International Law

Brookings Foreign Policy Scholars Join Lawfare's Analytic Experiment

By Benjamin Wittes
Tuesday, February 5, 2013, 7:59 AM

The other day, I announced a little experiment that grew out of a conversation with Aaron Zelin, an expert on jihadist groups at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:

Zelin pointed out that while the analytical community of which he is a part often has a lot of information to bring to bear on questions of legal significance, its members often have no idea that the questions they are thinking about are significant to lawyers. He then put forward what I think is a tantalizing possibility. What if Lawfare were to play the public role of connecting analysts with legal puzzles on which their expertise might be useful? The government, of course, has its own analysts who do their own assessments. But I like this idea—rather a lot. So with Zelin’s permission, I’m going to try an experiment with it.

If anyone, in or out of government, is thinking about a legal question whose answer may hinge on a better factual understanding of matters within Zelin’s expertise, shoot me a note. I’ll refer the question to Zelin, whose bio notes that “his research focuses on how jihadist groups are adjusting to the new political environment in the era of Arab uprisings and Salafi politics in countries transitioning to democracy.” If he feels he can usefully address it, we’ll publish the question and he’ll guest post about it. If he knows someone better positioned than he to take the question on, he may pass the question on. Those who, for whatever reason, wish to send questions anonymously, should feel free.

The Twitterverse got pretty excited about this idea. Several analysts who tweet expressed interest in participating. I also sent the post around to several of my Brookings colleagues in our Foreign Policy Program, and a number have expressed willingness to join the experiment---that is, to write the occasional guest post on matters on which their non-legal expertise may be relevant. The result is that we have amassed a rather amazing analytic brain trust available for this project---both inside and outside of Brookings---covering such diverse areas as U.S military policy, the AfPak region, jihadist groups, military robotics, Gulf security, child soldiers, Arab politics, Iran, and the Balkans. Participating analysts include, so far, in addition to Zelin:

And we can get others if questions were to require, say, a software or hardware engineer, someone who mines data for a living, an economist, or something else entirely.

There's only one problem with this little project: Someone has to kick-start it by submitting a question. After I announced it, Charles Blanchard, general counsel of the Air Force, tweeted (yes, the Air Force general counsel's office has a Twitter account---and a rather good one at that): "It's a great project." But it will only be a great project if lawyers actually use it. So don't be shy. What are the non-legal questions on which your national security legal questions hinge?