Lt. Cmdr. Dennis Harbin – a judge advocate currently serving as a joint legal observer and trainer for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – was awarded the 2021 Richard R. Baxter Military Prize by the American Society of International Law (ASIL) Lieber Society on the Law of Armed Conflict. His writing topic was “Targeting Submarine Cables.”
The Lieber Society serves as ASIL’s focal point for the study and dissemination of analysis on the Law of Armed Conflict, international humanitarian law, and other public international law related to the conduct of military operations. It facilitates dialogue by bringing together academics and governmental and non-governmental practitioners – both civilian and military – from the U.S. and around the globe.
For this year’s competition, applicants submitted topics on the Law of War – the area of international law regulating the conduct of armed hostilities. Submissions explored a wide range of issues related to the Law of War, including the use of force in international law; the conduct of hostilities during international and non-international armed conflicts; protected persons and protected objects; laws of weapons; rules of engagement; treatment of detainees; and occupation law.
“It was an unexpected surprise and true honor,” said Harbin when describing his reaction to receiving the award.
His opportunity to apply for the award came about while he attended The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center (TJAGLCS) and School for his Masters of Laws (LL.M.), when he was deciding upon his thesis topic.
“I wanted to write on a useful and relevant topic and Professor James Kraska of the Naval War College recommended, ‘targeting submarine cables,’” said Harbin.
When discussing his topic, Harbin noted: “It was fascinating and fun because it provided an opportunity to explore the nexus between naval history, law of the sea, and the emerging concept of all-domain operations.”
Harbin’s Naval Legal Service Command assignments have included Region Legal Service Office (RLSO) Mid-Atlantic and Defense Service Office Southeast, where he completed his First Tour Judge Advocate rotation. He also served as command judge advocate at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Va. He later reported onboard RLSO Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia, Detachment Rota, where he served as trial counsel and then “Fleeted-up” to serve as detachment officer-in-charge and staff judge advocate to Commander, U.S. Naval Activities Spain.
When discussing the 2021 Richard R. Baxter Military Prize, Harbin was quick to note that his award is the result of a “collaborative effort.”
“I couldn’t have written a competitive paper without the support of my thesis adviser, Capt. Todd Huntley, as well as Capt. Keith Gibel, Lt. Col. Kiersten Kennedy, and Maj. Courtney Cohen of the Army JAG School. Additionally, retired Capt. Douglas Burnett provided expert feedback and guidance throughout the effort. Most importantly, I am grateful for the patience and support of my family,” Harbin added.
Harbin was commissioned in 2008 through Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at Virginia Military Institute, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies. His first tour of duty was on USS Bainbridge (DDG-96), where he earned his surface warfare officer qualification. Serving as auxiliaries officer and assistant operations officer, he deployed to the Indian Ocean and participated in anti-piracy operations. Harbin then served as operations officer for Patrol Coastal Crew Kilo. Deploying to Bahrain aboard USS Firebolt (PC-10), he participated in maritime security operation in the Arabian Gulf.
After selection for the Law Education Program, Harbin graduated from the Pennsylvania State University in 2014. During law school, he additionally earned a diploma from the Rhodes Academy of Ocean Law and Policy. Harbin recently earned a Master of Laws in Military Law (with a concentration in National Security Law) from TJAGLCS.
“What I hope people take away from the article is while the changing character of war requires us to understand emerging legal issues, it also drives us to think of old problems in new ways,” said Harbin.
Harbin’s award was officially announced in March at ASIL’s Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.