Interview with Yahli Shereshevsky

In a few words, can you tell us about yourself and how you found your way to the academic field?

At the end of my joint degree in Law and "Amirim" honors program at the Hebrew University I flew to Arusha, Tanzania, to work for several months as an intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). My work in Arusha was a transformative experience. It led to, among other things, my interest in academia and, as a result, the first article that I wrote on international criminal law (and, most importantly, I also got engaged there). After Clerking for Deputy Chief Justice Eliezer Rivlin at the Israeli Supreme Court, I decided to continue my studies and write my PhD in international law. I was interested in studying an area of international law that has real life consequences, one that will enable me to feel that I am not isolated in the ivory tower. My work often focuses on armed conflicts. War and conflict cause enormous suffering to human beings around the world. The objective of the legal rules that governs these conflicts is to minimize suffering in warfare. I often feel the danger of becoming too focused on the theoretical aspects of my work at the expense of the normative call to alleviate suffering in warfare and to, as much as possible, reduce the number of armed conflicts. At the ICTR I was engaged in researching fascinating legal questions within an inspiring intellectual environment. But it was only when I visited Rwanda, three months into the internship, that I realized how detached my work was from the horrible events that took place during the 1994 genocide. I recognize the merits of intellectual distance, but I also recognize the merits of having a deep understanding of and connection with the harsh reality of warfare. My journey into the academic field was motivated by the hope that I will be able to study these areas of law without detaching myself from the actual reality on the ground.

What is the main core of your research? Can you give an example or two? How is it related to cyber security?

My primary research interests are international lawmaking and the intersection between international and domestic law and institutions. I am interested in the creation, interpretation and effectiveness of international law norms. I have written in the areas of international humanitarian law, international criminal law, the use of force, and international law theory. In 2019 I published an article about international humanitarian law-making. In the final section of the article I discuss the Tallinn manual and the cooperation between state anon-state actors in international lawmaking. This encouraged my growing interest in cyber security and emerging technologies more generally. Currently, my work at the cyber security center focuses on military human enhancement. It begins from the premise that in the near future it is very likely that states will fully develop and begin to use military enhanced soldiers. I explore different legal questions that are related to the employment of such soldiers. Specifically, I am working on two papers. The first explores questions regarding the subjective application of international law to enhanced soldiers. I consider whether the rules governing the conduct of hostilities should apply differently to those soldiers that have very different capabilities than unenhanced soldiers. For example, should we apply the traditional standards to evaluate acts that constitute torture in the context of enhanced soldiers that feel significantly less pain? The second project focuses on individual criminal responsibility for international crimes that are committed by military enhanced soldiers. It explores the challenges of assessing the criminal accountability of enhanced soldiers and the potential advantages of the deployment of enhanced soldiers in the context of command responsibility. While the two projects are broader than a narrow discussion of cyber security, much of the discussion relates to the cybernetic enhancement of soldiers (also referred to as brain-machine interfaces) and specifically to technologies that enable seamless two-way interaction between soldiers and machines as well as between humans.

Why did you choose this area over all others? Did your personal or professional background lead you to it?

Building upon my first answer about my general interest in international law, I was attracted to the study of military human enhancement because it is an area that is still very much understudied. While other areas of new technologies such as cyber warfare and autonomous weapons receive significant scholarly attention, the study of military human enhancement is in its earliest stages. In addition, the unique connection between humans and machines in the context of human enhancement fascinates me. I believe that through the exploration of military human enhancement we can reflect on much broader notions that shape these areas of international law.

Do you think that in this cyber age these issues are even more complex compared to other times in history? If so – in what ways?

New technologies dramatically change the world and the way that we perceive it. They require us to rethink our longstanding positions on different legal issues. Specifically, military human enhancement (and human enhancement more broadly) encourages us to rethink the boundaries between humans and machines as well as other human-nonhuman distinctions in ways that has been mostly envisioned within the sci-fi literature and popular culture. Nonetheless, I do not intend to suggest that we live in such unusual times that suppress any other period. Many of the questions that we explore now and that are posed by new technologies and cyber capabilities were discussed in some iteration by past generations of scholars. Law is constantly evolving alongside society. For example, the question of the subjective application of international law, which is the focus of my first project at the center, has been discussed in relation to different groups several times in the modern history of international humanitarian law.

After explaining the main core of your research, what do you think is the solution? What is the proper model for that? Is it applicable?

I believe that the question regarding the subjective application of the norms to military enhanced soldiers is truly challenging and does not lend itself to an easy solution. Focusing on the subjective question in the context of torture (and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment) and after exploring different potential approaches, I tend to support a one-directional approach to the application of the pain and suffering element in the definition of torture. A one-directional approach allows for the protection of individuals with specific vulnerabilities but does not allow for the harsher treatment of those individuals with enhanced capabilities. I believe that such approach reflects contemporary practice in relation to the prohibition against torture and is justified when considering second order arguments, such as the danger of abuse of the law by states.

What is the next phase in your professional life?

During the next academic year, I will work on a new project at the Center that addresses cyber-attribution in collaboration with the computer science school at Hebrew U. Currently, the legal study of cyber-attribution is detached from the technological study of cyber-security. Our project combines legal expertise with cutting-edge technological knowledge of cyber-security to allow for the complementary consideration of various strands of inquiry that will blend the technical features of both legal regulation and computer science. The study will use an attack specific approach that focuses on the questions relating to the attribution of the specific attack and the technological ability to address the challenges that it poses. In addition, I will continue to teach and work on other projects on international criminal law and the relationship between international and domestic law and institutions.

What is your message to the public?

Following the general tendency to provide quotes as an answer to this type of question, I will quote Emily Dickinson to emphasize my desire to continue reading beyond my narrow professional area. She wrote "forever is composed of nows" and I hope that we will be able to remember this during our very long journeys.