Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Law, War and the State of the American Exception

01 September 2007 - 31 July 2010

The idea that 9/11 ushered in a Schmittian 'state of exception', where the normal rules of international society were necessarily suspended in order to achieve international security, is prevalent within the recent literature on International Law / Relations.  In the post-9/11 state of exception, the 'war on terror' is understood as a 'new kind of war' rather than a conventional armed conflict. Counter-terrorist methods that were once considered illegal under international law (e.g. pre-emptive or preventive war, indefinite detention, torture and targeted killings) are thus notionally legitimised by these exceptions.  The central question driving the proposed research is whether the post-9/11 exception has now become the norm in US security policy and what this means for English School (ES) understandings of war as an institution of international society.  It has three objectives:

1. to develop the ES theoretical framework.  The literature dealing with the question of how America's 'war on terror' has changed international society as understood by ES scholars is rather thin.  The first objective is to address this gap by using Schmitt's notion of the 'state of exception'.

2. to explore the policy implications of a critical assessment of the Schmittian reading of America's War on Terror. In relating Schmitt's reading of international law to ES theory, this project builds on initial findings to provide a critical assessment of his work in this area. The hypothesis to be tested is that a cosmopolitan / republican approach that is more respectful of the duties imposed by international society is immanent within American liberalism, and that Schmitt's account of liberal war is only relevant 'when liberalism is hijacked by nationalistic projects that find vindication in being the advanced guard of a universal ideal' (Ralph, 2008a).

3. to explore the continuing impact of exceptionalist thinking.  If policy alternatives are immanent in American liberalism it is by no means certain that they will be politically significant.  The third objective is to engage in a detailed empirical analysis of US policy after Bush.  To the extent exceptionalist ideas were significant during the Bush administration and remain so afterwards, the project assesses the impact on ES understandings of war as an institution of international society.

Project Publications

Journal Articles 

Ralph, J. (forthcoming) The Laws of War and the State of the American Exception. Review of International Studies.

Ralph, J. (forthcoming) Which Cosmopolitanism? Whose Empire? Or why the Schmittian charge of 'Liberal Imperialism' is only half right, Global Society.

Ralph, J. (forthcoming) To usher in a new paradigm? President Bush's foreign policy legacy, in Jon Herbert and Andy Wroe Assessing the George W. Bush Presidency: A Tale of Two Terms (Edinburgh University Press, 2009).

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