What is International Relations
International Relations is the study of the interaction of nation-states and non-governmental organizations in fields such as politics, economics, and security. It is a discipline that studies interactions between and among states, and more broadly, the workings of the international system as a whole. It can be conceived of either as a multidisciplinary field, gathering together the international aspects of politics, economics, history, law, and sociology, or as a meta‐discipline, focusing on the systemic structures and patterns of interaction of the human species taken as a whole. Exceptional economic integration, unprecedented threats to peace and security, and an international focus on human rights and environmental protection all speak to the complexity of international relations in the twenty-first century. This means the study of international relations must focus on interdisciplinary research that addresses, anticipates, and ultimately solves public policy problems.
Since its inception, international relations has been defined in many ways. However, in simple terms, it can be defined as political activities and other kinds and aspects of interactions among two or more states. Writers differ greatly upon the definition of the subject. It appears quite natural, as Stanley Hoffman says, “How could one agree once and for all upon the definition of a field whose scope is in constant flux, indeed, a field whose fluctuation is one of its principal characteristics”. As such, international relations cannot be defined in any generally acceptable way.
ü Prof. Charles Schleicher defines international relations as the relation among States.
ü Quincy Wright defines international relations as “relations between groups of major importance in the life of the world at any period of history.”
ü According to Prof. Hans J. Morgenthau, international relations is a struggle for power among nations.
ü Norman Podelford and George Lincoln define international relations as the interaction of State politics with the changing pattern of power relationships.
ü Padelford and Lincoin define it as the “Interactions of state policies within the changing patterns of power relationships”.
However, a good working definition of international relations is given by Harold and Margaret Sprout. They define international relations as “those aspects of interactions and relations of independent political communities in which some element of opposition, resistance or conflict of purpose or interest is present.”
International relations has a broad purpose in contemporary society, as it seeks to understand:
ü The origins of war and the maintenance of peace
ü The nature and exercise of power within the global system
ü The changing character of state and non-state actors who participate in international decision-making
For example, some institutions may study the psychological and social-psychological reasoning behind the actions of foreign policymakers, while others may focus their international studies on the institutional processes that contribute to the goals and behaviors of states. Ultimately, the area of international relations studied depends on the goals or objectives of the organization.
Value in a Globalized Society
Although international relations has taken on a new significance because of our increasingly interconnected world, it is certainly not a new concept. Historically, the establishment of treaties between nations served as the earliest form of international relations.
The study and practice of international relations in today’s world is valuable for many reasons:
ü International relations promotes successful trade policies between nations.
ü International relations encourages travel related to business, tourism, and immigration, providing people with opportunities to enhance their lives.
ü International relations allows nations to cooperate with one another, pool resources, and share information as a way to face global issues that go beyond any particular country or region. Contemporary global issues include pandemics, terrorism, and the environment.
ü International relations advances human culture through cultural exchanges, diplomacy and policy development.
Theories and Principles
International relations may be an offshoot of political science, but this field of study is exceptionally in-depth in its own right. As our global society evolves and expands, international relations will evolve and expand along with it as we continue to explore new and exciting way to link our complex world.
For example, traditional dimensions of international relations related to international peace and prosperity include topics such as international diplomacy, arms control, and alliance politics. Contemporary studies in international relations, on other hand, include topics such as international political economics, environmental politics, refugee and migration issues, and human rights.
Approaches to the study of IR refer to the ways by which issues in international politics are viewed. These are broad contending schools of thought, which sharpen perspectives, as well as analysis and the study of IR. These are idealism, liberalism and realism.
The idealist approach is that which strengthens the view that international politics is not about a theatre of war. It regards the relationship that exists between states as one that does not necessarily create disorder and descent into anarchy. The idealist school is premised on the Wilsonian theory that peace and order can reign in an international system of politics, that is, where there are conscious and sustained efforts to maintain order. Man as a social being is thus a moral being, and with law to guide the relations and control boundaries, coupled with education which nourishes and ennobles the soul, as well as the presence of a system of law, man can live without anarchy.
Idealism as a school of thought gained currency after President Woodrow Wilson of the United
States who, after the First World War, presented some ideals that can promote global mutual understanding, peace and order. His 14-point Agenda for global peace was a monumental pathway for the creation of an international organization and an enduring international legal order aimed at minimizing international conflict, promoting cooperation among peoples as well as preventing another global chaos as was the case from 1914 to 1918.
Idealism has its antecedents. As early as the 14th century, the Italian poet, Dante had written of the “Universality of Man” in which he envisioned a unified world state. Immanuel Kant had also articulated that ‘doing good’ was an end unto itself, an ideal that gave rise to the moral suasion aspect of international relations. The Chinese, during the reign of the Chou dynasty in the ancient times, had attempted to create a world state in the Orients. Ancient and medieval empires and civilizations such as the Egyptians of North Africa, Assyrians and Persians in the Middle East, Aztecs and Incas of South and Central America, as well as the Roman Empire of Europe, had attempted to establish a world state.
The idealist school is thus a fundamental prism to look at international relations. Its core submission is that the international system will ultimately transit from the system that it is though a community, into an international society. It stresses the central role of international law, international morality and international organization in the transition. It is pertinent to note that, the idealist school is an expanding one, which is attractive to a growing number of IR scholars that believe that the world is, with globalization and order created by the United Nations and the many international institutions springing up to bring peoples and actions together in coordinates, already transiting to a world society.
It is the IR school that is pessimistic about moral suasion in international politics. The realist argument begins with the natures of politics and man. Politics, which principally means the determination of who gets what, when and how, or the authoritative allocation (sharing) of values (resources), gives little or no room for morality or best behaviour. Moreover, man is by nature selfish and aggressive, and on a matter that involves the sharing of scarce resources over which all are contending, law and order or moral consciousness would be the last recourse. Politics is thus the opposite of morality. Talking about morality and law in “politics” therefore translates to putting a square peg in a round hole: they do not go together.
Against this background, the realist school holds that international relations or politics and by implication the international system have the tendency to be anarchical. Hobbes sums it up this way: bellum omnium contra omnes or the war of all against all. There may be aggravated anarchy because of three overriding issues that characterize inter-state relation: national interest, national power and military strategy. Indeed, realists focus on these three in their analysis bearing in mind that historical experience has demonstrated these tendencies, and the system continues to show the tendencies.
National interest, a set of objectives a nation has articulated as its principal targets in its external relations, is a primary factor in international politics. Morgenthau (1962) who has extended the frontiers of political realism in his groundbreaking Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, argues that the main push factor for states in the international community is their uncompromised interest and that consequently, the ambitions of states or the clashes of national interests have made international politics a fertile ground for conflict. National interest is not only an end in itself; it is also a means to an end. National power is the ultimate aim of states. Power here refers to national values, economic riches, or national wealth and the occupation of a vantage position in the international community. Power also thus becomes an end in itself as well as a means to an end too.
To actualize their interest or gain such value, states conceive of strategic roles to occupy in international politics. This is the national role conception (NRC) which is done at the foreign policymaking stage (Holsti, 1987). Role conception is a crucial stage in foreign policy as it determines the level of achievement of a state as well as the success or failure of its foreign policy (Folarin, 2010). It is during the role conception stage that variants such as military strategy for the purpose of the pursuit of national power, is considered.
Power thus becomes a scarce but essential commodity for which every state searches. For realists, the conflict of interest, collision of roles, and struggle for power thus make the international system prone to conflict and anarchy. This is why political realism is often referred to as ‘power politics’ as it strongly views international politics as essentially and solely the pursuit or struggle for power among states.
Power politics or the realist paradigm or approach as espoused over the centuries by Sun Tzu, Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, E.H. Carr, Von Clausewitz and Hans Morgenthau, among others, contends that the international environment is anarchic and as such national security is the ultimate interest or goal in such an environment. Nations are thus impelled to make rational power calculations n pursuit of national security such that countries satisfied with the international status quo work towards its sustenance; those dissatisfied with it tend to be expansionist; while friendship or enmity (alliances) are based on the reality of the situation as it affects national interest (realpolitik). For them, international organization is not borne out of any kind of moral suasion but realpolitik: alliances and ephemeral friendships for the purpose of balance of power capable of deterring would-be aggressors or predators in the global system.
Machiavelli’s words aptly summarize the school of realism:
“He will prosper most whose mode of acting best adapts itself to the character of the times; and conversely that he will be unprosperous, with whose mode of acting the times do not accord.”
Liberalist approach in international politics flows from the broad liberal ideology which tends to describe the international system as a group of states and non-state actors whose inevitable mutual interdependence ultimately requires social, legal and economic order for states to fully realize their goals. The liberal school tends to marry some aspects of both the realist and idealist schools. The liberal paradigm agrees with the notion the notion of vulnerability of the international system because of conflicting interests, but sees the need for the establishing of law and order coupled with the organization of states into groups as the most effective way to avert anarchy.
The liberalists see a strong bond in democracy, peace, commerce, law, institutions and alliances and the import of all these in the prevention of conflict and anarchy. The focal point of this perspective is that democratic systems are more likely to promote an international environment of peace, friendship and cooperation that will promote a prosperous commerce and trade. To strengthen this kind of auspicious environment, a legal system is required which can be best achieved by international grouping.
With firm structure on ground to see to the implementation of agreements and enforcement of law, nations will maintain the peaceful status quo. Strong economic and military alliances are also encouraged as these would see to joint actions in economic development and collective security measures to ward of agents of destabilization. According to Jumarang (2011), liberalism believes in the measurement of power through state economies, the possibility of peace and cooperation, as well as the concepts of political freedoms, rights and the like, an idea shared by Fukuyama in his classic, End of History and the Last Man (1992) that western liberal democracy is the final form of human government.
The liberalist school therefore sees the ‘realism’ in anarchy if the system is not well managed. It however believes that managing the anarchic situation is possible when such groups as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), European Union (EU) or even the United Nations (UN) are in place to prevent critical economic or security situations.