Asser academic director Janne E. Nijman: 'Joining forces in an eventful year'

Published 15 January 2020

Academic director & member of the board Janne E. Nijman

As we enter a New Year and a new decade, Asser academic director Janne E. Nijman calls for academics, policymakers and practitioners to join forces in tackling global challenges such as climate change, terrorism, the rise of global populism and EU scepticism and emerging technologies. ‘Law, in our hyper-connected world, can contribute to a more just and common future for all.'

The New Year has arrived amidst a flurry of dramatic global events. Australia declared a state of disaster, with devastating bushfires wiping out communities, killing people and about a billion of animals. In the Persian Gulf, the military confrontations between the US and Iran were cause for many of us to hold our breath - and again a civilian airplane was downed above a war zone. The year 2020 does not look like it will be less eventful than 2019.

Later this month, we will learn if Boris Johnson has succeeded in getting his Brexit deal. We will then witness a long period of tough negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and the EU, the latter also having to deal with systemic threats to the rule of law and democracy in other member states. Our Global Europe-project and its blog will follow developments closely.

This year will also see the US presidential elections, which will impact many global issues, ranging from climate policy and wealth inequality, to the power of Big Tech and refugee and migrant rights. In the EU, many countries will have to decide how to balance national security with fundamental human rights in their decisions on returning IS fighters. International humanitarian law (IHL), an often forgotten field of law in the fight against terrorism, might be of value to this issue.

In 2020, developments in technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) are expected to speed up. Later this month, our upcoming winter academy on AI and international law will address the potential of AI systems to help manage some of the world’s hardest problems, as well as the regulatory and policy changes we need to put in place in order to ensure its beneficial use. Recently we launched DILEMA, a research project that aims to generate insights on designing international law and ethics into military artificial intelligence.

As a knowledge institute based in The Hague - a place where international and European law is developed, applied and contested on a daily basis - we consider it our mission to help develop law and policy solutions that make the world we live in more just for everyone. We do so through high quality, timely and relevant independent research published in international journals and blogs, in national and international newspapers, at SSRN and in the publications of T.M.C. Asser Press.

In our research, we often ask the question: ‘Who or what wins with an (anticipated) policy or legal interpretation, and who or what loses?’ Having an acute awareness of the public interest to us means more than looking at legal compliance, or at process and procedure as its outcome. We believe it is important to look at ethics and governance, fairness, integrity, accountability, transparency and justice as well.

Our team at the Asser Institute also studies the role of international and European law itself, and what effects laws have on the world we live in. Law can be used to give priority to narrow interests, market fundamentalism or tax havens, but it can also serve public interests, public values or climate justice.

Our education and public events bring students and lecturers from all over the world to The Hague to explore and discuss how we can do business right, strive for human dignity and human security and cooperate on adequate dispute settlement. The wide variety of perspectives this offers and our continuous dialogue with our friends at embassies, courts, tribunals, ministries, NGOs and the media, help us to bring a fresh and innovative lens to our policy-oriented research.

In 2020, our team at the Asser Institute continues to work with academics, policy makers and practitioners, to learn from each other and to mutually explore how law, in our hyper connected world, can contribute to a more just and common future for all of us. As Noam Chomsky wrote in Optimism over Despair (2017): “We have two choices. We can be pessimistic, give up, and help ensure that the worst will happen. Or we can be optimistic, grasp the opportunities that surely exist, and maybe make the world a better place. Not much of a choice.”

With that in mind, I trust that 2020 will bring us plenty of opportunities to join forces.