Global Conflict and International Law


Armed conflict is often brutal; yet it is a reality that we must face—both its existence and its conduct. Wars are sometimes fought for the right reasons (such as NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999) but also for less widely accepted ones (Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine). In contrast to the past, wars can now be fought with surgical precision in an attempt to minimize so-called collateral damage, while others are waged with the very purpose of causing maximum destruction. In addition, there exists a wide discrepancy in the means employed— from sophisticated high-tech drones to simple machetes. When is conflict of this nature just and right? And even if just and right, how can such atrocities be countenanced by civilized society? This seminar examines the international legal framework for war, both jus ad bellum (the law of going to war) and jus in bello (humanitarian law). We will use several films and firsthand accounts of armed conflicts and primary and secondary legal sources in an effort to provide a framework for analyzing the putative legality of armed conflict. Completion of a previous course in international law is recommended.