LL.M. Programs in National Security and International Security Law

Some law schools have catered to a growing field with specialized programs

These days, you don’t have to look far to find issues related to national or international security law. You can usually find something right on the front page of the newspaper – anything from armed conflicts, Wikileaks, and terrorism to human rights, natural disasters, and internet privacy.

A handful of new LL.M. programs over the last few years have responded to the expansion of the national security law field, and job opportunities for lawyers. For example, George Washington and Georgetown have launched new national security LL.M. programs in 2009 and 2011, respectively.

In the United States, subjects like law of war and human rights have long been taught at law schools, but recent interest has fueled demand for more classes in counterterrorism law, cyber and internet law, and disaster law.

But national security law is more than just the headline-grabbing topics.

“People often think about the ‘glamorous’ sides of national security law,” says Tina Drake Zimmerman, who directs the LL.M. program in National Security Law at Georgetown University Law Center. “But there are things like working on government contracts and employment law that have a national security component.”

“There are a lot of different ways that national security issues impact business and government,” says Zimmerman.

Nonetheless, Zimmerman admits that some of the more “glamorous” topics like cyber security and internet law are big draws for law students.

“We’ve added a couple of classes this year, and will be adding more next year,” says Zimmerman about IT-related aspects of national security law. “Everybody says that it may not be the job to get today or next week, but soon that’s what’s really going to be driving the area.”

Another popular area is human rights law, which intersects inevitably with security issues.

“When you are talking about issues of security – especially with an international focus – you have to think about the people on the ground who are going to be impacted,” says Zimmerman.

“It is important for someone doing IHR [international human rights] to take law of war,” she adds. “You need to understand both sides of an issue to be effective in either field. I hear this from employers.”

In the United States, national security law job opportunities are on the rise, but the field still remains relatively small, according to Peter Raven-Hansen, who co-directs the National Security Law and Foreign Relations LL.M. program at George Washington University.

Many of the students in GW’s LL.M. program so far have been military lawyers (or “JAG” officers) who do the LL.M. to help increase their expertise and rank. Other students include domestic lawyers already working in government agencies and firms.

Both programs offer a prime setting – Washington, DC – for externships, networking, and learning from adjunct faculty who are working in the field.

So far, only a few national security law LL.M. students at GWU or Georgetown have come from abroad. Perhaps this is because of the US focus of national security law, or because international lawyers face an uphill battle in dealing with the security clearances required by potential US employers.

But Raven-Hansen says that despite this, some international students come for a closer look at US practice from a comparative perspective, and often return home to work for their governments.

“We all share exactly the same big problem, which is balancing security against privacy and free speech and political dissent,” says Raven-Hansen of other countries.  “How do control the Internet without squelching it? How do you secure confidential, classified information without overdoing it? And what do you do when it leaks?”

“The United States has not come up with the right balance, so you wouldn’t be studying it because it’s the answer,” says Raven-Hansen. “They would be studying it because we work at that problem constantly, so maybe one could learn from it.”

Beyond the United States, a few other law schools offer LL.M. programs with an international security law focus. These include the University of Ottawa, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, University of Glasgow, University of New South Wales (UNSW), and a new international security law program at Australia National University (ANU).

“Many of the contemporary security challenges are international or transnational in origin, or have cross-border effects,” says Hitoshi Nasu, director of the new International Security Law LL.M. program at ANU.

“That makes it all the more important to have a good awareness and understanding of existing rules and frameworks of international law, as well as international perspectives more broadly.”

Nasu says that international security law has expanded beyond its previous focus on peacekeeping operations in civil wars or in post-conflict situations to include topics like environmental security, health security, bio-security, energy security, food security, water security and cyber security.

“There is a large scope for examining the role and limit of international law in addressing each of those different types of international security challenges,” he says. These international perspectives can inform not only international, but also regional and national security policy.

Along with the necessary foundation in related international law, Nasu says his program provides students with theory, research experience, and interdisciplinary perspective that will be valuable on the job market.

“Such knowledge and skill sets should be greatly valued, whether your career aspiration is directed towards international organizations, international NGOs, regional organizations, academia, or governmental departments of a country.”


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