International Humanitarian Law: Regulating 21st-Century Warfare

Open to students entering grades 11 or 12 or freshman year of college in the fall
I - June 29–July 17, 2020
Days & Time:
Monday–Friday, 11:10 a.m.–1:00 p.m. and 3:10–5:00 p.m.
Alexander de la Paz

Course Description

Is international humanitarian law (IHL) still relevant in regulating warfare in the 21st Century? Trends such as the proliferation of armed conflict between states and transnational insurgent groups and the development of autonomous weapons systems and cyber-warfare capabilities have raised questions about the sufficiency of IHL to regulate warfare today. This course introduces students to the theory and practice of IHL, and central debates about its interpretation and implementation in 21st-Century armed conflict.

In the first part of the course, students are introduced to the moral principles underpinning IHL. They then turn to surveying the texts of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the two Additional Protocols of 1977, and the role played by the International Committee of the Red Cross in developing and ensuring respect for IHL.

In the second part of the course, we examine major debates about IHL and its implementation today. Topics include the questions raised by the proliferation of transnational terrorism, multiparty civil wars, humanitarian intervention, drones, autonomous weapons systems, and cyber warfare.

Course materials draw widely from political science, international law, psychology, philosophy, literature, and film. Class time is divided between lecture and discussion of the reading assignments, and film screenings, debates, group projects, and student presentations.


Alexander de la Paz

Alexander de la Paz is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science and a Cordier Fellow in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. His research interests span political and moral psychology, coercion, political violence, and international law and ethics. His dissertation examines the problem of "human shields" in war. He has served as an instructor and teaching assistant for a number of courses on international relations and human rights.

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