The Contemporary Practice of International Law

Open, Lecture—Fall

What is the value of international law in a world that continues to see brutal tragedies in Syria and elsewhere? Which government is the government of Egypt following the military coup? Can international law have any genuine significance without a means of enforcement, such as a global police force and judiciary? Is it simply that “might makes right”? Or, in fact, is it true that “most states comply with most of their obligations most of the time”? These are the cornerstone questions that define the contemporary practice of international law. This lecture provides an overview of international law, its substance, theory, and practice. It addresses a wide range of issues, including the bases and norms of international law, the law of war (jus ad bellum and jus in bello), human-rights claims, domestic implementation of international norms, treaty interpretation, and state formation/succession. We will examine such important cases as Nuremberg, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, and Abu Ghraib. The readings consist mainly of historical case studies (International Law Stories), supplemented by international conventions and judicial decisions. This course also gives students a taste of what law school courses are like. Active participation is expected and encouraged. Mock oral arguments and other simulations form a crucial part of the experience. Each student writes a source analysis and a case analysis, as well as completing a major conference project.