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Unit information: International Law and the Use of Force in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name International Law and the Use of Force
Unit code LAWDM0111
Credit points 30
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Burton
Open unit status Not open




School/department University of Bristol Law School
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


The unit explores the theory and practice of the international law of force and collective security, and considers the relevant rules of the UN Charter and of customary international law. It also discusses the authority of the UN Security Council under Chapter VII, and the jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice, and of municipal courts. The unit examines the various forms of recourse to force, including self-defence, reprisals, aggression, armed attack, and intervention, as well as the policy of targeted killing, as carried out by the United States and Israel. It also explores legal and policy-related dimensions of contemporary conflicts, including Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, Georgia, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Ukraine.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the academic year, a successful student will be able to explain: a) the various layers of regulation of force (UN Charter, customary international law, b) the role and function of the UN Security Council and of the International Court of Justice, c) different forms of legal, illegal, or legitimate forms of recourse to the use of force. Students will also be able to assess the instances of recourse to force regarding their legality, and advise policy-makers on the decisions they have to make, and on the alternatives they face (unilateral or multilateral action, ex ante or ex post authorization from the UNSC). Students will be able to state international law accurately, apply the relevant rules and principles in situations of conflict, and think critically about the role of force in contemporary international relations, including the 'war on terror'.

Teaching details

The contact hours for this unit will be 30 hours. This will usually take the form of: 8 lectures, 10 two-hour seminars and 2 assessment preparation and feedback sessions.

Assessment Details

Summative: a 2000 word essay (33%) will assess the candidate's ability to research a topic within the scope of this unit. The remaining Intended Learning Outcomes will be assessed in a 3 hour written examination (67%). Both assessments will assess all of the Intended Learning Outcomes for this unit in the context of topics selected by the examiners.

Formative: students should do one formative assessment (this will usually be 1 x 1500 word essay).

Reading and References

  • C Gray, ‘The Limits of Force’ (2015) 376 Hague Recueil 101–194
  • Olivier Corten, The Law against War (Hart 2010)
  • Gray, International Law and the Use of Force (4th edn, OUP 2018)
  • Brownlie, International Law and the Use of Force by States (OUP 1963)
  • Weller (ed), The Oxford Handbook of the Use of Force in International Law (OUP 2015)
  • Reisman, ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ (2015) 76 Annuaire de l’Institut de droit international