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2017 Women’s Forum Addresses National Security Challenges, Honors Alumnae

March 2, 2017 —

When missiles were fired at a U.S. Navy ship off the coast of Yemen in October, then Deputy National Security Adviser Avril Haines (L’01) and her colleagues had to determine how best to respond. They had to get information from the intelligence community regarding the source. They had to consider Al-Qaeda, an internal conflict in Yemen and the interests in protecting an international strait. They had to consider the national and international legal requirements of a military response. A War Powers Resolution report to the U.S. Congress? Consent from the government of Yemen? Notification to the U.N. Secretary General?

What might have been an international law exam question for this Georgetown Law alumna in 2000 was real life in 2016.

“Lawyers said, you don’t need to do an Article 51 letter…when you respond to an armed attack in self-defense,” Haines said at the 2017 “Women’s Forum: The Future of National Security and Immigration at Georgetown Law” on February 24. “But nevertheless, we thought it was prudent. And this is where the legal and the policy pieces come together: we wanted to make sure we had a basis for a response…but we did not want that response to be perceived as us getting into the civil war in a significant way.” 

Nadia Asancheyev (L’06), executive director of Georgetown Law’s Center on National Security and the Law, led a panel on national security challenges with Haines and Jennifer O’Connor (L’96), a former general counsel at the Department of Defense.

“The role of law and the role of lawyers…is critically important in the Defense Department’s military operations [and] its use of force…” said O’Connor, in a discussion on military targeting. “Is [a target, such as a bridge] providing a military advantage to ISIL? If it is, then we move on to a whole analysis involving the laws of armed conflict…whether the people are militants versus civilians…through all of that, the lawyer is there.”

Cybersecurity is a significant challenge, as the law remains undeveloped in this area. Regarding current events surrounding the National Security Council, Haines noted generally that politics should be left at the door of the NSC.  “You can’t ignore it completely…but you do work awfully hard to put it aside,” she said. “We are concerned, no matter what party we are in, about the national security of the country.” 

Inspiring women

Adjunct Professor Michelle Brané (L’94) of the Women’s Refugee Commission, Judge Noel Brennan (L’85) of the U.S. Immigration Court, Temple Law Professor Jaya Ramji-Nogales (L’06) and Melysa Sperber (L’04) of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking looked at developments in immigration law in the wake of the recent executive orders. 

“There’s no question that we have a huge challenge for us…it’s a disheartening that a lot of the work that we have done up to now…is being obliterated with the swipe of a pen,” Brané said. “But I have found in my career that what revs me up is a good fight.”

Haines and Emily Spitzer (L’80), former executive director of the National Health Law Program, were honored with this year’s Alumnae Awards. The award is given to women graduates to recognize their contributions to the legal profession, their communities and the Law Center. Marilyn Tucker, director of Alumni Careers and the International Internship Program, and Dean William M. Treanor presented the awards.  “We [choose] people…who have done so much to make this world a better place,” Treanor said.

Barbara Krumsiek, the senior industry fellow at Georgetown University’s Women’s Leadership Institute, opened the day’s events with a look at the status of professional women in the workplace — noting that while 46 percent of the entry level workforce is female, the CEO level is only 4 percent. “It’s time to more thoroughly examine what is not a leaky pipeline,” she said, “but literally a broken pipe.” 

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