Document Type

Undergraduate Syllabus


Fall 2016



Course Number

DIPL 3104

Course Description

International law distributes power, resources, and rights to individuals, states, corporations, and other entities. International courts adjudicate key ethical questions such as the expression of religion in public, the rights of groups, or the duty to prosecute or to amnesty heinous violations. States use international law as a justification both for military intervention and for the refusal to intervene. Refugees fleeing war zones encounter international law when they cross borders, enter camps, plead for citizenship, search for food and water, or claim basic rights. Whether considering the international order from the perspective of the most or the least powerful people or groups, comprehending it requires understanding the power, limitations, and functions of international law.

This course will introduce students to the field of public international law. Historically understood as the law governing relations between states, public international law now addresses a multitude of other actors and subjects. Both the subjects and the substance of the field have radically transformed over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, adding not only non-state actors but substantive areas like human rights, the use of force, criminal law, and humanitarian law. In addition, the field has become associated with questions of global governance and interdependence. This course will explore the foundations of the international legal order by examining the definitions, rights, and obligations of key actors, the sources of international law, substantive areas, and emerging norms and regimes. By the end of the semester, students should have knowledge of key concepts, doctrines and debates involved in the study of international law.

Students will also develop familiarity with legal reasoning and analysis. Law is, centrally, about making arguments; in reading and analyzing a wide variety of international legal cases, issues, and doctrines, students will become skilled at identifying, critiquing, and developing legal arguments. The course will also help students to develop critical reading and writing faculties that extend beyond the legal field. We will pay special attention to the political effects of law and the legal effects of political decisions. In the process, we will identify both the differences between legal and political activity and the inextricable links between them in the global order.