Professor O'Connell Analyzes Legality of Drone Warfare

Author: Charles Williams

Mary Ellen Oconnell

On October 21, Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell delivered two London lectures concerning the United States’ use of unmanned aerial vehicles as weapons of war. Her first lecture, “International Law and the Use of Drones,” took place at the The Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in St. James’s Square and considered whether the use of drones is any more – or less – likely to conflict with international law than more conventional uses of armed force. The Royal Institute of International Affairs is an independent international affairs think-tank founded in 1920. The Institute’s American counterpart would be the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. You can read more about the Institute and the historic Chapman House building (home to three Prime Ministers: William Pitt the Elder, Edward Stanley and William Gladstone!) here.

Professor O’Connell second lecture that day, entitled “Obama’s Drone Wars,” was given at The London School of Economics and Political Science and examined the Obama Administration’s escalating use of drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen. Her talk was sponsored by the London school’s International Humanitarian Law Project. The IHL Project seeks to promote the study of international humanitarian law and enhance a dialogue between the public and the scholarly community. Read more about the International Humanitarian Law Project.

Then, on October 23, Professor O’Connell participated on a panel debate with Benjamin Wittes, Senior Fellow and Research Director in Public Law at The Brookings Institution, on the question “Is Targeted Killing Legal?” The discussion took place at Fordham University School of Law as part of the 89th Annual Meeting of the American Branch of the International Law Association. The panelists noted that the Obama administration has increased the use of targeted killing of al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and that, while State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh has provided justifications (under the law of war and the inherent right of self defense), the ACLU and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions have both questioned the legality of the current practice under international and domestic law. Read more about the American Branch.

Meanwhile Professor O’Connell, along with Professor Michael Schmitt of Durham University, also participated in a BBC interview on the topic that can be heard on the BBC’s website.