Stephen Sharp Queener is a senior studying international relations and minoring in German studies. A member of the international relations honors program, Stephen’s studies focus around analyzing the relationships between political interests & international law, international organizations, and the pursuit of international justice. He currently works with Professor David Cohen, investigating the history and legacy of transitional justice mechanisms in Timor-Leste, and has previous research experience in genocide studies, working under Stanford History Professor Norman Naimark and as a visiting student fellow at the Institute for Diaspora and Genocide Studies in Bochum, Germany. Originally from Santa Barbara, CA, Stephen’s interests outside of the classroom include skateboarding, playing guitar, and reading German philosophy. Post-graduation, he hopes to travel to Germany to pursue a master’s degree in human rights at the Friedrich Alexander University in Nuremberg.
The Political Power of the Ban on War: Development, Practice, and a Defense of Legalism
Advisor: David Cohen
What is the focus of your current research?
My research focuses on the historical development and use of the jus ad bellum, the international law that governs the use of force in international relations. The current literature is filled with pessimistic perspectives, viewing the law in a state of complete collapse thanks to the new conflicts of the 21st century, raising questions about the point of the law altogether, and if it all still represents its roots in the Nuremberg tribunal and UN charter. My work hopes to contest these perspectives by showing how the law is still functioning as designed, being a permissive tool that legitimates uses of force.
What drew you to this topic?
I fell in love with studying international law during my sophomore summer while taking a class with Professor Cohen. For my final paper, I investigated the drafting and interpretation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, one of the first major international human rights covenants, and was intrigued by how vagueness and poor wordings in international treaties were often the direct result of high levels of political contestation. For my thesis, I sought to “up the ante” on this line of observation by investigating one of the most vague and hard to interpret sources of international law, the jus ad bellum.
How are you conducting your research?
My research currently consists of two parts: a historical analysis of the jus ad bellum’s key development points, and a textual and quantitative analysis of UNGA resolutions condemning uses of force. In both, I am trying to see if the empirical evidence lies up better with liberal institutionalist characterizations of the history and power and the jus ad bellum as a constraint on the use of force, or new constructivist claims that the law’s primary purpose is to permit and legitimate it instead. For my historical research, I draw upon secondary literature on the jus ad bellum’s development. For my UNGA analysis, I am working to construct my own custom dataset.
What would people be surprised to learn about the topic you are working on?
One thing that consistently surprises people when I explain my topic is often firstly, that there actually exists a body of international law which gives guidelines for acceptable initiations of international military force, and secondly, that there is evidence to suggest that these guidelines have the power to shape how even the most powerful states use their military force, even if it cannot constrain its total occurrence.
In your view, why is it valuable to study this topic?
Studying my topic immediately leads one to question a lot of basic assumptions about the modern international system, as well as the role of “law” and “international justice” therein. As I dug through the literature over the summer, I was constantly being thrown between \a wide set of interpretations of the law, from condemnations of all uses of force, to arguments that were laudatory towards the occurrence of armed conflicts as being the law in practice. It forced me to question for whom the jus ad bellum was actually designed for: to protect people from the horrors of conflict, or to allow powerful states to legalize their actions.
How is your honors thesis impacting you academically and/or personally?
Balancing everything that Stanford throws at you is no easy task. Fitting a thesis on top of it is an active practice in time-commitment. While this fall has been a crunch so far, as I finish the rest of my graduation requirements, my honors thesis has already been crucial in helping me think more about what it was that I want to do with my career and academic interests going forward, and I have no doubt that it will continue to do so as I begin to dedicate more and more time to it in the months to come.
How do you anticipate the fellowship will be able to support your research?
Being a part of the fellowship will be a major boost to my research process. Access to the humanities center will give my research a physical home to develop and grow within. Additionally, being a part of a cohort of similarly driven and deeply passionate students will be a constant source of encouragement and inspiration as the work continues.