ASTK18215U  The Legalization of International Relations

Volume 2018/2019

Bachelor student: 20 ECTS

Master student: 15 ECTS


The course is part of the plan of creating interfaculty courses between the Department of Political Sciences and the Faculty of law. This new strategy tries to improve students’ interdisciplinary knowledge and skills. By integrating this course in the catalogue of courses at both Faculties/departments, the interfaculty course aims at creating synergies and complementarities between students with various disciplinary backgrounds and approaches to institutions and the law. The Study Board at the Faculty of Law has already approved the course.


International Relations and International Law scholars have recently developed theories about the relevance of international law and courts for State compliance, diplomacy and inter-state interactions, and the development of national legal systems, that has proved very fruitful in explaining some of the central international relations problems that are of interest to policy and law-makers. This is in part due to the legalization of international relations, which refers to the reality that legal and judicial actors are increasingly involved in defining and shaping international affairs. Legalization is then considered an aspect in which international and domestic actors conceive of their legal and policy options as bounded by what is legally allowed. Moreover, it refers to the process in which international law, in conjunction with the proliferation and role of International Organizations and Courts, confers new rights and obligations to citizens and other domestic and transnational actors.

The goal of this course is to provide masters students with an interdisciplinary perspective for understanding the impact of legalization in international relations. International relations refers to the behaviour of States and non-State actors in the international arena, but also to how international law might affect the multi-level relations between international and domestic actors, and, between actors at the national legal arena. This course will offer an innovate approach to the topic by differentiating from the traditional study of international relationships taking place in the international/global arena, by focusing on the analysis of international relations interactions in multi-level political-legal context. The main reason for focusing on these levels of interactions is the increasing interest in the political science, international relations and law scholarships and disciplines to explain the role that international legal regimes and courts play in shaping domestic society, politics and law.

During the course, students will discuss the limitations and opportunities provided by international relations and law theories. Reflecting on this complementarity will give students an added value that will improve their policy and legal competences and careers prospects as researchers, policy analysts, international and domestic lawyers, judges, civil servants, experts. Importantly, it will also improve their capacity to assess international affairs as citizens.


In terms of content, the course will expose students to the relevant literature and debates on international relations and law to provide context that enables the students to discuss core questions on the topic. Accordingly, the course is divided into two parts.

1) The first part introduces the students to theories of the Legalization of International Relations, concepts and methods for studying and understanding the legalization and judicialization of international affairs (sections 1 and 2). These sessions provide the students with the analytical and methodological tools to follow and develop discussions on international law in the framework of a broader international affairs context.

2) The second part of the course reviews the main questions and topics addressed by the literature in International Relations, International Law and the legalization of International Relations (sections 3 to 12). The study of the syllabus’ topics is done by applying the analytical concepts and research tools introduced in the first block of sessions.


Preliminary programme: each general section will consist on several sessions where these topics will be discussed. Sessions will also allocate time for exercises, debates and student presentations:


1. Introduction
This first section will introduce the course, clarify to the students how the course will be structured, and explain the examination format. In the second part of the introduction, the intersection between International Relations and International Law will be presented and discussed with the students. During the session, students will be asked about their motivations and professional interests in order to identify topics of interest for their final individual written assignments.

2. The Legalization of International Relations
This session will attend to the concept of Legalization of International Relations and its relevance for explaining how international law shapes domestic legal and political systems. It will theorize and discuss the different levels and types of legalization present in the literature (e.g. International agreements, International Organizations, International Courts), and its expected impact or influence on multi-level and domestic legal, social and political systems.


3. Compliance with international treaties and obligations
States delegate authority to international organizations, courts and sign treaties to make more credible their commitment with international rules, to remove certain issues from the political agenda or process, to balance powers between states, etc. Nevertheless, the evidence demonstrates how States still deviate from their international legal commitments. This section will clarify why States obey international law. In addition, it will discuss whether and how international courts do effectively increase compliance with International commitments adopted by States.


4. Domestic Political/Legal Cultures and International Law
The concept of legal culture has had an important place in major recent debates about the impact of international law. Legal culture might predetermine how national actors (lawyers, judges and lawmakers) accept, interpret and effectively apply international law. Building on the diversity and commonality of cultures and traditions (e.g. common law, civil law, Islamic, Nordic, among others), the seminar will analyze the importance of domestic legal cultures for the adoption and acceptance of International law.


5. International courts: Types, design and forms and patterns of support and resistance to their power.
The section will describe the different types of international courts, desing and power. Moreover, it will explore different forms and patterns of support and resistance to international courts’ power from international and domestic actors. It will be also discussed an analytical framework for explaining their variability.


6. International legal regimes and domestic courts
This section will examine how the interaction between domestic courts has been altered by the integration of international courts and legal regimes into judicial hierarchies. It will offer a conceptualization of the different forms of organization of judicial power and how they affect the dynamics that define inter-court relations.

7. Civil society and the mobilization of International Law
By their willingness to change the political status quo, civil society groups can mobilize legal institutions to pursue rights. This section offers a means to explain the role and judicial and non-judicial strategies of interest groups, NGOs, minorities, among others, in mobilizing regime changes through international law and under which conditions this mobilization is successful (or not).


8. Transnational networks/elites/entrepreneurs and the reception of International Law
In this section a review of literature of an emerging field related to transnational entrepreneurship is presented. Different types of networks/elites/entrepreneus (e.g. international and supranational legal associations, judicial networks, transnational political associations, etc.) and their structure will be introduced to the students. It will be explored how these transnational entrepreneurs pursue international legal strategies based on domestic conditions for influencing and shaping the integration of international law into their domestic legal regimes. Results indicate that the same factors that affect the strategy choice of MNCs also affect the transnational entrepreneur strategy selection.

9. International Law, Courts and Public Opinion
The seminar will address how international law and legal institutions build public support. An overview of the levels of acceptance towards legal institutions will be provided and will evaluate the sources of this support by assessing diverse explanations.


10. International transitional justice and its impact in political and legal regimes
This section provides an outline of the theories and themes in the study of transitional justice provided by International Law institutions (e.g. international peace-agreements, International Courts’ rulings). The transitions from authoritarian regimes to democracies both in the last decades and in current times have raised normative inquiries about how to address the abuses of former regimesand to ensure the future stability of the new political and legal regimes. Democracies in transition, in collaboration with the international community, have developed several mechanisms for dealing with crimes and repression perpetuated in the past: truth commissions, trials, amnesties, etc. In this section we will study the political, social, and legal factors for the use of these diverse transitional justice solutions and its impact in the development of the new political and legal regimes.

11. The Legalization of Economic governance
The increasing relevance of international and transnational governance for the regulation of cross-border economic relations and crises has given rise to debates about its domestic legitimacy. This section provides an introduction to the current normative and empirical debates about the impact of this legalization by exploring the views and strategies of actors practically involved in transnational and national governance.


12. Final session: Wrap-up discussion and questions about the examination
In this session we will revisit the core questions of the course: Why is international law important for understanding international relations? What is legalization? How can we operationalize it? Under what conditions could international law limit the behavior of international and domestic actors and their interactions? How does it affect the development of national domestic legal systems?

Learning Outcome

Knowledge: This course will contribute to the students’ competence profile in the following terms. A) In terms of knowledge, they will be familiar with the fundamental principles of international law and its interaction with international affairs/politics. Moreover, they will demonstrate working knowledge of international and domestic institutions and actors.


Skills: Within this framework, the students in terms of skills will be able: 1) to identify the central issues of and challenges to legalization and global governance, such as human rights, legitimacy of international institutions and actors, among others; 2) to characterize and explain the dynamics of multi-level legal and political regime interactions; 3) to articulate and develop coherent debates and arguments on the topic with their peers.


Competences: Finally, based upon this knowledge and skills, the student will analyse, contrast and evaluate different approaches to the theories of international law and international relations. As a result the student will be able: 1) to critically reflect upon the concept of legalization as an international phenomenon; 2) critically assess the interaction between international and domestic legal rules and the factual domestic political practice, meaning for instance how domestic judges and public administrators handle certain international rules; 3) to develop their competencies to analyse legal issues from an international law and relations interdisciplinary perspective; 4) to enable the student to carry out independent research on international relations and law; 5) to improve their understanding of the international law/affairs and relations processes affecting: Their skills to communicate with legal and non-legal actors or within social and political work environments (e.g. NGOs, government or international organizations); and their policy/legal reasoning as a civil servant, judges or international/national lawyers.

1. Introduction

- Jakob v. H. Holtermann & Madsen, Mikael Rask Madsen (2015) “European New Legal Realism and International Law: How to Make International Law Intelligible.” Leiden Journal of International Law, 28 (2), 211-230.
- Andrea Bianchi (2016) International Law Theories. An Inquiry into Different Ways of Thinking. Oxford University Press. Pages 110-134.
- Beth Simmons (2009) "International Law and International Relations" in Gregory A. Caldeira, R. Daniel Kelemen, and Keith E. Whittington (eds). The Oxford Handbook of Law and Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press. [15]

2. The Legalization of International Relations

- Louis Bélanger and Kim Fontaine-Skronski “Legalization’ in international relations: A conceptual analysis”. Social Science Information (2012) 51: 238-262 [24]
- Alford, Roger P. and O'Connell, Mary Ellen (2002) “An Introduction: The Legalization of International Relations/The Internationalization of Legal Relations”. Scholarly Works. Paper 29 [20]

3. Compliance with international treaties and obligations

- Harold Hongju Koh (1997) “Why Do Nations Obey International Law?” 106 Yale Law Journal. 2599. [50]
- Karen J. Alter (2003) "Do International Courts Enhance Compliance with International Law?". Review of Asian and Pacific Studies. 25: 51-78. [28]


4. Domestic Political/Legal Cultures and International Law

- Paul Meerts (2008) Culture and International Law. The Hague: Hague Academic Press/T.M.C. Asser Press Publishers. [Chapter 1]
- Marlene Wind (2010) “The Nordics, the EU and the Reluctance Towards Supranational Judicial Review.” JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies 48(4): 1039–63.

5. International courts: Types, design and forms and patterns of support and resistance to their power.

- Cesare Romano, Karen J Alter, Chrisanthi Avgerou (2014) Cesare Romano, Karen Alter & Yuval Shany (eds). “Mapping International Adjudicative Bodies, the Issues, and Players.” Oxford: OUP.
- Marlene Wind (2018) International Courts and Domestic Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Introduction and several chapters].
- Mikael Rask Madsen, Pola Cebulak, and Micha Wiebusch (2018). “Backlash against International Courts: Explaining the Forms and Patterns of Resistance to International Courts.” International Journal of Law in Context 14(2): 197–220.

6. International legal regimes and domestic courts

- Eyal Benvenisti & George W. Downs (2009) “National Courts, Domestic Democracy, and the Evolution of International Law” European Journal of International Law: 59-72 [13].
- Francisco Ramos Romeu (2006) “Law and Politics in the Application of EC law: Spanish Courts and the CJEU 1986-2000.” Common Market Law Review 43: 395-421. [26]
- Juan A. Mayoral (2016) “In the CJEU judges trust: A new approach in the judicial construction of Europe.” Journal of Common Market Studies. [18]

7. Civil society and the mobilization of International Law

- Emilie M. Hafner-Burton (2008) “Sticks and Stones: Naming and Shaming the Human Rights Enforcement Problem” 62(4): 689-716. [27]
- Karen J. Alter and Jeannette Vargas (2000) "Explaining Variation in the Use of European Litigation Strategies: European Community Law and British Gender Equality Policy." Comparative Political Studies. 33: 452-482. [30]

8. Transnational networks/​elites/​entrepreneurs and the reception of International Law

- Mikael Rask Madsen & Mikkel Jarle Christensen (2016) “Global Actors: Networks, Elites, and Institutions” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Oxford University Press.
- Antonin Coehn (2010) “Legal Professionals or Political Entrepreneurs? Constitution Making as a Process of Social Construction and Political Mobilization” International Political Sociology, 4, 107-123. [16]

9. International Law, Courts and Public Opinion

- Jonas Tallberg & Lisa M. Dellmuth (2015) “The Social Legitimacy of International Organizations: Interest Representation, Institutional Performance, and Confidence Extrapolation in the United Nations.” Review of International Studies, 41(3), 451-475.
- Erik Voeten (2013) "Public Opinion and the Legitimacy of International Courts". Theoretical Inquiries in Law 14(2): 411-436. [26]


10. International transitional justice and its impact in political and legal regimes

- Melissa Nobles (2010) “The Prosecution of Human Rights Violations,” The Annual Review of Political Science 13: 165-82. [17]
- Monika Nalepa (2010) “Captured Commitments: An Analytic Narrative of Transitional Justice,” World Politics. 62(2): 341- 80. [39]

11. The Legalization of Economic governance

- Marija Bartl (2015) “Internal Market Rationality, Private Law and the Direction of the Union: Resuscitating the Market as the Object of the Political.” European Law Journal, 21, 572–598 [26].
- Elaine, Fahey (2014) “On the Use of Law in Transatlantic Relations: Legal Dialogues Between the EU and US”. European Law Journal, 20(3), pp. 368-384. [26]


12. Final session: Wrap-up discussion and questions about the examination

- No readings

Students are expected to read the texts and participate actively in class. To improve the learning process, the course uses a mixture of social sciences and legal pedagogical techniques. The following instructional strategies combine theoretical discussion with analysis of empirical cases, such as:

a) ‘Case-based’ learning: by discussing examples of cases where international law and institutions, like international courts, had an impact on domestic legal systems, society and politics. This exercise will also assist, under the guidance of the lecturer, to construct possible explanations of how international law shapes international relations at the domestic level.

b) Theory-building learning with presentations and written papers: where the students theorize and reflect on causal relationships that may explain international legal realities.

In particular, the discussion of ‘hot button’ cases on the grounds of the theories previously presented during the lecture (pedagogical strategy “a” above) is expected to encourage participation. To prepare the exercises students will be assigned a reading task with relevant instructions to guide students’ reading. This activity will help students to frame and discuss the different ways to operationalize and identify legalization, such as in the rulings of international courts, in international agreements, among others, and their impact or implications for law, society and politics. In addition, to encourage the reflection on the ideas presented in the class and for the preparation of the final individual written assignment, students will present discussions/questions related to a previous selected topic. Students will be asked to investigate the topic and provide answers grounded in International relations and law theories.

More information on teaching methods will be available on Absalon as the spring semester of 2019 approaches.
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Free assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assesment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Total
  • 56