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Washington, D.C. law conference to be streamed live at ASU

February 23, 2011

Drones – it’s a word that sparks a range of emotion, from curiosity and fascination to fear and loathing among the world’s citizens.

"Drones are fascinating, unpiloted machines that can target people thousands of miles away from where they are controlled,” said Daniel Rothenberg, executive director of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law’s Center for Law and Global Affairs. “When you mention drones these days, people pay attention.”

On Feb. 24, the College of Law at Arizona State University will co-host, with the New American Foundation in Washington, D.C., and the American Society for International Law, a national conference on legal concerns surrounding the increasing use of drones in armed conflict.

“Drones, Remote Targeting and the Promise of Law: How Advances in Military Technology are Transforming War and Challenging Policy and Practice,” will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the New America Foundation’s Washington, D.C., offices. The event, which is co-sponsored by the College of Law’s Center for Law and Global Affairs and the Center for Law, Science & Innovation, also will be live-streamed at the law school, beginning at 7 a.m., Arizona time. The event will be held in Armstrong Hall, room 111 and 103, on ASU’s Tempe campus, To view the streaming go to

The invitation-only conference in D.C. will bring together international lawyers, military experts, scholars, journalists and foreign policy experts to review the current legal processes in the United States regarding the use of drones, their impact in the Middle East, and how remote targeting affects ruled-based conflict.

The program should be of interest to a local audience – attorneys, law students and people who care about new technologies as tools for managing war – and Rothenberg hopes many will attend.

“There’s been a striking lack of public attention to the legal aspect of drones,” he said. “In fact, the U.S. military’s use of drones involves the rigorous application of law, and there are teams of lawyers involved in targeting decisions.

“An important issue is the degree to which drones and emerging technologies enable the promise of legal warfare, that is, minimizing the inappropriate use of force, and reducing harm to civilians and others protected by the law of armed conflict,” Rothenberg said.

The conference reviews the impact of drone attacks on the ground with presentations by human rights advocates and others.

One of its key goals is to stimulate debate and consider the possibility of new domestic rules and legislation as well as the possibility of international mechanisms for regulation of these emerging military technologies. These issues are especially significant since more than 40 countries are believed to currently have drones, and they represent only one example of an array of new, military technologies that are transforming war.

“In recent history, we’ve seen powerful and profound international regulations on different military advances – for example the highly successful ban on chemical weapons’ use and the newer limitations on landmines,” he said.

Rothenberg, who will open the conference, is among several College of Law participants, including Laura Dickinson, Foundation Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the College’s Center for Global Affairs, Gary Marchant, ASU Lincoln Professor of Emerging Technologies, Law and Ethics and Executive Director of the College’s Center for Law, Science & Innovation, Professor Orde Kittrie, and Joel Garreau, the ASU Lincoln Professor of Law, Culture and Values.

Peter W. Singer, Director of The Brookings Institution’s 21st Century Defense Initiative, will deliver the noon lecture, “The Challenge of Thinking Clearly About the Impact of Emerging Technologies.” Other speakers include Charles Blanchard, General Counsel for the U.S. Air Force; David Rohde, a reporter for The New York Times who was kidnapped by the Taliban and held for months; military lawyers involved in drone operations and related activities; victims’ advocates and experts in human rights law and the law of armed conflict.

The four panel topics:


This panel explores the current use of drones in South Asia, especially Afghanistan and Pakistan, and reviews their impact on the battlefield. The panel addresses how local populations respond to drone attacks and how these new technologies affect the experience of conflict.


This panel considers drone attacks in relation to international law and U.S. military practice. It documents how the U.S. military uses the Law of Armed conflict (LOAC) for remote targeting and drone attacks and reviews key questions regarding the challenges of using law to manage new technologies.


This panel reviews the impact of increasing drone use on U.S. foreign policy as well as the possible need for revised military rules, new domestic legislation and/or the creation of new international mechanisms for regulating drones and other emerging military technologies.


This panel considers the legal, moral and policy implications of drones as the first step in a reconceptualization of war based on emerging technologies. The panel provides an overview of drones/robots that can operate autonomously and kill without direct human supervision, considers how these machines may be used, and discusses the impact of these changes on our legal and moral frameworks for understanding and regulating war.

For more information about the conference or the live-streaming, visit

Janie Magruder,
(480) 727-9052
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law