PSCI 441. International Law

Its nature and substance. Legal history: cases, treaties, and other international documents.

 Political Science 341 is an introduction to international law. In a single course it is not possible to canvass the entire field. We shall attempt to gain some familiarity with those aspects of international law which are believed to be the most prominent against the background of international relations. We shall also discuss how U.S. foreign policy has operated within the context of international law. The primary text for this course is by Von Glahn and Taulbee, Law Among Nations, which provides a broad outline of current developments in the field, supplemented by Akehurst, A Modern Introduction to International Law (revised by Malanczuk), which has an emphasis on how the role of international law has evolved, in conjunction with the development of international relations between nation-states.

We shall devote a portion of our time to international environmental law. Although this area of international law has existed for some time, there has been a large expansion of this sub-field in recent decades. In part this has come about because scientific observation has strongly suggested that natural resource depletion and environmental degradation have apparently accelerated due to human activity, particularly in the twentieth century. In this course we want to understand what cooperative steps have been taken to date across a range of natural resource environmental problems. Those steps include gaining a common belief that these issues have a significant magnitude and urgency.

There is a certain portion of international law which is recognized and adhered to by the great majority of countries in the international community on a consistent basis. These areas include, but are not limited to, the treatment of diplomats, most of international trade law, the treatment of aliens, extradition, state jurisdiction over vessels and over national air space, the recognition of states, and state succession. Some of these areas will necessarily be virtually excluded from our discussion, while others will necessarily receive only truncated attention. These areas and others comprise the framework within which “ordinary” relations between states can be conducted. These are those relations conducted between states where armed conflict or the prospect of armed conflict is virtually absent.

The above portion of international law is important in its own right, but we shall devote a larger share of our discussion to “extra-ordinary” relations between states. These are the relations between states which produce armed conflict, or where the prospect of armed conflict is more than negligible. Armed conflict between states does not stand apart from international law. On the contrary, the practice of war, and the use of force generally between states has been codified within international law. Rules governing the use of force were initially developed through customary law (practices of states accepted as law). Although in the 20th century the rules of war have been developed more extensively, there is less than full agreement among governments concerning the application of such rules.

Different interpretations of these rules governing the use of force and their inconsistent application by different national governments has brought much debate among international jurists, scholars, diplomats, and political leaders. The problems of interpretation and application of the laws of war are complex. Given recent world events, it is imperative that we try to gain, through attentive discussion, a sense of that


Akehurst, Michael. 1997. Modern Introduction to International Law. New York, NY: Routledge. (P. Malanczuk’s revised 7th edition).

Von Glahn, Gerhard, and James Larry Taulbee. 2010. Law Among Nations. New York, NY: Longman. 9th ed. or 10th ed.