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Public International Law and the Use of Force


Module description

This module is a critical, case-study-based introduction to the international law applicable to the use of armed force.

Following a discussion whether international law is in fact ‘law’, you will be introduced to some basic principles of international law, especially the sources of law. We will engage with the notion of ‘just war’. A study of the relevant UN principles will include self-defence, and especially ‘pre-emptive self-defence’. This will lead to consideration of case studies, which will include Kosovo, Israel/Palestine and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 - and more recent conflicts including the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and interventions in Eastern Ukraine and Syria. Does it matter that the use of armed force was ‘illegal’?

You will also engage with the highly controversial topic of 'humanitarian intervention' - and the so-called 'Responsibility to Protect'.

Indicative syllabus

  • Introduction: law and force in international relations
  • What is international law? The sources of international law, with special reference to 'customary international law' and jus cogens
  • The concept of 'Just War'; humanitarian intervention, and 'responsibility to protect' (R2P)
  • The UN Charter and the principle of non-use of force and threat of force: Article 2(4)
  • Self-defence and 'anticipatory self-defence' - the 'Bush doctrine'
  • Self-determination - the right of peoples to self-determination and the decolonisation struggles
  • Case studies: Israel and Palestine; Iraq; Eastern Ukraine and Crimea