Drone Strikes and U.S. Counterterrorism Policy: The Legal Questions Behind Modern Warfare

John B. Bellinger III, Former Legal Advisor, National Security Council and Partner, Arnold & Porter LLP

Over two hundred reported drone strikes have occurred since President Obama took office, more than five times the amount of the Bush administration. The escalated use of armed drones in multiple foreign countries presents many legal questions, especially when American citizens are potential targets. As the administration’s counterterrorism policy attempts to address a threat environment that is constantly evolving, how should it explain and defend to its allies and critics the use of drones as lawful and appropriate? Are the present legal justifications recently laid out by Attorney General Eric Holder sufficient for maintaining tacit international support? What is to stop other nations from using the same legal arguments against the United States, its allies, and interests abroad? Former State Department and National Security Council Legal Adviser John Bellinger will discuss legal and policy issues relating to drone strikes, law-of-war detention, military commissions, the Bin Laden killing, and other aspects of U.S. counterterrorism policy in the Bush and Obama Administrations.

Speaker Bio


John B. Bellinger III, “Why the Supreme Court Should Curb the Alien Tort Statute,” The Washington Post, 02/23/2012

John B. Bellinger III, “Will Drone Strikes Become Obama’s Guantanamo?The Washington Post, 10/02/2011

John B. Bellinger III, “Revisiting a Stale Counterterrorism Law,” Council on Foreign Relations, 09/1/2011

Flight of the Drones: Why the Future of Air Power Belongs to Unmanned Systems,” The Economist, 10/8/2011

Declan Walsh, Eric Schmitt, and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud. “Drones at Issue as U.S. Rebuilds Ties to Pakistan,” The New York Times, 03/18/2012