A Nuclear Iran: The Legal Implications of a Preemptive National Security Strategy

October 26-27, 2006 | Syracuse University

Co-sponsored with the Syracuse Law Review

Participants include legal scholars who specialize in preemption, use of the military (including the legality of covert operations), the role of international organizations, and use of diplomatic options (such as sanctions) and experts in Iranian, Israeli, and Middle Eastern politics and history. They will discuss such issues as why Iran wants to be a nuclear power, the regional and international security ramifications of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, the domestic and international legal and political framework governing nuclear proliferation, and the legality and impact of various US and international actions to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Articles written by the panelists will be published by the Syracuse Law Review.


Opening Keynote Address
James Timbie, Senior Advisor to Dr. Robert Joseph, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security

Panel 1: “Nuclear Proliferation and International Security Policy in the United States and Abroad”
Moderated by Professor Renee de Nevers

For decades, the U.S. and the other members of the nuclear club have agreed to provide incentives in the form of civilian nuclear energy technology to countries in exchange for those countries abandoning their nuclear weapon development programs. Now, the US and the international community must deal with a country – Iran – that is intent on developing its own nuclear program despite international pressure to abandon its efforts. Should Iran be allowed to develop nuclear technology for civilian purposes? And if so, what impact would a nuclear Iran have on the Middle East and the rest of the world?

Our panelists will discuss why Iran wants to be a nuclear power, whether Iran has a legal right to become a nuclear power, and the regional ramifications of such newly acquired technology. They will also discuss Israel’s perspective on preemption and Iran’s acquisition of nuclear technology, and U.S. nuclear proliferation and international security policy.

Panel 2: “Preemption, International Law, and the Global Response to a Nuclear Iran”
Moderated by Professor William C. Banks

A nuclear Iran would impact not only the US, but all countries around the globe. Already, we have seen cooperation in the United Nations between the French, British, and Germans, and we have even seen some agreement with China and Russia. Concern over the ramifications of a nuclear Iran is widespread, and the international community could respond in unison or discord. Our panelists will discuss the US policy of preemption; the capability of the US military to take action against Iran; the extent to which the UN Charter would allow a US preemptive strike, or military action by any country, in the absence of Security Council authorization; and the various actions that countries other than the U.S. might take in confronting a nuclear Iran.

Second Day Keynote Address
Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist

Panel 3: “US Response Options: From Preemptive Military Action to Diplomacy and the Use of Sanctions”
Moderated by Seymour Hersh

In our featured panel discussion, all of the participants from our two morning sessions will combine their vast knowledge and discuss U.S. response options in dealing with a nuclear Iran. We will propose a hypothetical in which the U.S. and the global community learn that Iran has developed weapons-grade nuclear material, and we will ask our panelists to debate the range of legal and policy options that the U.S. has in confronting Iran. Does the U.S. have the military capability to strike Iran? What kind of a regional or global conflict would such a strike spark? Does the U.S. have the legal right, under international or domestic law, to strike Iran for the purpose of eliminating its nuclear capabilities? What other options does the U.S. have on the table? How would these options impact U.S. nuclear proliferation policy? These are the questions that our panelists, with their varying backgrounds and perspectives, will examine.

Discussants & Speakers

  • Col. Samuel Gardiner (Ret.) is an expert on military strategy and designing and facilitating war games.
  • Seymour Hersh is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and author who regularly contributes to The New Yorker on military and security matters.
  • Mehrzad Boroujerdi is Associate Professor of Political Science at the Maxwell School and Director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program at Syracuse University.
  • David Tal is a historian and visiting Associate Professor of History and International Relations at SU’s Maxwell School.
  • Orde Kittrie is an Associate Professor of Law at Arizona State University.
  • Steven Miller  is Director of the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.
  • Robert F. Turner is a Professor at the University of Virginia and Associate Director of the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia School of Law.
  • Mary Ellen O’Connell is the Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School.
  • Gregory E. Maggs is a Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School.
  • Mitchel Wallerstein is an expert on US national security and defense policy, focusing particularly on the proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons and their means of delivery.
  • A. John Radsan is an Associate Professor of Law at William Mitchell College of Law.
  • David S. Jonas is the Acting General Counsel of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within the US Department of Energy.
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