LLM Public International Law

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
International Institutions

Course unit fact file
Unit code LAWS70021
Credit rating 30
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course is designed to provide students with a knowledge and understanding of key aspects of the law of international institutions. Determining which entities bear rights and duties under international law, and thus counts as its ‘subjects and the actors’, has long been controversial. The question is allegedly regulated by the so-called ‘doctrine of Statehood’ in international law which is supplemented by a series of considerations such as recognition and self-determination. These might, or might not, be legal or simply political doctrines, and the doctrine of Statehood itself has been criticised for its imperialist and neo-colonialist dimensions. Further, one of the most sweeping changes weathered by the international legal system since the mid-twentieth century has been the rise of new actors. Although the State remains the cornerstone of the international legal system as it is commonly conceived, new actors have emerged and now take part in law-making and law-enforcement.  


In this course, we will explore the history and doctrine of international institutions, and the role of the collective security system. We will delve into the core of the United Nations (UN) and examine the functions of international organisations. In particular, we will dig into the cornerstone role of the UN in the peace and security realm. In this part of the course, we will study the law concerning the use of force and the right of self-defence, and explore their evolving interpretation, including in the counter-terrorism context. The counter-terrorism context will be the object of further examination, as we will observe the increasingly important role played by other international organisations and actors in governing transnational security. Threats to the environment is another area of the peace and security landscape where this phenomenon of multiplication of actors in shaping the law has emerged. We will thus explore the nexus between environmental risks and security threats, and examine the role of NGOs in contemporary international law-making processes concerning environmental destruction.  


  1. Introduce students to the core concerns regarding international institutions 
  2. Introduce students to the doctrine of Statehood in international law 
  3. Allow students to critically reflect on the possibility or impossibility of regulating inclusion and exclusion in international society  
  4. Introduce students to the role and status of non-State actors in international law, and their relation to States 
  5. Allow students to critically assess contemporary developments in matters of Statehood and membership of the international legal system. 
  6. Examine and evaluate the doctrine of collective security and assess claims regarding the extent of the right of self-defence, particularly in relation to non-State actors .
  7. Introduce students to the main doctrines regarding the nature and basis of organisations’ powers and the interpretation of their constitutive instruments.
  8. Consider how international institutional law in the peace and security realm evolves with the emergence of non-state transnational threats (from transnational terrorist threats to threats posed to the environment).  
  9. Examine aspects of counter-terrorism in international peace and security, including the role of the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum. 
  10. Consider the relationship between the environment and international peace and security, including the involvement of non-governmental organisations in attempts to define an international crime of ecocide. 



Teaching and learning methods

The course will be structured around a series of activities to be performed every week. They include the watching of some introductory videos, the reading of key materials, and contributions to the discussion board platform associated with the course, and a live session


Practical skills

Ability to discuss the various legal questions arising in an international dispute in connection with statehood and non-state actors

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods



Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Iain Scobbie Unit coordinator

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