IR464      Half Unit
The Politics of International Law

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Viviane Dittrich


This course is available on the MSc in China in Comparative Perspective, MSc in Global Politics, MSc in Human Rights, MSc in International Relations, MSc in International Relations (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in International Relations (Research), MSc in International Relations Theory, MSc in Political Theory and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is not available as an outside option.

Course content

An introduction to the politics of the creation and implementation of international law, intended for non-lawyers. The course focuses on the areas of international law most relevant to International Political Theory: human rights, the use of force and international crime, and examines the increasing legalization of international politics, the tensions between international politics and international law, alternatives to international law and international law post 9/11.

Watch a short introductory video on this course:


20 hours of seminars in the LT. 4 hours of seminars in the ST.

There are no lectures on the course, but there are a number of voluntary workshops as well as a voluntary class trip to international courts in The Hague. Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6, in line with departmental policy

Formative coursework

A 2000-2500 word essay.

Indicative reading

Alter, K. The New Terrain of International Law (Princeton, 2014); Armstrong, D. International Law & International Relations (Cambridge, 2007); Bass, G Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals (Princeton UP, 2000); Charlesworth, H. & Chinkin, C. The Boundaries of International Law (Manchester UP, 2000); Koskenniemi, M. The Politics of International Law (Hart, 2011); Maogoto, J. War Crimes and Realpolitik: International Justice from World War I to the 21st Century (Lynn Rienner, 2004); McGoldrick, D. From 9-11 to the Iraq War 2003: International Law in an Age of Complexity (Hart Publishing, 2004); Orford, A. Reading Humaitarian Intervention (Cambridge, 2003); Reus-Smit, C. ed. The Politics of International Law (Cambridge, 2004); Simpson, G. Law, War & Crime (Polity, 2007).


Exam (50%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (50%, 4000 words) in the LT.

Student performance results

(2012/13 - 2014/15 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 14.7
Merit 69.3
Pass 16
Fail 0

Teachers' comment

The principal aim of this course is to examine the relationship between law, politics and (occasionally) ethics at the international level. Students will be expected to read widely across difficult and demanding material at the cutting edge of contemporary international political and legal theory and to participate in discussions, therefore a strong grasp of academic English is necessary. The objectives of the IR464 course are to facilitate students 1) in a critical engagement with a wide range of literature in contemporary international legal and political theory, broadly defined; and 2) in the display of this engagement via the development of a succinct writing style and the ability to present complex arguments orally.

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2015/16: 12

Average class size 2015/16: 12

Controlled access 2015/16: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills