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Erik Castrén and the Classical Doctrine of Civil War in International Law
Ville Kari (Helsinki)

  • Melbourne Law School 185 Pelham Street Carlton, VIC, 3053 Australia (map)
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The classical doctrine of civil war is sometimes examined as a historical prelude to the present laws of armed conflict and the use of force, but dedicated works on the subject have remained few. Yet only fifty years ago, a number of scholars still sought to perpetuate a tradition of legal thinking that differed quite remarkably from the one we recognize today. One of these was Erik Castrén, whose last monograph Civil War (1966) was published precisely at a time when international legal scholars vigorously pursued a new paradigm for internal conflicts.

The age of Castrén’s generation has passed; their work has more or less been forgotten and buried beneath new debates about humanitarian intervention and other concepts brought about by decolonization and the cold war. To the present-day reader, Erik Castrén’s international law of civil war appears in many ways as elusive, incomprehensible and plain strange.

But this sense of unearthing a more or less abandoned worldview of international law at a date as late as 1966 led Ville to ask why and how an entire tradition on the law of civil war had so suddenly come to appear all but desuetude. These questions have taken Ville Kari on a journey into the world of classical belligerency and neutrality in the context of civil wars.


Ville Kari is a Visiting Doctoral Fellow at the Laureate Program in International Law at Melbourne Law School in 2017. He is a postgraduate student of international law at the University of Helsinki and a Research Fellow at the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights. His thesis Erik Castrén and the Classical Doctrine of Civil War in International Law explores the rise and fall of the classical law of civil war, in particular through the concepts of belligerency and the recognition thereof. Observing the demise of these concepts alongside the age of sail and the law of neutrality, Ville hopes to shed new light on the dead end of the classical doctrine among international legal scholars between and after the world wars, when the teachings of elder scholars such as Erik Castrén rapidly gave way to new trends such as humanitarian intervention and international peacekeeping.