Legal Aspects of Contemporary International Problems - LW844

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2018-19
(version 2)
View Timetable
7 20 (10) DR S Kendall
(version 2)
View Timetable
7 20 (10) DR S Kendall


None, though any student will need some experience of international law or be willing to do early and intensive reading.





There are a number of ways to approach the field of international law. It can be treated doctrinally as a system of rules from various sources – such as treaties, state practices that are seen to have the binding force of law, and general principles shared across domestic jurisdictions – built up over time to regulate interactions between states and other entities. It can be studied as a historical phenomenon, emerging from out of a colonial history with contemporary implications. It can also be studied as an (imperfect) approach to addressing international 'problems', placing international law in broader social, political, and historical contexts as one possible source of 'solutions'. This course highlights international law’s limits and possibilities in relation to a set of contemporary inter- and trans-national concerns, including the use of armed force, responses to emerging security threats, and unresolved territorial disputes. It focuses on key themes of international law, such as sovereignty, statehood, self-determination, and the regulation of armed conflict, drawing upon perspectives from the humanities and the interpretive social sciences. It explores these overlapping themes as they emerge across several issues and case studies, bringing international law into a relationship with contemporary geopolitics, political theory, and the field’s historical inheritance. Along the way, we will address philosophical and theoretical questions such as the binding character of international law, problems of representation and interpretation, and the rhetorical dimensions of customary international law.

Topics covered

The topics covered vary year to year to align with changing circumstances and also according to student interest, but are anticipated to be as follows:

- The use of force and the law of armed conflict
- Reframing sovereignty: ‘the responsibility to protect’
- Regulating the global arms trade
- Targeted killing
- Enforcing the prohibition against torture
- Border conflicts and colonial legacies in international law


This module appears in:

Contact hours

2 hours a week combined lecture/seminar excluding reading and writing weeks (18 weeks). The remaining 182 hours are dedicated to private study time. There are 200 study hours for the module.


Autumn Term

Method of assessment

100% coursework comprising of a 5,000 word essay (maximum).

Indicative reading

A Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law (CUP, 2004)
J Crawford & M Koskenniemi (eds), The Cambridge Companion to International Law (CUP, 2012)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

This module provides students concerned with non-domestic law with a study of how different kinds of international and transnational law are restructuring global politics and economics. This will be achieved by putting into focus judiciously chosen contemporary international problems and looking at how international and transnational laws become entwined with "hard" cases of international policy and law-making.
- To provide a significant introduction to the concepts, principles and rules of international law and transnational law and examine their interaction with contemporary international events
- To provide ways of considering the relevance of international law and transnational law to particular international policy problems
- To provide an appreciation of both the possibilities and the limitations of legal method in international disputes
- To provide a consideration of the relationship between international law and international politics
- To critically analyse the theory as practice of public international law
- To carry out independent research in international and transnational law
- Appreciate the possibilities and limitations of international law in global policy-making and dispute resolution
- Be able to predict the relevance or limitations of conventional international law to particular global policy problems
- Be able to anticipate and map different legal arguments as directed toward particular global policy challenges
- Be able to critically evaluate the role of international law and transnational law in the constitution of and within particular disputes
- Be able to evaluate the relationship between doctrinal international law and social, political and economic realities on a global scale


Stage 1

University of Kent makes every effort to ensure that module information is accurate for the relevant academic session and to provide educational services as described. However, courses, services and other matters may be subject to change. Please read our full disclaimer.