When Just Security launched in September 2013, its mission seemed simple enough: provide rigorous analysis of law, human rights, and U.S. national security policy. Just Security would bring together both principled and pragmatic perspectives on tough national security issues; and it would provide commentary that was timely in an increasingly fast-moving world.
Today we are announcing the launch of an Advisory Board, a group of thought leaders and an expanded part of the Just Security family, which will help us move into the next phase of our mission. With this momentous step in the life of Just Security, we thought it an opportune moment to pause to reflect on the challenges that lie ahead.
While this site’s mission may have seemed simple, the world it set out to understand and explain was anything but. From terrorist threats to proliferation challenges to human rights abuses, the topics facing Just Security authors and readers were big, complex, and consequential.
So it was clear from the outset that Just Security wouldn’t suffer from a shortage of hard questions. But, in the period since this site launched, trends have emerged that we never expected—trends that have ushered in waves of conversations and debates never anticipated six years ago.
First, even a quick peek at Just Security’s homepage today reveals that our authors and readers are now as concerned about threats originating at home as we are about threats originating abroad. Overseas threats haven’t disappeared—if anything, they’ve multiplied, with persistent threats from non-state actors such as terrorists getting rivaled by threats from state actors such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. But there are very real threats to justice and to security here at home in the United States, from the welcoming of foreign election interference to the deliberate dissemination of disinformation. National security and our sense of justice are now threatened not just from without but also from within.
Second, Just Security’s authors and readers are, today, profoundly uncertain as to whether the rule of law is being followed by particular governmental actors including the United States. Many of Just Security’s early debates focused on what the rule of law actually means: does it, say, permit targeted killings of suspected terrorists, or the use of force against a foreign sovereign to prevent gross human rights abuses against its own people? But now our concerns have widened to whether the rule of law—whatever it means—is being followed by governments long assumed to abide by it. That includes, perhaps most astonishingly, our own government in the United States, at least on a scale we never imagined. The question we face, at times, appears to be not just what the best interpretation of the law is but whether America’s Commander-in-Chief is committed, even in principle, to adhering to the rule of law itself.
Third, Just Security now exists in an information environment that deliberately disrupts the precise type of discourse—honest and fact-based—that we promised to foster when the site launched in 2013 and to which we remain passionately committed today. The past six years look very long in a global information environment that has become polluted by highly choreographed disinformation campaigns intended to polarize democracies and to lead segments of the population from disagreeing on their views to disagreeing on the underlying facts themselves. This is, in a sense, a national security problem about which Just Security’s authors write and, at the same time, one that presents a direct threat to our own objective: to provide a forum in which a range of views, all grounded in facts and expertise, are aired and considered. So this distinctively digitally enhanced threat to democracy is, ultimately, a threat to our very mission at Just Security.
But this particular threat is also an opportunity. That’s because, if an assault on truth and genuine expertise lies at the heart of national security challenges that were unanticipated when this site launched six years ago, that also means that providing fact-based analysis and dialogue is more important than ever. At Just Security, we see our mission as not just discussing national security but actually contributing to it. Reasoned debate, grounded in truth and genuine expert authority, is not just a hallmark of good writing and reading material—it’s also a source of strength in these challenging times.
So, with augmented participation and support that we’ve just announced through the Advisory Board, Just Security stands ready not just to continue the vital conversations that we began six years ago, but also to rise to the challenge in today’s disinformation environment—becoming a source for discussing solutions and, we hope, a part of those solutions themselves.
Image: A U.S. Air Force Commando Solo aircraft flies over the Statue of Liberty October 23, 2001. The Commando Solo is a EC-130 aircraft used for psychological operations and flown by the 193rd Special Operations Wing, Pennsylvania Air National Guard (Photo by U.S. Air Force/Getty Images)