POLS 480: International Law and Organizations

Dr. Steffenson

Office phone: 753-0972      

Office location: 286, Monat Building, 148 N. 3rd Street

Email: rsteffenson@niu.edu

Office hours: Tuesday and Thursdays 2-4 and by appointment. Please note that there will be times when I will need to reschedule office hours or schedule appointments at alternative times. Please check Blackboard for announcements.





In this course we will explore the role of international law as a framework for cooperation, and determine how states and non-state actors participate in global governance through international organizations. The expectations are that by course end you be able to develop well constructed arguments about global issues within the conceptual frames of international law and international relations theories and that these arguments will be supported with case studies that demonstrate the ways in which international organizations have managed (or not) issues of global and regional security, human rights, criminal justice, resource management, health, trade and economic development, and voluntary and involuntary migration.


The primary international organizations covered in this course include the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and to a lesser extent both the International Organization for Migration and the International Maritime Organization. We will also briefly touch on the regional organization of states through, for example, the European Union.


Questions we will seek to answer include:


  • How does international relations theory help us understand why states engage in international cooperation through formal and informal organizations?
  • Do the functions of international organizations shift under unilateral, bilateral, or multilateral world views?
  • How do the lenses used by international lawyers and political scientists to analyze global governance differ?  
  • What contribution do states, non-state actors, and international organizations make to processes of global governance? 
  • What enforcement mechanisms exist for international law?
  • What do recent events in international affairs tell us about the scope and limits of international organizations, international law, and state sovereignty?
  • What predominant lines of thought are likely to affect the future reform of international organizations?






Required Schoenbaum (2006) International Relations: The Path not Taken. Using International Law to Promote World Peace and Security.


Required Karns and Mingst (2004) International Organizations: The Politics and Processes of Global Governance.


Recommended Diehl (2005) The Politics of Global Governance: International Organizations in an Interdependent World


Other required and recommended reading will be available on Blackboard under ‘course documents’. Please check announcements for new reading assignments.


In order to receive full points for all of the course requirements, you will need to have read all of the assigned reading. The additional recommended reading can only help you gain additional knowledge and analysis of the topics. They are recommended because they will likely improve the quality of your oral and written work.


We will watch a number of documentary films in class. These films are scheduled for days when major assignments are due. Please note that the films are considered required material.




  1. Final exam 40%

The final exam will cover all of the material covered in class in the form of short answer (20%) and essay (80%) questions. I will not be handing out a study guide at the end of the course. Therefore you will need to take notes both from lectures and from the assigned reading. You are also advised to pay attention to the announcements and additional materials on Blackboard. Eight possible essay questions will be posted on Blackboard two weeks before the final. Four of those questions will be on the final. I will give comments to students who write outlines for the final exam essays prior to the last day of class. Makeup exams will only be given in extraordinary circumstances. Students should contact me as soon as these circumstances arise and recognize the possibility that they need to verify their excuse with documentation.


  1. Take home midterm exam 20%

The midterm will consist of four essay questions. Since the exam is take home, I will expect you to make citations from class notes and the assigned reading. For example, you will be expected to understand the main arguments made by different authors as noted by statements such as, ‘For example, Smith argues ….’ Or ‘Jones demonstrates this point further when he states…’.As we will discuss many current events in this course, you are also encouraged to use media stories to support your arguments. Links to media sources and the official websites of the international organizations covered can be found in Blackboard. The take home midterms will need to be submitted electronically through Blackboard’s assignment function. Late midterms will be penalized by 10% point (1 letter grade) per day.


  1. Essay 25%

Essays should be 8-10 pages (10-12 for graduate students) pages double spaced, including at least 5 academic citations (journal articles, books, or working papers are acceptable) and a bibliography. Graduate students should use at least 7 sources. You can also use required reading and media sources (but these do not count towards your required sources). Essay topics can include any number of themes discussed throughout the course. The main requirement is that you have a clearly defined question, are able to discuss how the theories covered in class and in the assigned reading relate to your question, and finally that you use clear examples to support your arguments. Topics should be submitted via Blackboard 2 weeks prior to the due date. Failure to do this will result in an automatic loss of 5 percentage points. Essays should be submitted through Blackboard. Late essays we will be penalized by 10% points (1 letter grade) per day.


  1. Participation in class 15%

Discussion will be a substantial portion of this course. Participation grades will be spilt into three categories.

·         ‘Responsive and substantive’ in class discussion 6%. In order for participation to substantive it must be consistent, relevant, informed by lecture or reading material and respectfully delivered. Debate is encouraged and expected, and everyone’s opinion is important.

·         2-3 minute ‘discussion starter’ presentations 6% (number to be determined according to class size). Each week I will choose a number of ‘discussion starters’ randomly. If you are chosen to start a discussion you will be asked to present a question or share your reaction to that days reading material, film, or lecture to the rest of the class. If you are absent or not prepared to start the discussion you will lose participation points. Students who have a valid reason for being absent will not lose participation points. You must, however, inform me before the class time.

·         ‘Online participation’ through Blackboard 3%. Have you seen an interesting article that relates to course discussion? Have a comment or question? Post it in on the Discussion Board in Blackboard. Online participation will be divided into three categories: regular, occasional, and rare.


  1. Graduate Students are expected to complete 1-2 short papers of the recommended reading (not the main required text) each week. These outlines should highlight the main arguments of the authors and a response to these arguments. Although these will not be graded, they are a course requirement. Failure to hand in the papers will result in a loss of percent points from your overall grade. These papers should be submitted electronically before class, and they will be placed on Blackboard for undergraduate students to review.


Attendance is not mandatory, but students will lose ‘response’ participation points for excessive absences. Additionally, students who are chosen to be discussion starters in their absence will lose additional participation points. The material presented in class (both lectures and films) will be highly relevant to your midterm and final exams. Therefore, it is in your best interest to attend class.


Please be respectful and remember to turn off your cell phones.


Cheating- which includes plagiarism- will not be tolerated in class. The NIU Undergraduate Catalog states that ‘Students are considered to have cheated if they copy the work of another during an examination or turn in a paper or an assignment written whole or in part by someone else. Students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy materials from books, magazines or other sources without identifying or acknowledging those sources or if they paraphrase ideas from such sources without acknowledging them.Students who plagiarize will be reported to the Department of Political Science and subject to further action by university judicial proceedings.


Students are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis. This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, researching career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach the site, go to http://polisci.niu.edu 


The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding undergraduate papers written in conjunction with 300-400 level political science courses or directed studies. Authors do not have to be political science majors or have a particular class standing.  


Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building. CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


Written work will determine a significant portion of your grade. Students are encouraged to take advantage of the University Writing Center http://uwc.niu.edu


(Please note: I will not rush through topics. If more time is needed on any particular topic, the schedule will be amended accordingly. Students should check Blackboard regularly for announcements).

Week 1 (August 29th)


Topic: An introduction to international law and organizations


No assigned reading.


Week 2 (September 5th)


Topic: Challenges of Global Governance and History of Int. Cooperation


Required Reading:                               Karns and Mingst chapter 1: 3-34/63-96

                                                            Shoenbaum chapter 2: 14-34


Recommended Reading:                      Diehl chapter 1: 9-25


Week 3 (September 12th)


Topic: Theories of power, multilateralism, and global governance


Required Reading:                               Karns and Mingst chapter 2: 35-60

Schoenbaum chapters 3-4: 35-95


Recommended Reading:                      Diehl chapter 2-3: 25-104

                                                            Slaughter: IL and IR Theory (link on Blackboard)


Week 4 (September 19th)


Topic: Actors in the international order


Required Reading:                               Karns and Mingst chapters 6-7: 211-274


Slaughter Introduction to the New World Order (link on Blackboard))


Recommended Reading:                      Diehl chapter 4 and 15 : 111-126, 377-397


Week 5 (September 26th)


Topic: An introduction to the United Nations


Required Reading:                               Karns and Mingst chapter 4: 97-144


Recommended Reading:                      Diehl chapters 5, 7: 127-143, 165-189,


Week 6 (October 3rd)                                    


Topic: Regionalism


Required Reading:                               Karns and Mingst chapter 5: 145-221


TBA (see Blackboard)


Recommended Reading:                      Diehl chapter 14: 330-373     


Week 7 (October 10th) MIDTERMS DUE


Topic: The UN Security Council: Nuclear Proliferation, Armed Conflict and



Film Day! Title TBA.


Week 8 (October 17th)


Topic: The UN Security Council: Nuclear Proliferation, Armed Conflict and



Required Reading:                               Karns and Mingst chapter 8: 277-354

                                                            Schoenbaum chapters 1 and 5: 1-13/ 96-147


Recommended Reading                       Diehl 6, 8-10: 144-164, 193-268


Week 9 (October 24th)


Topic: Human Rights and the International Court of Justice


Required Reading:                               Karns and Mingst chapter 10: 413-457

                                                            Schoenbaum chapter 9: 250-285


Recommended Reading:                      Diehl chapter 17: 415-437

                                                            Ignatieff-American Exceptionalism

(link on Blackboard)


Week 10 (October 31st)


Topic 1: International Criminal Court

Required Reading:                               Schoenbaum chapter 9: 285-301


TBA (see Blackboard)


Topic 2: Migration/ Voluntary and Involuntary


Required Reading                                TBA (see Blackboard)


Week 11 (November 7th)   


Topic: Environmental regulation including the Kyoto Protocol and maritime law


Required Reading:                               Karns and Mingst chapter 11: 459-493

                                                            Schoenbaum chapter 7: 196-249       


Recommended Reading:                      Diehl chapter 16: 398-414


Week 12 (November 14th) ESSAYS DUE


Film day! Title TBA.


Week 13 (November 21st)


Topic: International Political Economy

Required Reading:                               Karns and Mingst chapter 9: 355-412

Shoenbaum chapter 6: 148-196

Recommended Reading:                      Diehl chapter 11-12 271-290



Week 14 (November 28th)


Topic: International Political Economy


** Interested in this topic? You might consider reading Globalization and its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz (only $11 on Amazon!)  and/ or In Defense of Globalization by Jagdish Bhagwati over Thanksgiving break.


We will be discussing individual WTO cases. In lieu of assigned reading, please bring media articles or images which relate to one or more WTO disputes.                                     


Recommended Reading:                      Diehl chapter 13: 313-329


Week 15 (December 5th)


Topic: Reforming International Organizations


Required Reading:                               Karns and Mingst chapter 12: 499-521

Schoenbaum chapter 10 302-305


Recommended Reading:                      Diehl chapters 18-19: 443-505


During the second half of class you will have the opportunity to work individually or in groups to review for the final. I will be available to answer questions. Only students who have pre-submitted outlines for essay questions prior to this class will be given detailed comments.


Week 16 (December 12th)