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School of Law

International laws on the use of force

Course Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Term 1

This half unit course running in Term 1 introduces students to the range of international laws which govern war and armed conflict. International laws on the use of force form the core content. Each seminar will introduce students to mainstream approaches and debates on the use of force before contrasting these with topical and controversial views on the laws on the use of force. Student’s will be encouraged to follow current developments and practice while being introduced to the Charter system for collective security and the role of state justifications in the use of force. The shift, by states, to the use of justifications for force outside of the Charter paradigm will also be looked at throughout the course. Key case law from the ICJ, institutional reports (such as the In Larger Freedom Report, Responsibility to Protect and A More Secure World) and recent justifications for force by states will be used to demonstrate controversial and settled aspects of the laws on the use of force.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

Objectives -
  1. To introduce students to the international laws on the use of force.
  2. To introduce the students to different issues which arise in relation to international law, war and armed conflict.
  3. To provide knowledge of how international laws on the use of force are formed and applied through the development of customary international law, treaty law and the work of international organisations.
  4. To explain the relationship between theoretical perspectives on international law and the explanations and justifications for the behaviour of states, and other actors which influence the development of the laws on the use of force.
  5. To develop the student’s critical thinking skills
  6. To encourage reflection on shifting trends and practices in international law.
Learning Outcomes -

At the end of the course the students will be able to:

  1. Identify the international laws on the use of force and their sources.
  2. Identify contemporary issues raised by international laws on the use of force.
  3. To examine a range of theoretical approaches to international laws on the use of force
  4. Discuss the ways in which the international laws on the use of force engage with broader international legal concepts and practices
  5. Illustrate their understanding of (1) to (3), above, through the use of appropriate state practice examples, UN documents and international law in written work that demonstrates independent research and critical thinking skills.


This course runs in Term 1: Students will be expected to attend one 2-hour lecture over 10 weeks.

Scope and syllabus

The course structure will be as follows:

Week One – Introduction to the Laws on the Use of Force and their history.
Week Two – The role of theoretical approaches to the development of international law
Week Three – The UN Charter: Prohibiting Force, the history and application of Article 2(4)
Week Four – The UN Charter: Self-defence, the history and application of Article 51
Week Five – Beyond the Charter: the emergence of the doctrine of Pre-emptive Self-defence
Week Six and Seven – The UN Charter Collective Security Structure: the History and Application of Chapter VII
Week Eight – Beyond the Charter: self-determination as a justification for the use of force
Week Nine – Beyond the Charter: humanitarian intervention as a justification for the use of force
Week Ten – Beyond the Charter: The ‘war on terror’ and recent conflicts
Week Eleven – New developments/ Overview

Special attention will be paid across the course to the impact of armed conflict on developing states, to the role international law’s imperial history plays in contemporary international legal narratives on the regulation of armed conflict and to the capacity for women’s experiences of armed conflict to be used as a transformative tool. Furthermore, throughout the course the focus will be on understanding the law through engagement with state practice, international norms and theoretical perspectives. Students will be introduced, at the beginning of the course, to a range of theoretical approaches to international law, including Critical Legal Scholarship, New Approaches to International Law, Third World Approaches to International Law, Post-colonial Theories and Feminist Legal Theories. Across the course students will be encouraged to reflect on the relationship between theory and practice. The course will specifically encourage students to look beyond the laws on war to preventative strategies and post-conflict research.

The course fits in with the growing number of public international law courses that the School already has running, at the level of content as well as with respect to the key themes of the course.

Method of assessment

Assessment weighting: 100% coursework (one 5000 word essay) All coursework may be resubmitted. Date of submission: last day of week 1 of the Term after that in which the course is taught.

Suggested reading

  • Anghie, ‘The War on Terror and Iraq in Historical Perspective’, 43 (1) Osgoode Hall Law Journal (2005)
  • Askin ‘Holding Leaders Accountable in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for Gender Crimes Committed
  • Best, Geoffrey, War and Law Since 1945 Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1994.
  • Bowett, Self-defence in International Law, Manchester, 1958
  • Brownlie, International Law and the Use of Force by States, 1963
  • Buss, ‘Use of Force and the New Man of International Law’ in Bartholomew, Empire’s Law, Pluto, 2006 at 103
  • Butler, ‘Violence, Mourning, Politics’ in Precarious Life, Verso, 2004
  • Cassese, Antonio. The Current Legal Regulation of the Use of Force. Edited by Antonio Cassese: Martinus Nijhoff, 1986.
  • Cassese, International Law, 2001.
  • Charlesworth, ‘Think Pieces: Law after War’ 8 (2) Melbourne Journal of International Law, 233, (2007
  • Charlesworth and Chinkin, ‘Sex, Gender and September 11’, 96 (3) AJIL 600, 2002
  • Charlesworth and Chinkin, The Boundaries of International Law, Manchester, 2000
  • Chinkin in ‘A Gendered Perspective to the International Use of Force’ 12 Australian Yearbook of International Law 1992, 279
  • Cockburn and Zarkov, The Postwar Moment, Lawrence and Wishart, 2002
  • Cohen, ‘Sex and death in the rational World of Defense Intellectuals’ in Wyer (ed), Women, Science and Technology: A Reader, Routledge, 2001
  • Crawford, The Creation of States in International Law, OUP, (2nd Edition), 2006
  • Craven, ‘Humanitarianism and the Quest for Smarter Sanctions’ 13 (1) EJIL (2002) 43
  • Detter, The Laws of War, Cambridge, 2000
  • Dinstein, War, Aggression and Self-Defense: CUP, 2004.
  • Drew, ‘The East Timor Story: International Law on Trial’ 12 EJIL (2001), 651
  • Evans (ed), International Law, (2nd edition), 2006
  • Franck, ‘What Happens Now? The United Nations After Iraq’ 97 (3) AJIL 2003, 607
  • Franck, Recourse to Force, Cambridge, 2003
  • Franck, ‘Who Killed Article 2(4)?’ 64 (4) AJIL 1970 at 809
  • Goldstein, War and Gender, CUP, 2003
  • Galtung, Peace by Peaceful Means, Sage, 1996
  • Gardam, Necessity and Proportionality and the Use of Force by States, Cambridge, 2005
  • Gardam ‘Proportionality as a Restraint on the Use of Force’ 20 Australian Yearbook of International Law 161, 1999
  • Gray. International Law and the Use of Force. 2nd edition, 2004
  • Gowlland-Debbas (ed) United Nations Sanctions and International Law, Kluwer, 2001d ed, 2004.
  • Greenwood, ‘War, Terrorism and International Law’ 56 Current Legal Problems, 2003, 505
  • Greenwood, ‘International law and the Pre-emptive Use of Force: Afghanistan, Al-Qaida, and Iraq’ 4 San Diego International Law Journal, 2003, 7
  • Greenwood, ‘New World Order or Old? The Invasion of the Kuwait and the Rule of Law’ 55 (2) Modern Law Review 153, 1992
  • Greenwood, ‘The Relationship between Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bello’ 9 Review of International Studies, 1983, 221
  • Higgins, Problems and Processes: International Law and How We Use It, Oxford, 1995
  • Hipold, ‘Humanitarian Intervention: Is There a Need for a Legal Reappraisal?’ 12 European Journal of International Law, 2001
  • Jennings, ‘The Caroline and McLeod Cases’ 32 AJIL, 1938
  • Kennedy, The Dark Side of Virtue, Princeton, 2004
  • Kennedy, Of War and Law, Princeton, 2006
  • Kinsella, ‘Gendering Grotius’ 34 (2) Political Theory, 2006, 16
  • Koskenniemni, From Apology to Utopia, Cambridge, 2005 (re-issue).
  • Koskenniemi, ‘The Place of Law in Collective Security’ 17 Michigan Journal of International Law, 255, 1996
  • Koskenniemi‘The Politics of International Law’ 1 EJIL (1990), 4
  • Koskenniemi, 'The Lady Doth Protest’ 65 Modern Law Review, 2002, 159.
  • Kritsiotis ‘Appraising the Policy Objections to Humanitarian Intervention’ 19 Michigan Journal of International Law, 1993, 1010;
  • Lillich, Humanitarian Intervention and the United Nations, University Press of Virginia, 1973
  • Lang, Just Intervention, Georgetown University Press, 2003
  • McDougal and Feliciano, Law and Minimum World Public Order: The Legal Regulation of International Coercion, Yale, 1961
  • Mgbeoji, Collective Insecurity, UBC Press, 2003.
  • Robin Morgan, The Demon Lover: the Roots of Terrorism, Piatkus, 2nd edition, 2001
  • O’Connell, ‘The UN, NATO, and International Law after Kosovo’ 22 Human Rights Quarterly 57 (2000)
  • Ogata and Sen, Human Security Now, Report of the Independent Commission on Human Security, 2003
  • Orford, Reading Humanitarian Interventions, Cambridge, 2003
  • Orford, ‘The Politics of Collective Security’ 17 Michigan Journal of International Law, 373, 1996
  • O’Connell, International Law and the Use of Force, Foundation Press, 2005
  • O’Connell, ‘The Myth of Preemptive Self-defence’ ASIL Taskforce on Terrorism, August 2002
  • Otto, ‘A Sign of “Weakness”? Disrupting Gender Certainties in the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325’ 13 Michigan Journal of Gender and Law, 2006, 113
  • Otto, ‘Integrating Questions of Gender into Discussion of "the Use of Force" in the International Law Curriculum' (1996) 6 Legal Education Review 219
  • Peters (ed) Collateral Damage ‘The New World Order’ at Home and Abroad (1992) 111
  • Ratner and Slaughter (eds), Symposium on Method in International Law, 93 AJIL, 1999, 291
  • Reisman and Armstrong, ‘The Past and Future of the Claim of Preemptive Self-Defense’, 100 (3) AJIL, 2006, 525
  • Report of the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, 2nd December 2004, UN Doc A/59/565
  • Report of the Secretary-General, In Larger Freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all, 2nd March 2005, A/59/2005
  • Rodin, War and Self-Defense, OUP, 2002
  • Schachter, International Law in Theory and Practice, Nihoff, 1991
  • Schmeidl, Gender and Conflict Early Warning: A Framework for Action, International Alert, June 2002
  • Tesón, ‘Collective Humanitarian Intervention’ 17 Michigan Journal of International Law 323 (1996)
  • Simma, Bruno (ed). The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary, 1994.
  • Von Elbe, ‘The Evolution of the Concept of the Just War in International Law’ 33 AJIL 665 at 666 (1939)