The Politics of International Law


Course Objective

This course takes international law as its object of study. In seven
seminars, we consider different manifestations of international law and
scrutinize its politics, by means of concrete international security
issues. For example, how do international legal scholars deal with the
problem of cyberwar; and what does that tell us about international
legal scholarship as such? What turns an argument into a specific
international legal one? What do we see when we look at humanitarian
intervention from a postcolonial perspective, and how does that help in
understanding the invasion in Iraq? The attempt here is to open up the
‘black box’ of international law and not take it as a given. In other
words, the aim is to question the self-evident nature of international
law: its rules, its application, the law-appliers and the legal
knowledge producers. What we try to grasp, is the contingency as well as
the fixedness of this ‘thing’ that is international law.

Course Content

See below, under 'literature'

Teaching Methods

The course consists of 7, three hour interactive seminars. Group
discussion (and thus, student preparation) is at the core of this

Method of Assessment


Entry Requirements

A Public International Law course at LL.B./LL.M. level; if you do not
fulfil this requirement but wish to follow the course anyway, send me an


Please notes the dates given below are those for the 2018 course.

8 February
The politics of international legal argument: critical legal theory and
nuclear testing

Please read:
(1) Martti Koskenniemi, ‘Letter to the Editors’, 93 American Journal of
International Law 351 (1999)
(2) Martti Koskenniemi, From Apology to Utopia, CUP 2005, chapter 1
(available as e-book via the University Library)
(3) Nuclear Tests Case, ICJ 1974
Preparatory assignment:
(1) Write a very brief essay of 150 words, in which you explain
Koskenniemi’s argument to someone unfamiliar with, but skeptical
towards, international law – in particular, towards its susceptibility
to (ab)use by those in power.

15 February
The politics of international legal scholarship: cyberwar

Please read:
(1) Michael Schmitt (ed.), Tallinn Manual on the International Law
Applicable to Cyber Warfare, CUP 2013, introduction (available via the
University Library)
(2) Lianne Boer, ‘The greater part of jurisconsults’, 29 Leiden Journal
of International Law 1021 (2016)
(3) Michel Foucault, ‘The Order of Discourse’, in Untying the Text: A
Post-Structuralist Reader, Robert Young (ed.), Routledge & Kegan Paul
1981, p. 48-78 (extract available on canvas)
Preparatory questions:
(1) Please write a brief, 200-word essay in which you summarize
Foucault’s points about access to and control of discourse.
(2) Read the introduction of the Tallinn Manual. Write down three claims
to authority, or the way the legal scholars construct their own identity
as authoritative voices.

22 February
The politics of international legal advice: the Chilcot report and the
invasion in Iraq (together with Tanja Aalberts)

Please read:
(1) UNSC Resolutions 678, 687, 1441
(2) Chilcot Report, section 5, volume 5, available at
Please note the announcement on canvas: you don’t have to read the whole
chapter, instead focus on the seven sections listed in the announcement.
(3) Tanja Aalberts and Lianne Boer, ‘Entering and Exiting the Invisible
College: Defeating Lawyers on Their Own Turf’, British Yearbook of
International Law 2016, forthcoming (available on canvas)
Preparatory questions:
(1) Why was the Chilcot Inquiry started? What were the terms of
reference for the Inquiry?
(2) Please check for yourself whether you understand the legal framework
based on the relation between UNSC Resolutions 678, 687 and 1441, by
writing a 150 word essay in which you outline this framework.

1 March
The politics of humanitarian intervention: postcolonial critiques of
international law

Please read:
(1) Anne Orford, Reading Humanitarian Intervention, CUP 2003, chapter 5
(available as e-book via the University Library)
(2) Antony Anghie, ‘The Evolution of International Law’, 27 Third World
Quarterly 739 (2006)
(3) Sundhya Pahuja, ‘The Postcoloniality of International Law’, 46
Harvard International Law Journal 459 (2005)

Preparatory questions:
(1) Bring a newspaper clipping to class which, according to postcolonial
scholars, might demonstrate the kind of configuration of international
relations they refer to. Why do you think this is a good example?
(2) In her chapter, Orford talks of ‘heroic narratives’. What kind of
‘heroism’ does she refer to exactly, and how does this heroism play out
concretely in intervention discourse?
(3) What kind of identity politics is described in Pahuja’s piece?

8 March
The politics of international criminal law: maps (guest lecture Sofia

Please read:
(1) Sofia Stolk, ‘Imagining Scenes of Mass Atrocity from Afar: Maps and
Landscapes at the International Criminal Court’, London Review of
International Law, forthcoming (available on canvas)
(2) Sarah Nouwen and Wouter Werner, ‘Doing Justice to the Political: The
International Criminal Court in Uganda and Sudan’, 21 European Journal
of International Law 941 (2010)
(3) Kamari Maxine Clarke, ‘The Rule of Law Through Its Economies of
Appearances: The Making of the African Warlord’, 18 Indiana Journal of
Global Legal Studies 7 (2011)
(4) Tayyab Mahmud, ‘Geography and International Law: Towards a
Postcolonial Mapping’, 5 Santa Clara Journal of International Law 525
(2007) (optional, available on canvas)

15 March
The politics of repetition and representation in international law
(guest lecture Wouter Werner)

Please read:
(1) Wouter Werner, ‘For the First Time, Again’ (available on canvas)
(2) Wouter Werner, ‘Recall it Again, Sam: Practices of Repetition in the
Security Council’, 86 Nordic Journal of International Law 151 (2017)
Preparatory questions:
(1) You have all taken an introduction to international law at some
point, for which you had to read a textbook. In that textbook, the
author makes claims regarding the existence of a rule of customary law
(e.g. pertaining to the continental shelf, or the prohibition on the use
of force). Discuss on which grounds the author concludes that a rule of
customary law exists.
(2) The Security Council has dealt with many different topics. Select
one of these topics and take a brief look at a few Resolutions that have
been adopted in relation to this topic. Discuss how the Resolutions
refer to each other, and which parts of previous Resolutions are or are
not recalled.

22 March
The politics of interdisciplinarity: looking back on the LPIS programme

Please read:
(1) Tanja Aalberts and Ingo Venzke, Moving beyond Interdisciplinary Turf
Wars, available at
(2) Jan Klabbers, ‘The Bridge Crack’d: A Critical Look at
Interdisciplinary Relations’, 23 International Relations 119 (2009)
Preparatory questions:
(1) Before reading the compulsory literature for this class, please
write down in your own words (a) what you think interdisciplinarity at
the law/politics nexus means and (b) why you think academics on both
sides of the isle think it might be problematic. Don’t use more than 300
(2) Look up the websites of three interdisciplinary Master’s programmes
(not necessarily law/politics) at three universities in three different
countries. How do you think these programmes understand
interdisciplinarity? How can you tell?
(3) Please bring an outline (one-pager) for your final paper on
interdisciplinarity for this course to class.

Target Audience

The course is aimed at Master's students, and is one of the core courses
of the LPIS master programme. TLS students have participated in the
past, and are very welcome, other interested students are also welcome,
including a maximum of 5 exchange students.

Courses from a master at the faculty can only be taken as a secondary
course if you have a diploma that gives access to the relevant master/
specialization and if you are enrolled in a master.

General Information

Course Code R_PolIL
Credits 6 EC
Period P4
Course Level 500
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Law
Course Coordinator dr. L.J.M. Boer LLM
Examiner dr. L.J.M. Boer LLM
Teaching Staff

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Teaching Methods Lecture
Target audiences

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