History of International Law at Fletcher

The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy began teaching international law when it was founded in 1933, a year of crisis and turmoil. The German Reichstag was set afire, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor, and the Nazis’ first concentration camp opened at Dachau. In the United States, countless unemployed stood in soup lines. The world was soon enveloped in the dual catastrophes of the Second World War and the Great Depression.

 Over the following seven decades, the historic approach of The Fletcher School ― the oldest graduate school of international affairs in the United States ― has continued to examine international law within the context of often turbulent international relations. The “Fletcher School” of international law and diplomacy, as it has come to be known, has been concerned with how policymakers act in the world and what impact their actions have. It has viewed with skepticism the idealistic supposition that all international law generates compliance, and the formalistic assumption that international law is merely a set of rules. Instead, it has focused on the practical implications of international rules, principles, and institutions, and explored the interrelationship between law and other disciplines. It has asked fundamental questions about whether law matters to the conduct of international affairs, and if so, why.

Over the years these themes have been expounded by a line of household names in international law who have taught at Fletcher, including Roscoe Pound, Leo Gross, Hans Kelsen, Julius Stone, Walter Sterling Surrey, Philip Warren Thayer, Robert Hudec, Keith Highet and Louis Sohn.

A network of thousands of alumni ― including hundreds of lawyers ― has benefited from their knowledge and insight. These former students are now leaders in business, law, government and the non-profit sector in countries around the world.

Fletcher’s new LL.M. program carries this tradition forward into the 21st century. It provides a first-rate education in international law for individuals poised to move into leadership roles in law, politics and business. It affords lawyers practicing in traditional fields an opportunity to re-focus their careers on international law and policy. And it does so with a truly global perspective.

 At Fletcher, international law students study with others from around the world. Fletcher students represent over 85 developing and industrialized countries, and fully three-quarters of the students in the LL.M. program come from outside the United States. They come with backgrounds not only in law but also in economics, history, government, science and other disciplines.