NEWPORT, R.I. – Cutting edge international law issues currently facing military judge advocates were discussed at this year’s YANKEE Operational Law Symposium (YOLS) held at the Naval War College (NWC) from September 18 to 19.
The two-day series of lectures examined the overall topic “International Law and the Changing Character of War” and encouraged professional discussion and exchange on critical legal issues in the 21st Century.
“This conference also serves to promote judge advocate relationships among the several uniform services and academia,” said Cmdr. Todd Richards, a reservist and faculty member in NWC's International Law Department. “The symposium is the key part of annual training for Navy Reserve judge advocates who practice international and operational law."
More than 125 civilians and active duty and reserve personnel from the Navy and Army attended year’s symposium that annually presents an extensive agenda of operational law issues. Lectures are presented by active and reserve component judge advocates, leading experts in international law and others who have reached distinction in the field through academia or other professional circumstances.
General headline discussions included the “Changing Character of Tactics,” “Changing Character of the Battlefield” and the “Changing Character of International Legal Scrutiny.” Specific debates also focused on current “hot-button” international events and issues.
“Unmanned vehicles, civilians directly participating in hostilities and the Israeli blockade of Gaza are issues that are the subject of current, sometimes heated, discussions by international law scholars and operational law practitioners,” said Capt. Kevin Kelly, JAGC, USN. “These topics raise important aspects of international law and focus on the efforts of some to alter the current state of the law.’
Other attendees found the symposium as an important touchstone to stay abreast of current issues of operational law critical to the JAG Corps.
“The ‘Blackwater’ briefs were outstanding and very interesting,” said Cmdr. Chris Phillips, JAGC, USN. “However, as to the most relevant, ‘Cyberspace’ and ‘Unmanned Vehicles’ are areas of current national news topics. It is very important to have a base understanding regarding these recurring news stories.”
Cmdr. Andrew Blum found the symposium to be relevant to career development.
“While this symposium has limited applicability for my current assignment—it is a very important training evolution to keep up with maintaining my 2529 and being ready for another international operational law assignment,” said Blum, JAGC, USN.
By David Reese, Naval War College Public Affairs