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Grasp the complexities of legal, political and ethical dilemmas

Law and Politics of International Security

If we see a human rights violation elsewhere in the world, should we intervene? The lessons of imperialism would suggest not, but human rights lawyers might say we should.

The law of politics; the politics of law

Both of these sides of the debate are translated into legal claims, but which should we follow? If a state is attacked by a terrorist group, does it have the right to use military force in self defense? Is it politically prudent to do so? Should we use force against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, for example? How does law limit hostilities from being carried out? How are legal requirements translated into the military? How are these rules affected by politics? 

In this one-year interdisciplinary Master’s programme, you’ll learn how to ask the right questions to increase your understanding of the complexities involved in these dilemmas. These questions are legal, political and ethical at the same time. International law is not treated as an abstract set of rules, but as a professional practice. You’ll therefore study what it is to be a lawyer in a variety of professional contexts, including litigation, legal advisory and diplomatic negotiations. 

The programme is made up of four compulsory core courses, two electives and a Master’s thesis. We also offer interesting, related, extracurricular activities, such as the opportunity to be on the editorial board of the Amsterdam Law Forum. 

The start date of this programme is September 1st.


The core course on Theories and Approaches to War and Collective Security is about the transformation of war as a legal concept as well as a political reality. You’ll start with Medieval just war theories, moving through to the collective security system of the United Nations. You’ll learn about the Security Council, peacekeeping operations, private security companies, regional organisations and self-defence by states.  

The Security Studies course discusses the potential and limits of competing theoretical approaches to international security. You’ll become familiar with specific problems such as (counter) terrorism, new forms of warfare, new technologies of war, surveillance, migration and private security.

The International Humanitarian Law course covers the laws that apply in times of armed conflict, and the ways in which these are framed in academic, legal and policy debates. This includes targeting and protection of civilians, the law of military occupation, humanitarian aid in conflict, and environmental protection in war. You’ll hear from a former student who worked for the Red Cross in Palestine about how the law matters on a daily basis in areas of conflict.

The final core course is about the Politics of International Law, which looks at the different ways in which law and politics interact. The course devotes special attention to the political role and ethical dilemmas of legal advisors, while taking postcolonial perspectives into account. For example: when we look at humanitarian intervention from a postcolonial perspective, how does that help in understanding the invasion in Iraq?

In addition to these core courses, you’ll take two electives out of a choice of eight, including topics like international tribunals, terrorism and security, and the philosophy of international law and migration. For students who don’t have a background in International Relations Theory or Public International Law, we strongly recommend you to choose these two courses as electives.

Last but not least, your Master’s thesis starts with a thesis market in November at which faculty staff present their research. You’ll propose your own thesis topics, and you’ll then work on the selected topics in small groups, presenting your research via a series of ongoing meetings.


  • Master's Thesis - Law and Politics of International Security
  • Theories and Approaches to War and Collective Security
  • International Humanitarian Law
  • International Security Studies
  • The Politics of International Law

Please consult the Study Guide for more information

Research Talent Track

Are you looking for an extra academic challenge, next to this one-year Master's programme? Are you interested in research? The Research Talent Track might be a good fit for you as well. It’s a selective programme aimed at motivated and talented masterstudents who want to further develop their analytical research skills. You will learn and experience how to do scientific research. This will help you in deciding whether you want to pursue a career in the academic world, and/or will improve your opportunities on the labour market outside academia. 

More information 

Change your future with the Law and Politics of International Security programme

Change your future with the Law and Politics of International Security programme

On completing this Master’s programme, you can go on to become a legal advisor representing a range of different organisations, carry out humanitarian work for NGOs, work in various foreign ministries, or even become a litigation lawyer if you have a legal background from your Bachelor’s.

Alternatively, you could continue your research with a PhD after graduating from your Master’s.   

Explore your future prospects