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International Law and Relations

This guide supports the International Law and International Relations courses that are part of the Political Science major/minor.

What are International Law & Relations?

International relations is the study of interactions among sovereign nation/states. In a broader sense, it concerns all activities between states—such as war, diplomacy, trade, and foreign policy—and relations with and among other international actors, such as intergovernmental organisations (IGOs), international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), international legal bodies, and multinational corporations (MNCs).

International law refers to the body of laws governing interactions between nations.  International law can be divided into two distinct categories:

Public International law focuses on relationships between nations and citizens of different nations as governed by various inter-governmental organizations, such as the United Nations and NATO, and other sources of law such as treaties and custom.  For example, a dispute over a waterway between two nations would be governed by Public International law. 

Private International law is synonymous with the concept of "conflict of laws"; that is, it refers to legal disputes, typically involving private citizens, in which jurisdictional issues are the primary area of inquiry.   For example, a contract dispute between citizens of two different countries would likely be governed by Private International law. 

Basic Principles for Research

Approaching a research problem in International Law and Relations shares many similarities to approaching an American legal research problem though the materials used may differ.

  1. Consult secondary sources such as encyclopedias, research guides, and treatises to get an overview of your subject and the areas where you need to search as well as citations to primary materials.
  2. If you are researching a particular international organization, look for their website. Many organizations have vast collections of primary documents on the web.
  3. Locate and analyze primary law, such as treaties, and subsidiary sources of public international law, such as scholarly writings.  Remember that in public international law, cases are NOT considered primary law, though in practice they are often treated with great deference and are an excellent source for determining customary international law or "general principles" of international law.
  4. Make sure your research is up to date.