Pratt Institute

SS256GP-01 Law, War, & Empire in Modern World History

Fall 2018      Thursdays 9:00 a.m. – 11:50 a.m.      North Hall room 305

Professor Roy Tsao 

This course examines the moral basis of the modern state’s right to wage war, and of the legal rules and conventions that are supposed to constrain the legitimate uses of force in the conduct of war. We will give close attention to the ways in which the ethics of war has historically been shaped by historical and political factors, from the emergence of the modern state system in the seventeenth century, to the rise of anti- colonial insurgencies in the twentieth. We will also consider the impact of technological innovations, including the recent introduction of remote-controlled, lethally-armed drone aircraft.

Some of the questions we will explore:

• What is the moral basis of the state’s right to wage war against foreign adversaries?  

 Should different moral rules apply to the use of force in conflicts among sovereign states, from the rules that apply when a state uses force to suppress or deter violent acts committed by individuals?  

  When would a powerful state be justified in intervening militarily to redress another state’s injustice or misgovernment?  

  When should such intervention be regarded as imperialist aggression?  

  Should groups which undertake armed resistance to an unjust or oppressive government be expected to abide by the rules of conventional war, even if that puts them at an overwhelming disadvantage?  

  When insurgent groups refuse to fight by conventional means, what effect should this have on the other side’s rules of engagement?


Syllabus Overview

Unit 1: War and the Modern State, from Hobbes to Clausewitz

Unit 2: Toward Conventional War: The U.S. Civil War and the First Legal Code for Warfare

Unit 3: Conventional War: Theory and Practice in the Twentieth Century

Unit 4: Unconventional War: Guerrilla Warfare in Anti-Colonial Struggles

Unit 5: Unconventional War: Terrorism, Counter-Terror, and Drones