BASS Social Anthropology and Sociology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Between War and Peace

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI32071
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


If states aren’t to go to war, what should they do instead? The course will provide an advanced introduction to ethical debates surrounding the alternatives to war, such as economic sanctions, providing arms to rebel groups, nonviolent resistance, international criminal prosecutions, cyber war, the use of private military and security companies, drone warfare, and humanitarian aid. It will be divided into two sections. The first (shorter) section will consider the prevailing political context, such as the responses to the recent crises in Syria, Ukraine, and Libya, and the underlying approaches, such as the responsibility to protect doctrine, Just War Theory, and pacifism. The second section will consider the ethical issues raised by each of the alternatives in turn. 


The course unit aims to:

·         Examine the ethical debates surrounding the alternatives to war in general.
Introduce the prevailing political context for these debates, such as the recent crises in Syria, Libya, and Ukraine.

·         Consider the underlying approaches of Just War Theory, the responsibility to protect doctrine, and pacifism.

·         Consider critically the normative arguments surrounding specific alternatives:

(i) economic sanctions;

(ii) coercive diplomacy, such as naming and shaming and the cutting of diplomatic ties;

(iii) arming rebel groups and paramilitaries and funding private military and security companies;

(iv) the use of drones and cyber war

o   (v) international criminal prosecutions, such as by the ICC;

o   (vi) positive incentives and amnesties

o   (vii) nonviolent resistance, including civilian peacekeeping.

Develop students' oral skills (through general discussion), team-work skills, written skills (through the assessed essay and short exam), research skills (from the use and assessment of material from an array of sources), and critical and analytical skills.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit successful students will be able to demonstrate:
- The ability to assess critically Just War Theory, the responsibility to protect doctrine, and pacifism, and how they inform the ethical debates surrounding the alternatives to war.
- The ability to assess critically the ethical arguments surrounding each of the particular alternatives studied.

- The ability to apply the ethical arguments and approaches studied to real and hypothetical cases.
- Oral, teamwork, written, and research skills

Teaching and learning methods

The course will comprise ten two-hour lectures and ten one-hour seminars. The lectures will involve a mix of traditional lecture material, interactive question and answer sessions, small tasks in break-out groups, videos, and student surveys. Seminars will be lively and interesting: they will involve (i) group work linked to role-play scenarios for the alternatives and (ii) assessment of real-world cases. As per usual, all students will be expected to have completed the required reading and to have made preparatory notes. Formative feedback will be provided through seminar exercises and informal quizzes.

Assessment methods

The course will be assessed in three ways:

  1. A 3,500-word essay: 60%
  2. A short exam: 30%
  3. Seminar participation or other coursework: 10%

Feedback methods

Politics staff will provide feedback on written work within 15 working days of submission.

Students should be aware that all marks are provisional until confirmed by the external examiner and the final examinations boards in June.

For modules that do not have examination components the marks and feedback for the final assessed component are not subject to the 15 working day rule and will be released with the examination results.

You will receive feedback on assessed essays in a standard format. This will rate your essay in terms of various aspects of the argument that you have presented your use of sources and the quality of the style and presentation of the essay. If you have any queries about the feedback that you have received you should make an appointment to see your tutor.

On assessments submitted through Turnitin you will receive feedback via Blackboard. This will include suggestions about ways in which you could improve your work in future. You will also receive feedback on non-assessed coursework, whether this is individual or group work. This may be of a more informal kind and may include feedback from peers as well as academic staff

Recommended reading

Bellamy, A. (2014) R2P: A Defense (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Bellamy, A. and T. Dunne (eds) (2016) Oxford Handbook on the Responsibility to Protect (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Gross, M and T. Meisels (eds) (2016). Soft War: The Ethics of Unarmed Conflict (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Fabre, C (2012) Cosmopolitan Wars (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Holmes, R. (1989) On War and Morality (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
McMahan, J. (2009) Killing in War (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
Pattison, J (2014) The Morality of Private War: The Challenge of Private Military and Security Companies (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Pattison, J (2015) "The Ethics of Diplomatic Criticism: The Responsibility to Protect, Just War Theory, and Presumptive Last Resort”, European Journal of International Relations, 21/4: 935–57.

Pattison, J (2015) “The Ethics of Arming Rebels”, Ethics & International Affairs, 29/4: 455–71.

Sharp, G. with J. Paulson (2005) Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential (Manchester, NH: Extending Horizons Books).
Walzer, M. (2015) Just and Unjust Wars, Fifth Edition (New York: BasicBooks).
Winkler, A. (1999) 'Just Sanctions', Human Rights Quarterly 21: 133-55.

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
James Pattison Unit coordinator

Return to course details