SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Conflict, Rights and Justice

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

This is a final year Undergraduate module worth 15 credits.

This module introduces International Relations students to a wide range of issues in the contemporary world centred on conflict and the liberal world order. We look historically at the decline of inter-state war and the rise (and now decline) of civil wars, and at the rise of global terrorism and its implications, focusing on efforts to combat both the occurrence and conduct of conflict through international law and norms with a particular focus on the politics of human rights, international justice and humanitarianism. We look more specifically at the protection of civilians, torture, civil liberties, cyber warfare and drones, and the Responsbility to Protect. We also ask whether the rise of populism might erode the willingness of Western democracies to support, in principle at least, international norms and at the implications of this both for the liberal world order as a whole and the globalization of democracy in particular.

This module has been capped at 40 students.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Each learning outcome is tied to specific weeks within the CRJ module itself as well as building on two previous years of International Relations courses that the students will have taken. It is intended to further their knowledge and skills in the area of conflict, rights and justice and cement and extend earlier learning undertaken on the BA IR degree.


  • 2 hour lecture per week

Scope and syllabus

  1. Intro: What has happened to war?
  2. What constraints exist on the occurrence and conduct of war, with a particular focus on institutions?
  3. How are we to understand global terrorism?
  4. Why are civilians increasingly vulnerable in conflict?
  5. Why has torture proved impossible to eradicate?
  6. Who wins and who loses from the global war on terror?
  7. What implications does cyber and drone warfare have for a world based on rules?
  8. Does R2P hold any promise as a way to curb atrocities?
  9. Are Western democracies turning away from liberalism and might that be a good thing?
  10. Conclusion: In a post-Western world, what institutions might we want to save from the fire?

Method of assessment

Assessment consists of a 5000 word essay (100%)

Suggested reading

  • Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity (Penguin, 2012). 2 copies, one on loan. No eBook p’back £14.99
  • John Mueller, ‘War has almost ceased to exist,’ Political Science Quarterly, v24, no. 2 (2009):
  • David Keen, ‘Greed and grievance in civil war,’ International Affairs v. 88, n. 4 (2012): 757-777. Online via Library
  • Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink, ‘International norm dynamics and political change,’ International Organization, v. 52, n. 4 (1998): 887-917. Online via Library
  • Stephen D Krasner Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), chap 4: ‘Rules and ruled: Human Rights’: 105-126. eBook (eBook Central), 1 copy on loan. DawsonEra eBook: £76.37, p’back: £28.95
  • Alexander B. Downes 2006. ‘Desperate times, desperate measures,’ International Security v. 30, n. 4: 152-195. Online via Library
  • Schmidt and Thurnher, ‘Out of the Loop: Autonomous Weapons and the Law of Armed Conflict,’ 4 Harvard Journal of National Security 231 (2013)
  • James R Vreeland, ‘Political Institutions and Human Rights: Why Dictatorships Enter into the United Nations Convention Against Torture.’ In International Organization v. 62 (2008), 65-101. Online via Library
  • Snyder, Jack and Leslie Vinjamuri. “Trials and Errors: Principles and Pragmatism in Strategies of International Justice.” International Security 28, no. 3 (2003/04): 5-44. Online via Library
  • Stephen Hopgood, ‘The last rites for humanitarian intervention: Darfur, Sri Lanka and R2P,’ Global Responsibility to Protect v. 6, n. 2 (2014): 181-205. Online via Library


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules