Save the date! Awesome speakers confirmed for the 2021 LENS Conference

Duke Law’s 26th Annual Law, Ethics and National Security (LENS) conference Friday, 26 Feb, and Saturday morning, 27 Feb 2021, will be virtual, but awesome speakers will participate (via Zoom).  Registration won’t open until early January, but here’s a sneak preview of some of the truly outstanding people you’ll hear at LENS 2021!

I’ll be hosting a A Conversation with General Jim Mattis” with the former Secretary of Defense and retired Marine general.  He’ll discuss his terrific book, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead (written with Bing West) and the leadership lessons it teaches.

Gen. Mattis

General Mattis has also agreed to entertain some questions from me and from attendees.  As you might imagine, because the role of the commander in disciplinary matters is being discussed, queries about his experiences with the military justice system (something he discusses in his book) can be expected. We’ll also explore his views on the role of military and civilian lawyers generally, dealing with extremely stressful situations, and his views on contemporary civil-military relations.

Gen. CQ Brown

I am also super-excited to tell you that the Air Force Chief of Staff General CQ Brown (bio here ) will also be speaking. He’ll give us insight about his vision for the Air Force (which is not without some controversy!) Among other things, he recently said “I’m not so much enamored with airplanes, although, you know, I flew airplanes.”

Instead, as DefenseNews reports, General Brown believes:

“It’s really the capability” that matters, he said. “And as we look at, you know, future conflicts, we may be fighting differently. I don’t know that for a fact. But when I came in, cyber wasn’t a thing. Now it is. Space was a benign environment. Now, not as much.

Lawyers may be particularly interested to know that General Brown “wants to see continued advancements in new acquisition methods that allow the Air Force to more quickly buy new equipment at lower prices.”

Notably, press reports say “[Gen] Brown and other Air Force leaders [have yet] to decide whether it’s worth buying into the Digital Century Series plan for the NGAD [Next Generation Air Dominance program}.”  (This effort was discussed on Lawfire last year [Will the law cooperate with the Air Force’s bold new approach to acquiring sophisticated fighter jets?”  ] so it’ll be interesting to hear his current thinking.)

Additionally, I hope to ask General Brown about the role of military and civilian lawyers in the defense enterprise. We served in the Pentagon at the same time years ago and even then he had a well-earned reputation as a thoughtful, ‘big thinker’ so this will be a rare opportunity to hear directly from someone with real experience as an operator, but who is also an innovative and forward-looking leader of the first order.

Ms. Refo

Our annual ethics presentation this year promises to be packed with information, as I’m very pleased to announce that  Ms. Patricia Refo, the President of the American Bar Association, will honor us as our speaker.  (And, wow, what a career she’s had! Check out her amazing bio here) I expect she, too, will entertain Q & A, and there are certainly topical issues to discuss (see e.g., here, here, and here).  We’ll also try to squeeze in a question about her vision for the legal profession in general and the ABA in specific in the post-COVID era.

Mr. Cheng

Veteran conference attendees will be extremely glad to hear that two of our most popular speakers have agreed to participate in LENS 2021.  Mr. Dean Cheng, currently the Research Fellow for Chinese Political and Military Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, will update us on current national security issues with respect to China.  Dean has an uncanny ability to convey an enormous amount of information in a way that is accessible to all his listeners, and his insights are fascinating.

He, too, will entertain questions from attendees.  As some of you know, Dean wrote the seminal piece on Chinese “lawfare” in 2012, and we’ll explore his current assessment.  China has certainly been a lawfare practitioner (see e.g., here), and there seems to be more controversy emerging.

Consider this recent article (“South China Sea ‘Lawfare’: Fighting over the Freedom of Navigation”) where a commentator pointed out:

“The US and China hold diametrically opposed views on the rights and freedoms of warships to navigate through territorial seas and operate in exclusive economic zones (EEZs). While China has been instrumentalising UNCLOS provisions and claims to historic rights as a security-political shield, the US has been striving to safeguard its armed forces’ freedom to manoeuver in East Asian seas.”

I can’t wait to hear the latest from Dean.  Those who’ve seen him at other LENS conferences know his command of the facts is astounding, something that makes his analysis all the more mesmerizing

With Prof Schmitt at the 2020 LENS Conference

Prof. Mike Schmitt, my friend (and, really, mentor) for more than three decades, has also committed to speak again. Many know him to be the world’s foremost expert on cyber conflict (check out his mind-bogglingly extensive CV here).  Moreover, he’s an authentically gifted communicator.  As just one example, take a look at his address at the 25th Anniversary Conference in February: “Inside the Enemy’s Camp: ‘Offensive’ Cyber Ops and International Law.

Actually, Mike is really something of an international law polymath. Here are just a few of the diverse set of topics he’s addressed in 2020 alone:

Foreign Cyber Interference in Elections: An International Law Primer, Part I, Part II, and Part III.

COVID-19 and International Law

War in space: how international humanitarian law might apply

International humanitarian law and the targeting of non-state intelligence personnel and objects

Iranian gunboat harassment and the rules of engagement

Targeting non-state “mixed groups”

All I can say is “wow” and I think we all know Mike will give us much food for thought!

And there are more fantastic speakers to be announced!  Be sure to watch this space for conference updates as conference registration (set to open early January of 2021) will be publicly announced here first.  You may want to subscribe to Lawfire! (here)

When registration does open for the conference, I highly recommend signing up sooner rather than later as our license with Zoom sets hard capacity limits which we will be unable to enlarge.  Meanwhile, mark your calendar for Feb 26-27 and expect to hear some superb national security experts at the LENS Conference. 

Hope to ‘see’ you there!

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