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When is it lawful to go to war? This question is the main focus of James Green's research into the use of military force. James teaches International Law, The Law of Armed Conflict (International Humanitarian Law), and Technologies and Weaponry.

James' interest in this research area was sparked whilst completing his PhD. Prior to commencing his postgraduate study, there had been only one major case at the International Court of Justice that dealt in depth with the Law on the Use of Force and then, during his PhD, there were three more!

"It was a watershed time at the Court. One was a case about the US attacking Iranian oil platforms in the 80s, another was about the wall that Israel constructed as a barrier for the Palestinian territories, and the third was the Court looking at the legality of using nuclear weapons. There are still only four cases."

Law and the universe

The legality of using nuclear weapons against asteroids is the topic of James' most recently submitted paper. To write the paper required an understanding of risk analysis and the science around how to deflect asteroids.

"I'm not a space lawyer. The law that is relevant here is the law of outer space. All this began during the Cold War and the fear of outer space being militarised. I was inspired by the Bruce Willis film Armageddon."

Technologies and weapons

The "Technologies and Weaponry" module, for master's students, has proved very popular. James explains that it is a challenging, cross-cutting subject area that potentially addresses issues such as Use of Force, Armed Conflict, and Human Rights.

"Let's take drones or cyber-attacks, or whatever it might be. How does that fit with law that was introduced before the technology was developed? There was law developed specifically to deal with nuclear weapons - but the law is 'made to fit' for drones and cyber."

Research by second-year students

James describes how, in the "Research Placement Project" module, students are split into groups. Each group is taught by a different tutor who is leading their own area of research. Staff show the students what they're working on, what they're interested in, their cutting edge research, and ask them what they think about it and what the problems are. Students then design and undertake their own research projects on questions related to the tutor's research interests, and are given guidance and feedback by the tutor during this process.

“The students certainly bring ideas to our research which makes us think 'we should investigate that further!' — I find that great. When it comes time for students to write their own dissertation in their final year, they have already engaged with an academic's research on a very personal and direct level in year 2, in a group of 10, so it's very beneficial.”

Wider impact

In terms of research impact, James is heavily involved with the International Law Association, and has worked on a couple of the committees whose reports are distributed around the world, including to the UN Secretary General. James also sees the impact through his students.

"A former PhD student of mine was part of the team for the Mladic trial in The Hague recently, where the defendant was convicted of war crimes and genocide."

Modern world relevance

James believes his area of interest is highly relevant to the challenges facing our modern world.

"International law is based on what states do. That means you need to get into the nitty gritty of Russia invading Crimea or what's going on in Syria at the moment, which makes it quite exciting but also tragic—it's the law for the whole world."

“Within the last 100 years, it was legally permissible to go around attacking other countries. You can't do that anymore, not since the Kellogg-Briand pact of 1928.”

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