkakus—the territory belongs to Japan and there is nothing to negotiate or even talk about. This view is of course controversial in China, which also claims the Islands, and the two sides have been engaged in a fairly protracted and tense standoff as a result. To reduce tensions and improve bilateral relations, China and Japan jointly released a four-point statement on November 7th. Sources ranging from The Diplomat to The New York Times reported the statement as evidence of a significant shift in policy: Japan would now recognize the existence of a dispute. On this view, the recent statement was a major concession to China because recognizing a dispute might open the door to bilateral negotiations that could have only one effect—namely, an erosion of Japan’s effective control over the territory. Continue reading “Back From Japan: What I Learned”

Does the Legalization of Marijuana Violate International Law?

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The shift toward legalization of marijuana has gained a lot of momentum in the past few years. By a recent count, more than twenty states have enacted legislation that permits use of one form or another. Most allow only medical use, but Colorado and Washington also permit recreational consumption. For present purposes, I take no position on the policy merits of this development. I do, however, want to point out that the marijuana debate tends to overlook an important issue—namely, federal tolerance for legalization of the sort that has occurred in Colorado and Washington probably places the United States in material breach of international law.

The argument is pretty straightforward: The 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs provides that parties “shall take such legislative and administrative measures as may be necessary . . . to limit exclusively to medical and scientific purposes the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution of, trade in, use and possession of” cannabis, among other drugs. Having joined the treaty in 1967, the United States is bound to comply. But for the most part, the Obama Administration has chosen not to enforce federal drug laws against recreational consumption in Colorado and Washington, and state authorities in those jurisdictions obviously do not have state prohibitions to enforce. Thus, the United States no longer takes “administrative measures” that are necessary to limit use to medical and scientific purposes. A comparable analysis applies under the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 Convention Against Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, both of which contain similar provisions and bind the United States as a party. Continue reading “Does the Legalization of Marijuana Violate International Law?”

A Global Survey on the Study of International Law (Part II)

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Last month I put up the first in what I anticipate will be a series of posts on the subject of international legal education. I summarized the results of a global survey on the study of international law, reported that a majority of law students around the world must complete at least one course on the subject prior to graduation, and pointed out that the overwhelming tendency for American law schools to offer international law exclusively as an elective is fairly abnormal. In this post, I’ll explain my methodology and elaborate a bit on the data underlying my conclusions.

The methodology was pretty simple: I relied on a collection of official government documents, information available on the websites of university law faculties, and, occasionally, email correspondence with faculty members. Where this evidence established that a curriculum includes a mandatory course that on its face substantially implicates public international law, I coded the corresponding university as requiring international legal training. Inversely, I coded a university as requiring no such training where the evidence demonstrated that courses on public international law are elective or unavailable. Finally, I coded a university as “no data” if it has a law faculty but evidence of its curriculum was inaccessible within the confines of the research methods. For present purposes, the key point is that the numbers only reflect what I could find. This probably amounts to all relevant data for many states. But for others, particularly in the developing world, the data are less complete because not all universities have functioning websites and even those that have them often omit information about their curriculum. Continue reading “A Global Survey on the Study of International Law (Part II)”

Thoughts on Mwani v. Al Qaeda

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A federal magistrate judge issued a noteworthy decision yesterday in Mwani v. Al Qaeda—a case filed several years ago by victims of the 1998 truck bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Six Kenyan nationals alleged jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and asserted claims for wrongful death, assault, and battery. The court found Al Qaeda liable on two of the claims and awarded compensatory and punitive damages.

Two aspects of the decision seem significant. First, the court reaffirmed a prior holding that jurisdiction was appropriate even under the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which established that ATS jurisdiction is available only for claims that “touch and concern the territory of the United States” with “sufficient force” to displace the presumption against the extraterritorial application of U.S. law. The magistrate judge concluded that Mwani satisfied Kiobel because Al Qaeda carried out part of the planning within the United States and directed the attack against the U.S. Embassy and its employees. It’s fairly common for an ATS case not to survive Kiobel these days, but the conclusion here seems reasonable. Continue reading “Thoughts on Mwani v. Al Qaeda”

A Global Survey on the Study of International Law

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In the United States, public international law is not an important part of legal education. By my count, only eight schools require their students to complete a course on the subject: Florida International, Harvard, Hofstra, UC-Irvine, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, and Washington & Lee. Everywhere else, international law is purely elective. Insofar as relatively few students tend to choose this elective, we have a legal profession made up of individuals who lack formal training on topics like treaty interpretation, human rights law, and international organizations.

Is this common in other countries or another example of American exceptionalism? To answer that question, I conducted a global survey of the study of international law. The results, which are available in the form of an interactive world map at, show the frequency with which law schools and governments around the world require individuals to study public international law en route to obtaining a law degree. By clicking on individual states, you can look at summary statistics and details about the curricula of specific law schools.

Continue reading “A Global Survey on the Study of International Law”

US Supreme Court Review: Bond v. United States

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US Supreme Court logo(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.)

Continuing with this blog’s coverage of the recently concluded Supreme Court term, I’ll offer a few thoughts on the decision in Bond v. United States, which addressed a challenge to a statute that Congress passed in 1998 to implement the Chemical Weapons Convention (“CWC”). Most have heard about the underlying facts: After finding out that her husband was the father of her best friend’s soon-to-be-born child, Carol Anne Bond tried to poison the friend with 10-chloro-10H-phenoxarsine and potassium dichromate. This plan didn’t work, but the authorities found out about it and prosecuted Ms. Bond under 18 U.S.C. § 229(a) for possession and use of a “chemical weapon.” Bond then entered a conditional guilty plea that preserved her right to appeal and, after a lot of other litigation, made two arguments before the Supreme Court. First, she contended that Section 229(a) doesn’t apply because she didn’t use 10-chloro-10H-phenoxarsine and potassium dichromate as “chemical weapons” within the meaning of the statute. Second, she argued that the statute is invalid even if it applies because it exceeds the enumerated powers of Congress and intrudes upon powers that the Tenth Amendment reserves for the states. Continue reading “US Supreme Court Review: Bond v. United States

An Analysis of the Israel Passport Case, Zivotofsky v. Kerry

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Recently the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Zivotofsky v. Kerry to resolve an important question in U.S. foreign relations law: does the power to recognize foreign states and governments belong exclusively to the President, or do the political branches hold it concurrently? More specifically, the case concerns the constitutionality of Section 214(d) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 2003, which requires that upon request from a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem the Secretary of State must record “Israel” as the place of birth on the individual’s passport. After signing the bill into law, President Bush declined to honor its terms, and President Obama has done likewise. Both have argued that the passport requirement impermissibly interferes with the President’s recognition power because it contradicts a longstanding U.S. policy not to acknowledge the sovereignty of any state over Jerusalem. The Zivotofskys appear to agree that honoring the requirement would amount to U.S. recognition of an Israeli state that includes Jerusalem, but contend that the statute is constitutional and binding on the President because Congress shares in the recognition power. Oral argument is scheduled for the fall. If you’re interested, I wrote a brief analysis of the case over at the international law blog Opinio Juris. You can read it here.

Thoughts on the Navy / Fukushima Litigation

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There’s an important lawsuit currently pending in federal court in San Diego. In this post, I’ll provide a brief summary and then highlight an intriguing legal question that the parties haven’t addressed.

First the summary: Two months ago, a class of U.S. Navy sailors filed an amended complaint against Tokyo Electric Power Company (“TEPCO”), the operator of the nuclear reactors in Fukushima that melted down after an earthquake-induced tsunami destroyed their power systems in March 2011. Within days of the earthquake, the U.S. Navy sent the USS Ronald Reagan to provide humanitarian aid to victims, but inadvertently exposed dozens of sailors to allegedly high levels of radiation in the process. Press reports suggest that the carrier sailed into a plume of radioactive steam a couple of miles off the coast, and that the crew drank and bathed in desalinated seawater that was irradiated. The claimed effects include reproductive problems, leukemia, ulcers, brain cancer, and thyroid illnesses, among others. Upon return from the mission, one sailor allegedly began to lose his eyesight. Another gave birth to a child with multiple birth defects. Some observers believe that the Ronald Reagan–a $6 billion vessel–is now too radioactive to keep in service. According to the complaint, TEPCO is responsible because the company knew about the high levels of radiation emitting from the reactors but nevertheless failed to inform the public, including the ship’s crew. Claims include negligence; strict liability for design defect, failure to warn, and ultra-hazardous activities; public and private nuisance; and intentional infliction of emotional distress. As remedies, the plaintiffs have demanded compensation for lost wages, punitive damages, and a $1 billion fund for medical care. Last month TEPCO filed a motion to dismiss on the basis of international comity, forum non conveniens, the political question doctrine, and various alleged deficiencies in the prima facie case. Continue reading “Thoughts on the Navy / Fukushima Litigation”

State Legislation on the “Sea of Japan” / “East Sea”

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600px-Sea_of_Japan_naming_disputeRecently certain Korean American groups have begun lobbying for state legislation requiring public school textbooks to explain that the “Sea of Japan” is also called the “East Sea.” Japan prefers and uses the former, while South Korea the latter. Bills on this issue are currently at varying stages of adoption in Virginia, New Jersey, and New York, and are part of a broader campaign to raise public awareness about Japan’s colonial and wartime behavior. In this post, I want to address briefly the constitutionality of this legislation under the doctrine of foreign affairs preemption. My view is that the legislation is likely permissible and not preempted.

I’ll begin with the key features of foreign affairs preemption. In American Insurance Association v. Garamendi, the Supreme Court explained that the constitutionality of a state action carrying more than “incidental” foreign policy consequences hinges on whether the action conflicts with federal foreign policy. In the presence of a clear conflict, the state law is invalid. Absent such a conflict, constitutionality depends primarily on the strength of the state interest at stake, as judged “by standards of traditional practice.” This means that non-conflicting state action is likely to be permissible if it falls within a traditional competence of state governments. Continue reading “State Legislation on the “Sea of Japan” / “East Sea””

Syria and the Arms Trade Treaty

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In this post, I want to evaluate the link between two contemporary foreign policy issues that are generally viewed as unrelated. The first is ongoing U.S. military assistance to Syrian rebels. As Reuters reported last week, the United States is currently supplying a variety of small arms, anti-tank rockets, and other items to “moderate” rebel factions, and Congress has approved funding for future deliveries through the end of the fiscal year. The second issue is the Obama Administration’s decision to sign the Arms Trade Treaty (“ATT”) last September. While it’s far from clear that the United States will ratify the ATT, an established doctrine of international law holds that the act of signature triggers an interim obligation to refrain from conduct that would defeat the treaty’s “object and purpose.” This obligation might restrict the ability of the United States to supply arms to the rebels, and raises questions about the legality of the ongoing transfers. To understand why, it’s necessary to consider the text of the ATT, the rebels’ conduct, and the nature of the interim obligation. Continue reading “Syria and the Arms Trade Treaty”

The Drafting History of the Treaty of Shimonoseki

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One of the many contested issues in the sovereignty dispute over the Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands is whether China ceded title to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. In this post, I’ll briefly explain the competing textual arguments under the Treaty and then explore the question of meaning from an angle that is often overlooked: whether a first-hand, historical account of the Treaty negotiations from a Japanese official named Munemitsu Mutsu favors the contemporary position of either party. Mutsu’s account is valuable to the ongoing debate because he wrote it shortly after the negotiations concluded and, as the Japanese foreign minister and Tokyo’s chief representative at Shimonoseki, he possessed intimate and unsurpassed knowledge of the discussions that occurred. I obtained the account from Kenkenroku: A Diplomatic Record of the Sino-Japanese War, 1894-95, which was edited and translated by Gordon Mark Berger in 1982. Continue reading “The Drafting History of the Treaty of Shimonoseki”