International Law


Beach sculpture at Scheveningen, The Netherlands. Photo credit: Ole J. Forsberg, Ph.D.
Students taking PS 376 (International Law) should seek to examine the legal consequences of the fact that contemporary nation-states are creations of international law. Additionally, this course engages the many controversies over who is subject to this law, how the law is created and enforced, and the relationship between international law and international politics.
Public international law concerns the structure and conduct of states and international organizations. To a lesser degree, international law also affects multinational corporations and individuals, an impact increasingly evolving beyond domestic legal interpretation and enforcement. Public international law has increased in use and importance vastly over the twentieth century, due mainly to the increase in global trade, armed conflict, environmental deterioration on a worldwide scale, human rights violations, rapid and vast increases in international transportation and a boom in global communications.
Public international law is sometimes called the “law of nations”. It should not be confused with “private international law”, which is concerned with the resolution of conflict of laws between nations. In its most general sense international law “consists of rules and principles of general application dealing with the conduct of states and of international organizations and with their relations inter se, as well as with some of their relations with persons, whether natural or juridical.”
Interested? You may wish to also read about the English School of International Relations, especially the primary theorist in this field, Hedley Bull. One book of Bull's dealing with the unwritten rules in our anarchical state system is The Anarchical Society.

Required Texts

There are two required texts for this course. Additionally, there are several additional readings that you will need to locate and read for the appropriate times during course.

Required Activities

In addition to attending every class period, students are expected to deport themselves as university students. This means that all readings, extensive though they are, are read and digested; questions about the materials are formulated; and extensions to the topics to be covered are considered. Make no mistake about it: This is an upper-level course. There are two scheduled quizzes, one scheduled examination (the final), four chapter assignments, five case briefs, and a variety of in-class exercises designed to force you to grapple with some of the complexities of Public International Law.

Personal Thoughts

I, personally, enjoy international law, because it is a combination of the determinism of legalism with the balancing act of international relations. Throughout this course, you will be asking yourself just how much this really matters—after all, does international relations not merely depend on power calculations? Perhaps, but what State in the system can afford to completely ignore its responsibilities to the rest of the system? None.
As such, international law is an important part of the international state system: an constraint on the actions of each state in the system.