Professor of War and Peace

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Research Interests

Stephen Neff's primary research interest is the history of public international law. He is the author of a book on the historical development of international economic law. His current focus is the history of the law of neutrality. Another major interest is international human rights law, from both the academic and the practical standpoints.


Dr Stephen Neff's Homepage at Edinburgh Law School

Research Interests

Stephen Neff's primary research interest is the history of public international law. He is the author of a book on the historical development of international economic law. His current focus is the history of the law of neutrality. Another major interest is international human rights law, from both the academic and the practical standpoints.


Dr Stephen Neff's Homepage at Edinburgh Law School

Courses Taught

International Law Ordinary (semester 1) (Ordinary) (Course Organiser)

Inter-state Conflict and Humanitarian Law (LLM) (Course Organiser)

PhD Supervisees

Darin Clearwater  'Taming Technology: An examination of the scope of the crime of aggression, with a specific focus on inter-State cyber attacks'

Sheng-Feng Huang  'Military Occupation, Decolonization, Self-Determination and Statehood of Taiwan'

Xinxiang Shi  'Diplomatic Immunities Ratione Materiae under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations: Towards a Coherent Interpretation'

Books and Reports

Stephen Neff, Justice Among Nations: A History of International Law, (Harvard University Press, 2014)
Abstract: Justice among Nations tells the story of the rise of international law and how it has been formulated, debated, contested, and put into practice from ancient times to the present. Stephen Neff avoids technical jargon as he surveys doctrines from natural law to feminism, and practice from the Warring States of China to the international criminal courts of today. Ancient China produced the first rudimentary set of doctrines. But the cornerstone of later international law was laid by the Romans, in the form of natural law—a universal law that was superior to early laws and governments. As medieval European states came into contact with non-Christian peoples, from East Asia to the New World, practical solutions had to be devised to the many legal quandaries that arose. In the wake of these experiences, international legal doctrine began to assume its modern form in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. New challenges in the nineteenth century encompassed the advance of nationalism, the rise of free trade and European imperialism, the formation of international organizations, and the arbitration of disputes. Innovative doctrines included liberalism, the nationality school, and solidarism. The twentieth century witnessed the formation of the League of Nations and a World Court, but also the rise of socialist and fascist states and the advent of the Cold War. Yet the collapse of the Soviet Union brought little respite. As Neff makes clear, further threats to the rule of law today come from environmental pressures, genocide, and terrorism.

Stephen Neff, Hugo Grotius, Hugo Grotius On the Law of War and Peace: Student Edition, (Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Stephen Neff, Justice in Blue and Gray: A Legal History of the Civil War, (Harvard University Press, 2010)
Abstract: Stephen Neff offers the first comprehensive study of the wide range of legal issues arising from the American Civil War, many of which resonate in debates to this day. Neff examines the lawfulness of secession, executive and legislative governmental powers, and laws governing the conduct of war. Whether the United States acted as a sovereign or a belligerent had legal consequences, including treating Confederates as rebellious citizens or foreign nationals in war. Property questions played a key role, especially when it came to the process of emancipation. Executive detentions and trials by military commissions tested civil liberties, and the end of the war produced a raft of issues on the status of the Southern states, the legality of Confederate acts, clemency, and compensation. A compelling aspect of the book is the inclusion of international law, as Neff situates the conflict within the general laws of war and details neutrality issues, where the Civil War broke important new legal ground. This book not only provides an accessible and informative legal portrait of this critical period but also illuminates how legal issues arise in a time of crisis, what impact they have, and how courts attempt to resolve them.

Stephen Neff, War and the Law of Nations: A General History, (Cambridge University Press, 2005)
Abstract: This volume is a history of war, from the standpoint of international law, from the beginning of history to the present day. Its primary focus is on legal conceptions of war as such, rather than on the substantive or technical aspects of the law of war. It tells the story, in narrative form, of the interplay, through the centuries, between, on the one hand, legal ideas about war and, on the other hand, state practice in warfare. Its coverage includes reprisals, civil wars, UN enforcement and the war on terrorism. This book will interest historians, students of international relations and international lawyers.

Stephen Neff, The Rights and Duties of Neutrals: A General History, (Manchester University Press, 2000)
Abstract: A survey of the history of law of neutrality from its mediaeval roots to the end of the 20th century. The theme is the eternal clash between the rights of neutrals and belligerents - between the right of belligerents to defeat their enemies, and the right of neutrals to trade freely with all parties. Over the centuries, belligerent powers have devised various legal means of restricting neutrals from trading with their enemies, such as the law of blockade and contraband carriage. At the same time, neutral traders have done their best to evade and circumvent these restrictions. This book traces the evolution of state practice, together with the debates over the relevant doctrinal issues and the various attempts to reform and codify the law of neutrality.

Stephen Neff, Sri Lanka: The Activities of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry in Respect of Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), (International Commission of Jurists, Geneva, 1991)

Stephen Neff, Friends But No Allies: Economic Liberalism and the Law of Nations, (Columbia University Press, 1990)
Abstract: A study of the historical and intellectual context of the struggle for a liberal economic world order and an elucidation of the post-war world economic system and its principal institutions the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the World Bank and the IMF. The final chapter includes commentary on the Arab oil crisis of the 1970s.


Stephen C. Neff, 'Disrupting a delicate balance: The Allied Blockade Policy and the Law of Maritime Neutrality during the Great War', (2018), European Journal of International Law, Vol 29, pp 459-475
Abstract: The law of neutrality as it stood in 1914 was a set of compromises that had evolved from past practices, most notably regarding the law of blockade. During World War I, the Allied (predominantly British) economic warfare policy could not comprise classic close blockading as in previous conflicts. As a result, various specific policies were devised that, in combination, were designed to have much the same material impact and, therefore, to operate as a functional equivalent to traditional blockading. The lawfulness of each of these component policies was determined by the law of neutrality as it had evolved up to 1914, as embodied most notably in the (unratified) Declaration of London of 1909. Six major legal strategies were devised. Contraband lists were expanded beyond the limits stated in the Declaration, enabling goods to be captured anywhere on the high seas. There was also a reclaiming of traditional, pre-Declaration rights, amounting effectively to a repudiation of the compromises and concessions that had gone into the making of the Declaration. The use of existing traditional belligerents' rights was extended, most notably in the area of visit and search. Rigorous use was made of the continuous-voyage principle, most notably with the application of the principle to conditional, as well as to absolute, contraband (contrary to the terms of the Declaration of London). The principle of reprisal was invoked to justify measures that were barred by the inherited law of neutrality. Finally, various sovereign-right measures were employed, most notably navicerting and blacklisting. Debates over the lawfulness of these measures occurred during the conflict and continued afterwards. The basic conflict was between a focus on the adherence to specific rules and a focus on the adherence to the deeper principles that arguably underlay the surface rules.

Stephen Neff, 'Review of Maartje Abbenhuis, "An Age of Neutrals: Great Power Politics, 1815-1914" ', (2017), Journal of Modern History, Vol 89, pp 159-160

Stephen Neff, 'Heresy in action: James Lorimer’s dissident views on war and neutrality', (2016), European Journal of International Law, Vol 27, pp 477–492
Abstract: Lorimer’s positions on issues of war and neutrality were rooted in his commitment to natural law. This included, crucially, an insistence on individuals acting in a dual capacity – as citizens of their states and also as members of the larger global community. At the same time, Lorimer was committed to a traditional just war doctrine and, in particular, to the principle that, in a given conflict, only one side can be right. This notion led him, in turn, to take a principled negative view of neutrality, in contrast to the prevailing positivist tendency in international law, which was to look with approval on neutrality. On the specific subject of contraband of war, he maintained that there could be no fixed division between contraband and non-contraband goods. He was doubtful that the cardinal neutral duty of impartiality could realistically be applied. He also doubted the feasibility of a code-of-conduct approach to the law on the conduct of war and on neutrality, insisting instead (consistently with his just war approach) that necessity was the foundation of belligerents’ rights. Lorimer was also an outspoken opponent of the Washington Rules on neutrality that had been crafted by the USA and Britain in 1871. He objected to the restrictions in these rules on the freedom of individuals to contract with belligerent powers as well as to the imposition of a duty on the part of neutral states to police the activities of their nationals.

Stephen Neff, 'Review of Umut Ȍzsu, Formalizing Displacement: International Law and Population Transfers (Oxford University Press, 2015) ', (2016), European Journal of International Law

Stephen Neff, 'The dormancy, rise and decline of fundamental liberties of states ', (2016), Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol 4, pp 482–500
Abstract: Fundamental liberties of states, if they exist, should be seen essentially as analogues of civil liberties in national legal systems, ie, as ‘privileges’ in the sense in which Hohfeld employed that term. In the natural-law era, there was no room for any conception of fundamental liberties of states, since natural law was basically a law of duties rather than of rights. Only with Hobbes did the idea arise of a rights-based natural law. In the eighteenth century, Wolff and Vattel advanced the idea of a duty of states to strive towards perfection—but this was a duty rather than a liberty. Only in the positivist era of the nineteenth century, with its strongly state-centred ethos and its stress on the independence of states, did a concept of fundamental liberties of states emerge, with various lists proposed by various authors. Even there, the idea was meaningful only in the context of legislative (as opposed to a contractual) picture of customary international law. Various positivist writers advanced lists of fundamental liberties. Some positivist writers, however, such as Westlake, opposed the idea, as did Kelsen later. Nor is there significant support for the idea in state practice. Repudiations of treaties, most notably, have not entailed an invocation of fundamental liberties. Neither self-defence nor non-intervention qualifies as a liberty. Similarly, neither the principle of freedom (from the Lotus case), nor the persistent objector principle lend support to the concept of fundamental liberties of states.

Stephen Neff, 'Anver M Emon, Islamic Natural Law Theories ', (2013), Edinburgh Law Review, Vol 17, pp 442-44

Stephen Neff, 'Secession and Breach of Compact: The Law of Nature Meets the United States Constitution', (2012), Akron Law Review, Vol 45, pp 405-29

Stephen Neff, 'The Nature of Customary International Law. By Amanda Perreau-Saussine and James Bernard Murphy (Editors) ', (2008), British Yearbook of International Law, Vol 79, pp 403-05

Stephen Neff, 'James Stephen's 'War in Disguise': The Story of a Book', (2003), Irish Jurist, Vol 38, pp 331-51

Stephen Neff, 'International Law and Nuclear Weapons in Scottish Courts ', (2002), International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Vol 51, pp 171-76
Abstract: Britain's Trident nuclear missile programme has long been politically controversial. In 1999, the controversy entered the judicial arena in Scotland, in two cases involving ‘direct action’ against Trident installations by anti-nuclear activists. In both cases, the actions were intended not as protests against Britain's nuclear-weapons policy, but rather as actual operations to disable the weapons themselves. The acts were, in other words, in the nature of acts of sabotage. Both incidents led to criminal prosecutions. In both cases, the accused parties sought to use international law as a defence. In both cases, the Appeal Court of the High Court of Justiciary—the highest court for criminal cases in Scotland—rejected the defence. In the process, however, the Appeal Court had occasion to expound upon some controversial points regarding nuclear weapons. Each of these cases will be discussed in turn.

Stephen Neff, 'Idealism on Appeal: The Lord Advocate's Reference on British Nuclear Policy', (2001), Edinburgh Law Review, Vol 5, pp 355-61
Abstract: International law does not authorise self-help action of a criminal character for the prevention of international crimes.

Stephen Neff, 'Heath Pearson, Origins of Law and Economics: The Economists' New Science of Law, 1830-1930 (Cambridge: University Press, 1997) ', (2000), Edinburgh Law Review, Vol 4, pp 120-22

Stephen Neff, 'Idealism in Action: Nuclear Weapons and International Law in the Greenock Sheriff Court', (2000), Edinburgh Law Review, Vol 4, pp 74-86

Stephen Neff, 'Sharon Korman, The Right of Conquest: The Acquisition of Territory by Force in International Law and Practice (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) ', (1997), Edinburgh Law Review, Vol 1, pp 514-16

Stephen Neff, 'The Prerogatives of Violence: In Search of the Conceptual Foundations of Belligerents' Rights', (1997), German Yearbook of International Law, Vol 38, pp 41-72

Stephen Neff, 'Towards a Law of Unarmed Conflict: A Proposal for a New International Law of Hostility ', (1995), Cornell International Law Journal, Vol 28

Stephen Neff, 'Economic Warfare in Contemporary International Law ', (1989), Stanford Journal of International Law, Vol 26, pp 67-92

Stephen Neff, 'Boycott and the Law of Nations: Economic Warfare and Modern International Law in Historical Perspective', (1988), British Yearbook of International Law, Vol 59, pp 113-49

Stephen Neff, 'Human Rights in Africa: Thoughts on the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights in the Light of Case Law from Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland', (1984), International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Vol 33, pp 331-47

Stephen Neff, 'Decline and Emergence: Roman Law and the Transition from Antiquity to Feudalism', (1984), Journal of Legal History, Vol 5, pp 91-116

Stephen Neff, 'The Role of Developing Countries in the International Monetary System ', (1982), Review of International Studies, Vol 8, pp 99-115
Abstract: The present international monetary regime has been characterized as a ‘non-system’, an assessment containing an important element of truth from both the economic and juridical standpoints. Indeed, the (more or less) freely floating exchange rate regime which has prevailed in fact since the upheavals of 1971–73 and in law since 1978 is not so much a system as a collective admission that no system is really feasible in the context of the present world economy. A close look at the present order, however, reveals a very interesting phenomenon the importance of which, unfortunately, is sometimes obscured because it is not reflected in any formal legal structure: this is the de facto division of the world into a two-tier order consisting of industrialized states on the one hand, which generally maintain flexible exchange rates, and developing countries on the other hand, which typically have chosen to fix their exchange rates (either against one of the major currencies, or else against a basket of currencies).

Stephen Neff, 'The Law of Economic Coercion: Lessons from the Past and Indications of the Future', (1981), Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, Vol 20, pp 411-37

Stephen Neff, 'The UN Code of Conduct for Liner Conferences ', (1980), Journal of World Trade, Vol 14, pp 398-423

Stephen Neff, 'An Evolving International Legal Norm of Religious Freedom: Problems and Prospects', (1977), California Western International Law Journal, Vol 7, pp 543-590


Stephen Neff, 'A three-fold struggle over neutrality The American experience in the 1930s' in Pascal Lottaz, Herbert R Reginbogin (ed.) Notions of Neutralities (Lexington Books 2018)

Stephen Neff, 'Grotius on the law of armed conflict ' in Randall Lesaffer (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Hugo Grotius (Cambridge University Press 2018)

Stephen Neff, 'Jurisprudential Polyphony Three Variations on the Positivist Theme in the 19th Century' in Pierre-Marie Dupuy, Vincent Chetail (ed.) The Roots of International Law (Martinus Nijhoff 2013) 301-34

Stephen Neff, 'Vattel and the Laws of War A Tale of Three Circles' in Vincent Chetail, Peter Haggenmacher (ed.) Vattel's International Law in a XXIst Century Perspective (Brill 2011) 317-33

Stephen Neff, 'United Kingdom ' in Dinah Shelton (ed.) International Law and Domestic Legal Systems (Oxford University Press 2011) 620-30

Stephen Neff, 'Prisoners of War in International Law The Nineteenth Century' in Sibylle Scheipers (ed.) Prisoners in War (Oxford University Press 2010) 57-73

Stephen Neff, 'The Hague Peace Conferences and a Century of Further Struggles ' in Thomas Giegerich (ed.) A Wiser Century? (Duncker & Humblot 2009) 61-87

Stephen Neff, 'Peace and Prosperity Commercial Aspects of Peacemaking' in Randall Lesaffer (ed.) Peace Treaties and International Law in European History (Cambridge University Press 2004) 365-81

Stephen Neff, 'A Short History of International Law ' in Malcolm D. Evans (ed.) International Law (Oxford University Press 2003) 31-58

Stephen Neff, 'Human Rights Mechanisms in the United Kingdom ' in Kamel Hossain, Leonard F. M. Besselink, Haile Selassie Gebre Selassie, Edmond Volker (ed.) Human Rights Commissions and Ombudsman Offices (Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000) 667-89

Stephen Neff, 'International Law and the Critique of Cosmopolitan Citizenship ' in Kimberly Hutchings, Roland Dannreuther (ed.) Cosmopolitan Citizenship (Basingstoke: Macmillan 1999) 105-19

Stephen Neff, 'Past and Future Lessons from the ad hoc Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda ' in Peter J. Cullen (ed.) Crime sans frontières (Edinburgh University Press 1998) 58-72

Stephen Neff, William Gilmore, 'On Scotland, Europe and Human Rights ' in Hector MacQueen (ed.) Scots Law into the 21st Century (W. Green / Sweet & Maxwell 1996) 265-76

Stephen Neff, 'Rescue Across State Boundaries International Legal Aspects of Rescue' in Michael Menlowe, Alexander McCall Smith (ed.) The Duty to Rescue (Dartmouth 1993) 159-204