POLSC412: International Law

Course Syllabus for "POLSC412: International Law"

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In this course, you will learn fundamental principles of international law and examine the historical development of these laws. The nature of international law differs in many respects from local, state, and federal law. International laws are formed by either customary international norms or by treaty or multilateral agreements by organizations like the United Nations. Within the community of nations, regional alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) may also enter into agreements for collective security that have the force of law. The body of international law today includes treaties and conventions, as well as rules governing diplomatic relationships between countries. For example, the legal immunity extended to diplomats serving in other countries is considered a part of international law. Some critics do not consider what is termed “international law” to be law at all, as, unlike domestic law (where there is a police force and a judicial system to manage those who break the law), it does not have a world government to require compliance. A state wishing to break its treaty commitments can do so. It may risk its reputation as a good global citizen and face international condemnation and/or possible sanctions, but it will not, for example, be invaded by a global police force. In spite of these challenges, international law has gained momentum in the last 50 years in large part due to the United Nations, which has served as a depository for an increasing number of treaties and conventions and the recent creation of various international courts designed specifically for dispute settlement. The first half of this course will define international law, identify its foundations, and review its historical development. In addition to learning how international law has developed, we will examine how these laws are enforced— or, in many cases, not enforced. The primary critique of international law is that these “laws” are more aspirational than legal due to the difficulty of enforcement. Who can enforce international law and how are recurrent problems handled in this field? The inherent conflicts of international law with national sovereignty, domestic politics, and balance of power will also be reviewed. In the second half of the course, we will explore specific topics within international law, such as the laws of war, the laws of the sea, international human rights, international crimes, environmental law, protection of intellectual property, and international trade. The course will conclude with a review of successes and failures of international law.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Explain how international law has developed over time.
  • Discuss the difficulties in enforcement of international law.
  • Identify issues that international law seeks to resolve.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how power and politics influence the formation, application, and enforcement of international law. 
  • Assess the effectiveness of international law in resolving transnational disputes.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:

√    Have a computer.

√    Have continuous broadband Internet access.

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g., Adobe Reader or Flash).

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt., .xls, etc.).

√    Have competency in the English language.

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

 √    Have completed and passed POLSC221: Introduction to Comparative Politics.

Course Information

Welcome to POLSC412.  Below, please find general information on the course and its requirements.

Course Designer: Dr. Sharon Jumper

Primary Resources: This course is composed of a range of different free, online materials.  However, the course makes primary use of the following:

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials.  Pay special attention to Units 1 and 2, which explain the foundation for International Law and difficulties with enforcing it.  

You will also need to complete the Final Exam.  In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam.  Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of 90 hours to complete.  Each unit includes a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit.  These should help you plan your time accordingly.  It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit and then set goals for yourself.  For example, Unit 1 should take you 14 hours.  Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunit 1.1 (a total of 3 hours) on Monday night, subunit 1.2 (a total of 4 hours) on Tuesday and Wednesday night, etc.

Tips/Suggestions: Reading about the law and jurisprudence can be difficult at first.  The writing is often complex and legal jargon may be unfamiliar to you.  Take your time in Units 1 and 2 so that you have a firm understanding of the foundation of international law before proceeding to subsequent units where specific types of legal issues are explored in depth.

Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.