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The Law and Politics of the Use of Force



This seminar explores the mutually constitutive relationship between international law and international politics, and critically examines the conditions under which international law is effective in preventing or limiting the use of force by the states. Indeed, the development of modern international law was largely prompted by the quest to eliminate war from world politics. More specifically, international law evolved as a response to political developments and changes. Within this context, we will first consider the key conceptual foundations of resort to force, and the main theoretical and normative debates on the relationship between law and politics with special emphasis on questions related to the current practice, legitimacy and efficiency of international law. We will then examine the complex processes of international law-making and the reasons why states obey international law. We will finally discuss the interplay of norms and power politics through several case studies.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students are able to:

  • Reflect on key debates in the law of the use of force and in relation to both multilateral and unilateral military interventions;

  • Have a solid knowledge of how international legal norms on the use of force have evolved, and implemented by international organisations and states;

  • Identify the principle exceptions to the prohibition of the use force;

  • Reflect critically on the interplay between norms and power;

  • Assess efficacy of the major international enforcement mechanisms;

  • Understand and engage in the complex debates about the use of force.

Upon successful completion of this course, students are able to:

  • Conduct research in legal-normative issues with substance and structure;

  • Think analytically and critically, and present and support rigorous, well-developed arguments;

  • Compare and contrast different cases of the use of force;

  • Discuss multiple aspects of the relationship between law and politics;

  • find, evaluate and critically analyse relevant academic literature and other documents relating to governance and human security;

  • develop skills of presentation and group communication techniques


See 'MyTimetable'.

Mode of instruction

Interactive seminars build around specific ‘session questions’, input by the lecturer, small group exercises, and case studies presented by the students.

Assessment method

Student assessments will be based on in-class participation, presentation of a case study and two essays.
Each student’s work in the course will be assessed on the basis of four components:

  • Participation (15%: 7.5% class participation and 7.5% class discussant)

  • A group presentation (15%);

  • A response paper (30%);

  • An essay (40%).

Reading list

Readings will be a mixture of book chapters and journal articles. A syllabus with the reading list will be made available through Brightspace in time.


See 'Practical Information'.