Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module SGIA42715: International Law and Conflict Intervention

Department: Government and International Affairs

SGIA42715: International Law and Conflict Intervention

Type Tied Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Available in 2020/21 Module Cap
Tied to L2K609, L2K909


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To analyse and explore, at an advanced level and drawing on multiple disciplines, the role, interplay and limits of defence, development and diplomacy in ongoing conflicts.
  • To study, at an advanced level, the dynamics of conflict and conflict intervention in the military/security, political, legal/ethical, socio-economic/developmental and societal/cultural spheres, and the way these spheres intersect and affect each other.
  • To examine the impact of conflict intervention practices (such as, for instance, aerial bombing, targeted assassinations, clear-and-hold strategies, collective punishment, humanitarian aid or development as a counterinsurgency tool) on the (local) state, society (including armed non-state actors) and the international system
  • To situate the dynamics of conflict and conflict intervention in the context of the wider literature on conflict.


  • This module will look at the role, interplay and limits of defence, development and diplomacy in ongoing conflicts. It will critically examine the evolution of concepts and practices such as ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P), sovereignty-as-responsibility and humanitarian intervention within the context of a changing international state system and international norms. In particular, it will consider the impact of these norms and practices on the North-South divide by situating them historically, looking at, for instance, the progression from colonial domination to post-colonial dynamics, the role of border disputes arising from colonial legacies and the legacy of Orientalism on our understanding of ‘the Other’. The module will look at five areas of operation and the way they interact: military capacity and the security sector; political structures (official vs. traditional, local vs. international); legal and ethical structures; development and socio-economic factors; and society and culture. Indicative typical content includes: the role of international law, human rights conventions and jus in bello models, and how these have changed with, and affected, the evolving nature of conflicts, combatants and technology; the history of counter-insurgency (COIN) and counter-terrorism from a defence, development and diplomacy perspective and how these have impacted on conflicts; the role of diplomacy (track I-III), negotiations and mediation in conflict intervention; the role of the media and communication; the role of aid and development in conflict intervention. Specific contemporary practices will be used to explore the themes of this module, including, for instance (indicatively), targeted assassination, collective punishment, incarceration and the criminalisation of non-state activism, torture, surveillance, negotiating with armed non-state actors, securing popular support through development, and state-building within conflict. Throughout, students will be asked to consider the possible tensions between local cultural and political practices and international norms, between military and diplomatic and/or development goals, and between national security and human security.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will have, by the end of the module,
  • • An advanced understanding of contemporary key academic, policy and strategy debates and issues related to defence, development and diplomacy relating to conflict and conflict intervention.
  • • An advanced understanding of the impact of key conflict intervention practices on the (local) state, society and the international system, and how conflict intervention practices are themselves shaped by the international system, state structures and society (of both the target state and the state of origin).
  • • Advanced knowledge of the dynamic interaction between conflict intervention practices and conflict dynamics (both local and, where applicable, as in the case of transnational terrorism, international); indicative examples include international humanitarian law, clear-and-hold strategies in the context of military occupation, outsourcing of security to private companies, negotiations with armed non-state actors; which specific aspects of conflict intervention the module will focus on depends on the research interests of the staff participating in the teaching of the module.
  • • Understanding of how conflict intervention practices relate to the wider literature on conflict, conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction.
  • • Understanding of how the taught elements are operationally applicable in situations of tension and conflict.
  • • Understanding of the methodologies used to study conflict, and of the impact of our choice of methodology and conceptual framework on our understanding of conflict and vice versa.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will, by the end of the module,
  • • to understand and design conflict intervention practices which integrate defence, development and diplomacy perspectives.
  • • to situate conflict intervention practices within the broader dynamics and study of conflict.
  • • to engage in research projects at MA level in the subjects of defence, development and diplomacy (broadly conceived) with a particular focus on conflict intervention.
  • • to apply subject related knowledge and advanced theoretical models to the evaluation of current local and global issues, to interpret and analyse empirical data at an advanced level and according to competing explanatory frameworks, and to recognise the impact of a chosen conceptual framework on one’s research findings.
Key Skills:
  • Students will be able, by the end of the module,
  • • to demonstrate an ability to construct argument critically for both oral and written presentation from different sources of material, including material delivered orally and in reports and/or essays.
  • • to demonstrate an independent approach to learning, thinking (self-)critically and creatively, and problem-solving.
  • • to use sophisticated techniques of information retrieval and management using an array of print and digital resources.
  • • to demonstrate an ability to formulate complex arguments in articulate and structured English, within the discursive conventions and genres of academic writing and written to high academic standards.
  • • to demonstrate effective time management

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Students will be taught and learn through self-guided learning, lectures, class discussion, and seminars.
  • Students are taught in 2 hour seminars that combine different teaching approaches among them lectures, student presentations, discussions, role-plays. The seminars will introduce the students to the key theoretical approaches and accommodate the differential knowledge and disciplinary skills of different cohorts. They encourage students to explore the module content in detail and guide students through required and further reading. The seminars will enable students to develop their abilities to conduct research, to communicate, to present theoretical alternatives and data, and to develop their own argumentation skills. Class discussion encourages background reading, contributing to the students’ independent learning. It will further allow students the opportunity to exchange ideas, to explore issues and arguments that interest or concern them in greater depth, and to receive feedback from both the group and the lecturer on their own arguments and understanding. Class discussions and seminar tutor interventions will be the main form of formative feedback students receive on this module, and students will be made aware of this at the start of the module.
  • A 3,000 word essay will form the assessed element of the module. Summative assessment by essay formally tests the skills developed throughout the course. The essay, to be submitted at the end of teaching, tests the ability to plan a substantial piece of work, identifying and retrieving sources and selecting and displaying appropriate subject specific knowledge and understanding. It tests the ability to develop an extended discussion which utilises concepts and examines competing interpretation and analysis. It also develops key skills in sustaining effective written communication and information presentation to high scholarly standards. It enables students to demonstrate that they have sufficient subject knowledge to meet the assessment criteria, that they have achieved the subject skills and that they have acquired the module’s key skills. In particular, summative essays test the acquisition of knowledge through independent learning and the ability to apply it in critical argument in relation to a specific question. They furthermore help students to develop time management skills by working to a deadline, as well as the ability to seek out and critically use relevant data sources. The summative assessment will test skills of synthesis, analysis and critical evaluation with reference to material drawn from the module.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 9 Weekly 2 hours 18
Preparation and Reading 132
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3000 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative assessment will take the form of continuing feedback in seminars.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University