The Politics of International Law

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Doel vak

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.

Inhoud vak

See below, under 'literature'


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



Vereiste voorkennis

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


6 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 question:
(1) Write a very brief essay of 300 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.

14 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, 300-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(s) in which the legal scholars construct their
own identity as authoritative voices.
In addition:
• For the LPIS students: please bring your final IHL paper to class
• For the TLS students who take this course as an optional: please bring
your first paper of the European&International Law course to class
• For other students: please bring a paper you recently wrote for a
Master’s course to class.
21 February
The politics of international legal advice: the Chilcot report

Please read:
(1) UNSC Resolutions 678, 687, 1441
(2) Chilcot Report, section 5, volume 5, available here. Please read the
following sections of the report:
• 1.166-196: Provisional view of Goldsmith [14 January 2003]
• 2.197-227: Downing Street response
• 3.248-267 and 281-307: Goldsmith meets Greenstock, detailed discussion
of SC role [23 January 2003] and Goldsmith’s advice [30 January 2003]
• 4.341-395: Disagreement between Straw, (Goldsmith) and Wood [23
January onwards]
• 5.422-431 and 451-483: Goldsmith’s visit to Washington, the
"reasonable case" [10 February 2003]
• 6.515-559 and 598-602: Goldsmith’s advice [7 March]
• 7.685-731: Goldsmith’s change of view; the "better view" [13 March]
(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
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 400-word essay in which you outline this framework.

28 February
The politics of international criminal trials (guest lecture Sofia

Please read:
(1) Sofia Stolk, ‘A Sophisticated Beast? On the Construction of an
‘Ideal’ Perpetrator in the Opening Statements of International Criminal
Trials’, 29 European Journal of International Law 677 (2018)
(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) Christine Schwöbel-Patel, 'The ‘Ideal’ Victim of International
Criminal Law’, 29 European Journal of International Law 703 (2018)
(4) Tim Kelsall, 'Politics, Anti-Politics, International Justice:
Language and Power in the Special Court for Sierra Leone', 32 Review of
International Studies 587 (2006) (optional)

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

Please read:
(1) Anne Orford, Reading Humanitarian Intervention, CUP 2003, chapters 1
and 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) Please 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
(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?

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

Please read:
(1) Wouter Werner, ‘Restating Restatements’ (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)
(3) Judge Trindade’s Dissenting Opinion in Jurisdictional Immunities of
the State (Germany v. Italy: Greece intervening), Judgment of 3 February
(4) ILC Report on customary law (2016), which may be found here. Please
read from para. 2, page 79 et seq. Please bring a copy of the ILC Report
(paper/digital) to class.

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.

21 March
(1) The politics of interdisciplinarity: looking back on the LPIS
(2) Roleplay
More info on the roleplay will be announced during the course.
Please read:
(1) Anne-Marie Slaughter, ‘International Law and International Relations
Theory: A Dual Agenda’, 87 American Journal of International Law 205
(2) Jan Klabbers, ‘The Bridge Crack’d: A Critical Look at
Interdisciplinary Relations’, 23 International Relations 119 (2009)
(3) Tanja Aalberts and Ingo Venzke, Moving beyond Interdisciplinary Turf
Wars, in: International Law as a Profession, Jean d’Aspremont, Tarcisio
Gazzini, André Nollkaemper and Wouter Werner (eds.), CUP 2017 (available
as e-book via the University Library)
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 400
words per question.
(2) Look up the websites of three interdisciplinary Master’s programs
(not necessarily law/politics) at three universities in three different
countries. How do you think these programs understand
interdisciplinarity? And perhaps more importantly: how can you tell?


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.

Algemene informatie

Vakcode R_PolIL
Studiepunten 6 EC
Periode P4
Vakniveau 500
Onderwijstaal Engels
Faculteit Faculteit der Rechtsgeleerdheid
Vakcoördinator dr. L.J.M. Boer LLM
Examinator dr. L.J.M. Boer LLM

Praktische informatie

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