Matthew C. Waxman

Adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy


International law & national security law; human rights; law and terrorism; counterterrorism; international security; presidential powers and foreign policy; cybersecurity; military intervention.


Matthew C. Waxman is adjunct senior fellow for law and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is also professor at Columbia Law School and a member of the Hoover Institution's task force on national security and law.

He previously served at the U.S. Department of State as principal deputy director of policy planning. His prior government appointments included deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, director for contingency planning and international justice at the National Security Council, and special assistant to the national security adviser. He is a graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, and studied international relations as a Fulbright scholar in the United Kingdom. After law school, he served as law clerk to Supreme Court justice David H. Souter and U.S. Court of Appeals judge Joel M. Flaum.

His publications include The Dynamics of Coercion: American Foreign Policy and the Limits of Military Might (with Daniel Byman, Cambridge University Press, 2002) and the CFR special report Intervention To Stop Genocide and Mass Atrocities: International Norms and U.S. Policy (2009).

Featured Publications

Video Speaker: Matthew C. Waxman

Civil liberties will present the winner of the 2012 U.S. presidential elections with challenges related to counterterrorism powers and practices, as well as challenges related to privacy rights, says CFR's Matthew C. Waxman.

See more in Elections

Council Special Report No. 49

Intervention to Stop Genocide and Mass Atrocities

Author: Matthew C. Waxman

Recent events in Darfur raise the familiar question of whether international law facilitates the kind of early, decisive, and coherent action needed to effectively combat genocide. Matthew C. Waxman argues that putting decisions about international intervention solely in the hands of the UN Security Council risks undermining the threat or use of intervention when it may be most potent in stopping mass atrocities.

See more in United States; Genocide; Humanitarian Intervention

All Publications


Why Obama’s National Security Strategy Seems a Lot Like Bush’s

Author: Matthew C. Waxman

Matthew Waxman reviews Charlie Savage’s new book Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency. Waxman writes about the ways in which Savage explains the different styles, and yet remarkable continuity, in foreign policy between President Obama and his predecessor, President Bush. Waxman notes that Savage’s novel contribution is the way he not only demonstrates the surprising continuity in their two foreign policies but in explaining the cause of that continuity.


See more in United States; Presidents and Chiefs of State; Diplomacy and Statecraft


Legal Posturing and Power Relations in the South China Sea

Author: Matthew C. Waxman
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

The Philippines took China to international court in 2013 in order to challenge China’s assertion of vast maritime claims over the South China Sea. Matthew Waxman discusses why using international legal institutions in this way serves as a poor replacement for diplomacy and instead adds to both its complexity and set of instruments.

See more in China; Philippines; International Law


China’s ADIZ at One Year: International Legal Issues

Author: Matthew C. Waxman
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

Matthew Waxman reflects on the international legality of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), declared by China one year ago. Importantly, this zone includes a large area of the East China Sea, including islands the legal possession of which China disputes with Japan. Waxman discusses the somewhat ambiguous and developing legal field surrounding ADIZs in this particular context and beyond.

See more in China; Regional Security; International Law


Chaos in Libya

Author: Matthew C. Waxman
Hoover Institution

Ever since an international coalition led by NATO forces helped topple the regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011, governance there has been in shambles. Recently the fighting among rival militias has escalated dramatically, and there is no political solution on the horizon.

See more in Libya; Democratization


The Power to Threaten War

Author: Matthew C. Waxman
Yale Law Journal Online

Matt Waxman shows that congressional influence operates more robustly—and in different ways—than usually supposed in legal debates about war powers to shape strategic decision-making. In turn, these mechanisms of congressional influence can enhance the potency of threatened force.

See more in United States; Wars and Warfare


Syria, Threats of Force, and Constitutional War Powers

Author: Matthew C. Waxman
Yale Law Journal Online

Matthew Waxman argues that debates about constitutional war powers neglect the critical role of threats of war or force in U.S. foreign policy. The recent Syria case highlights the President's vast legal power to threaten military force as well as the political constraints imposed by Congress on such threats. Incorporating threats into an understanding of constitutional powers over war and peace upends traditional arguments about presidential flexibility and congressional checks—arguments that have failed to keep pace with changes in U.S. grand strategy.

See more in United States; Presidents and Chiefs of State; Grand Strategy


Self-Defensive Force Against Cyber Attacks: Legal, Strategic and Political Dimensions

Author: Matthew C. Waxman
International Law Studies

When does a cyber-attack (or threat of cyber-attack) give rise to a right of self-defense – including armed self-defense – and when should it? This essay examines these questions through three lenses: (1) a legal perspective, to examine the range of reasonable interpretations of self-defense rights as applied to cyber-attacks, and the relative merits of interpretations within that range; (2) a strategic perspective, to link a purported right of armed self-defense to long-term policy interests including security and stability; and (3) a political perspective, to consider the situational context in which government decision-makers will face these issues and predictive judgments about the reactions to cyber-crises of influential actors in the international system.

See more in Global; Cybersecurity


What the President Could Say in His Speech

Authors: Matthew C. Waxman and Robert Chesney

In President Obama's upcoming counterterrorism speech, Robert Chesney and Matthew Waxman explain that the president should focus on three areas that his administration has not followed through in a serious way: closing Guantanamo, working with Congress to put forceful counterterrorism actions on sound legal footing, and making targeted killing more transparent.

See more in United States; Presidents and Chiefs of State; Counterterrorism

Ask CFR Experts

What is preventing international action in Syria?

Asked by Jake C., from University of Texas at Tyler

A number of countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and Qatar, have been providing support to the opposition in various forms, ranging from humanitarian aid to military supplies, such as weapons, armor, and communication devices. However, these efforts have not been enough to turn the tide, and after three years of fighting, a diplomatic solution still seems unlikely.

Read full answer

See more in Syria; Humanitarian Intervention

CFR Events


The Future of Guantanamo Bay

Speaker Matthew C. Waxman

Adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations; Professor, Columbia Law School

Moderator Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program & Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

October 22, 2014 12:00–1:00 p.m. - (ET)

This meeting is on the record.


Meeting ⁄ New York

National Security and Civil Liberties: Finding the Right Balance

Panelists Kenneth Roth

Executive Director, Human Rights Watch

, Matthew C. Waxman

Professor, Columbia Law School; Adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations

, James D. Zirin

Author, The Mother Court: Tales of Cases that Mattered in America's Greatest Trial Court; Host and Producer, Conversations in the Digital Age

Presider Karen J. Greenberg

Director, Center for National Security, Fordham University School of Law

June 9, 2014 12:30–1:00 p.m. - Lunch
1:00–2:00 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch

Meeting ⁄ New York

What to Do About Guantanamo Bay

Speakers Phillip Carter

Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Policy, U.S. Department of Defense

, Marc A. Thiessen

Fellow, American Enterprise Institute; Former Chief Speechwriter to President George W. Bush, The White House

, Matthew C. Waxman

Professor, Columbia Law School; Adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations

Presider Richard N. Haass

President, Council on Foreign Relations

April 22, 2014

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch


Combating Mass Atrocities

Speaker Matthew C. WaxmanAdjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, Intervention to Stop Genocide and Mass Atrocities
Presider Irina A. FaskianosVice President, National Program & Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations
February 24, 2010

This meeting is not for attribution.



The United States and the Future of Global Governance: The Use of Force and Accountability in International Law - A U.S. Perspective

Speakers Matthew C. WaxmanAdjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations, John B. Bellinger IIIAdjunct Senior Fellow for International and National Security Law, Council on Foreign Relations, David J. SchefferProfessor of Law, Northwestern University
Moderator Jeffrey ToobinStaff Writer, The New Yorker
May 7, 2009 - May 8, 2009

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch



Ten Years after 9/11: Evaluating a Decade of Conflicts on the Rules of War

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the American Red Cross hosted a discussion on the relevance and importance of international humanitarian law at a time when civil conflicts are erupting in North Africa and the Middle East. An audio recording of the event is also available.


The New York Times: Torture's Blowback

On the New York Times' "Room for Debate" blog, Matthew Waxman joins other experts for a discussion of how admissions of torture might affect the closure of the Guantanamo military detention facility and the prosecution of detainees.


Guantanamo Detainees - Now What?

In a 2008 prepared testimony to the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), Matthew Waxman discusses the legal and policy decisions regarding the future of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and the possibility of closing it down.