LL4AE      Half Unit
The Politics of International Law

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Gerry Simpson


This course is available on the LLM (extended part-time), LLM (full-time) and University of Pennsylvania Law School LLM Visiting Students. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.


This course has a limited number of places and demand is typically high. This may mean that you’re not able to get a place on this course.

Course content

In this course, we study international law as a literary, historical and political project – and a diplomatic language – through which different arrangements of global power and well-being are advanced and defended. And we do this in relation to three moments in global history: the post WW1 period, the Cold War and the war in Ukraine. We begin with three classes on Ukraine in which we think about the “relevant” legal rules, the politics behind the deployment of legal categories in the conflict (war crimes, sanctions, sovereignty) and the way in which international law might open up, or close down, the possibilities of some sort of resolution. We then reverse back to one of the origins of sovereignty, self-determination and institutionalism in 1919 with the apparent revitalisation of international law (and the re-colonisation of The Levant) at Versailles and in Geneva (Weeks 4 and 5). In Weeks 6 to 7, we turn to the Cold War as a lawful moment and international law as a Cold War project by re-thinking the nuclear threat as a juridical category (Week 6) and, by looking at the Cold War in - and of - the Global South (through a study of neutrality or non-alignment as a world-making effort and a Cold War ideal) (Week 7).  The course ends with three thematic classes - based around my recently published book, The Sentimental Life of International Law (Oxford University Press: 2022) - on international law as lived experience, international law as comic gesture, and international law as utopian bet, respectively.


There will be 20 hours of teaching in Michaelmas Term. There will be a Reading Week in Week 6.

This is a conversational course. The usual practice is that I introduce the topics for 45 minutes and then we engage in a discussion of the readings. These are often relatively short but there is an expectation that everyone will have done the reading and be willing to participate in seminar discussion. 

Formative coursework

One 2,000 word essay.

Indicative reading

Reading lists will be provided for each seminar on Moodle. Readings likely to be set include a selection of international legal texts (including work-in-progress and "new authors") and readings from the fields of intellectual history, 18th century literature and political theory.


Exam (100%, duration: 2 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the summer exam period.

Key facts

Department: Law School

Total students 2021/22: Unavailable

Average class size 2021/22: Unavailable

Controlled access 2021/22: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills