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An Assessment of International Legal Issues in Information Operations

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Citation Edit

U.S. Department of Defense, Office of General Counsel, An Assessment of International Legal Issues in Information Operations (May 1999) (full-text).

Overview Edit

We can make some educated guesses as to how the international legal system will respond to information operations, but the direction that response actually ends up taking may depend a great deal on the nature of the events that draw the nations' attention to the issue. If information operations techniques are seen as just another new technology that does not greatly threaten the nations' interests, no dramatic legal developments may occur. If they are seen as a revolutionary threat to the security of nations and the welfare of their citizens, it will be much more likely that efforts will be made to restrict or prohibit information operations by legal means. These are considerations that national leaders should understand in making decisions on using information operations techniques in the current formative period, but it should also be understood that the course of future events is often beyond the control of statesmen.

There is little likelihood that the international legal system will soon generate a coherent body of "information operations" law. The most useful approach to the international legal issues raised by information operations activities will continue to be to break out the separate elements and circumstances of particular planned activities and then to make an informed judgment as to how existing international legal principles are likely to apply to them. In some areas, such as the law of war, existing legal principles can be applied with considerable confidence. In other areas, such the application of use of force principles to adopting an "active defense," it is much less clear where the international community will come out, and the result will probably depend much more on the perceived equities of the situations in which the issues first arise in practice.

The growth of international law in these areas will be greatly influenced by what decision-makers say and do at those critical moments. So far, there are many areas where legal uncertainties create significant risks, most of which can be considerably reduced by prudent planning.

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