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The Course

This course provides an introduction to international law. In it, we will study the function and operation of international law in international politics, the major substantive domains of international law (treaties, human rights, use of force, &c), and several of the dominant approaches to the study of international law. We will compare and contrast the perspectives of political scientists and lawyers, scholars and practitioners, and judges and politicians.

This course is organized topically. We will begin by considering various perspectives—both old and new—on law in general and international law in particular. Next, we will examine several of the most prevalent international legal mechanisms that exist today. We will then study several of the major areas of international law, giving special attention to the use of force in international disputes. Our course will culminate with a mock trial, a recapitulation of the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials.

Course Format

Our course meetings will generally take the form of discussions. I will vary my role and influence in the discussion based on the material and topics at hand. At points, I may provide some preliminary exegesis or background to set the stage for our discussion. At other points, I will take a less active role, encouraging students to take the discussion in the directions they find most interesting.

This course will require students to grapple with both positive and normative questions. The former concern facts, which have no moral valence. (e.g. What is the relationship between the International Criminal Court and the United Nations?) The latter concern ideals—standards of “right” and “wrong”—and will challenge students to consider what they think “ought” to be. (e.g. Should countries sacrifice their sovereignty to the ICC?) I will thus try to balance between ensuring the requisite comprehension of the positive issues and allowing sufficient exploration of the intriguing and important normative matters related to international law.

Students are warned that this course is more like a course in political philosophy than our other offerings in international politics. Most of our focus will be on theory rather than empirics. This is partly due to the manner in which law has been studied and practiced and partly due to the nature of legal questions themselves. Much of the material considered here will be abstract, dense, and esoteric. Students may find these challenges to be daunting at times. Entering into these timeless discussions of international law, however, is well worth the challenge!

Course Policies

The policies for all of my courses are available here.

Students enrolled in my courses are required to read these policies carefully.

This Site

This site contains all of the most recent information about this course. Students are required to read through the site upon enrolling in the course to ensure they are familiar with the course policies, assignments, and goals.

The Instructor

You can find further information about me, James Ashley Morrison, via my website.

Sites DOT MiddleburyThe Middlebury site network.