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Posted Feb. 15, 2012

U.S. State Department's Legal Adviser Calls for 'Smart-Power' Approach to Transnational Conflicts

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Harold Koh

Harold Koh was the keynote speaker at a symposium on transnational legal discord, "Conflicts of Interest: Resolving Differences in Global Legal Norms," at the University of Virginia School of Law.

To deal with emerging 21st-century legal conflicts that cross international borders, the United States must take a "smart-power" approach that respects the spirit of precedent and stays true to American ideals, said U.S. State Department Legal Adviser Harold Hongju Koh, who spoke at a symposium Feb. 10 at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Contact: Brian McNeill

Koh delivered the keynote address at a symposium on transnational legal discord, "Conflicts of Interest: Resolving Differences in Global Legal Norms," which was organized by the student-run Virginia Journal of International Law and the John Bassett Moore Society of International Law.

Koh, an expert in public and private international law, national security law and human rights, said "smart power" — which emphasizes principled engagement, diplomacy, strategic multilateralism and respect for the law — has been a defining characteristic of the foreign policy of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"Secretary Clinton has repeated this theme over and over: that we need to use smart-power approaches because our hard power is weaker than it was," Koh said. "[We must use] the full range of tools at our disposal, not just the military."

Conflict management, he said, is a critical aspect of what he called the "Obama-Clinton doctrine."

"We must be able to respond to opportunities, not just threats; look for the nexus between the domestic and international; find new ways to lead; partner with different players; use tools that emphasize cooperation over confrontation; and, most of all, preserve our values," he said.