International Relations

International Legal Research

Information about International Relations in free legal resources:

Treaties & Agreements

International Organizations

Jurisprudence $ Commentary

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IP Law

International Relations

Political Science: Fields in Political Science: International Relations

Introduction to International Relations

International relations is the study of the international system, which involves interactions between nations, international organizations, and multinational corporations. The two traditional approaches used by political scientists in the study of international relations are realism and liberalism (which is not the same as liberalism as a political ideology). Realism emphasizes the danger of the international system, where war is always a possibility and the only source of order is the balance of power. Liberalism is more idealistic and hopeful, emphasizing the problem-solving abilities of international institutions such as the United Nations and World Trade Organization. In 1991, after the Soviet Union dissolved and the Cold War ended, the balance of opinion briefly shifted in favor of liberalism, but realists were quick to point to the potential for future international conflicts.

Beginning in the 1980s constructivist political scientists asserted that the interests of nations and the character of their interactions are not fixed, but can be determined by policy makers. For example, for the past 50 years, U.S. policy makers have constructed the identity of Canada and Cuba in quite different ways. In spite of the fact that Canada and the United States were rivals in the early part of their history, during the 20th century the U.S. has established military and economic alliances with Canada and regards it as a close ally. In contrast, since Cuba’s 1959 revolution and subsequent adoption of Communist principles, the United States has treated Cuba as a potential threat to American national security. Many European nations and allies of the United States believe this fear is unwarranted. According to constructivist political scientists, the identities that U.S. policy makers have constructed for countries like Canada and Cuba help to determine whether the fears of realists or the hopes of liberals are more likely to be realized.” (1)

International Interactions

International Relations, the study and practice of political relationships among the world’s nations, especially their governments. International relations may also refer to the interactions between nongovernmental groups, such as multinational corporations (companies that operate in more than one country) or international organizations such as the Red Cross or the United Nations (UN).

International relations is a broad and complex topic both for countries engaged in relationships with other nations, and for observers trying to understand those interactions. These relationships are influenced by many variables. They are shaped by the primary participants in international relations, including national leaders, other politicians, and nongovernment participants, such as private citizens, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations. They are also affected by domestic political events and nonpolitical influences, including economics, geography, and culture. Despite all of these other influences, the primary focus of international relations is on the interactions between nations.

To understand these interactions, scholars look at the world as a system of nations whose actions are guided by a well-defined set of rules. Scholars call this system the interstate system. The interstate system has existed for less than 500 years and is based on a common understanding of what a nation is and how it should treat other nations. But recent changes in technology and international norms have caused some scholars to question whether this system will continue in the future, or be replaced by some other system of relationships that is not yet known.

Until the 1970s the study of international relations centered mainly on international security studies-that is, questions of war and peace. Scholars believed a nation’s military power was the most important characteristic in determining how that nation would relate to others. As a result, scholars focused on the relative military strength of one nation compared to others, alliances and diplomacy between nations, and the strategies nations used to protect their territories and further their own interests.

Since the 1970s the importance of economics in international relations has grown and the study of international political economy has received increased attention. Scholars in this field believe that the primary force driving the interaction between nations is economic, not military. They focus on trade and economic relations among nations, especially the political cooperation between nations to create and maintain international organizations which benefit all nations involved, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

In both security studies and international political economy, scholars strive to explain patterns of conflict and cooperation among nations. Conflicts among nations are inevitable since their political and economic aims and interests often diverge. Cooperation does not refer to the absence of conflict but to the ability of nations to peacefully resolve their differences in a way that is acceptable to all parties involved. When cooperation fails, conflicts often escalate into coercion and ultimately war.” (2)

Superpower Diplomacy

Note: there are several entries on the subject of Superpower Diplomacy in this legal Encyclopedia.

As an example of Superpower Diplomacy, a United States-Soviet Union declaration of “basic principles” of mutual relations was adopted on 29 May 1972. The following text is a brief excerpt from the declaration:

“The USA and the USSR attach major importance to preventing the development of situations capable of causing a dangerous exacerbation of their relations. Therefore, they will do their utmost to avoid military confrontations and to prevent the outbreak of nuclear war. They will always exercise restraint in their mutual relations, and will be prepared to negotiate and settle differences by peaceful means. Discussions and negotiations on outstanding issues will be conducted in a spirit of reciprocity, mutual accommodation and mutual benefit.

Both sides recognize that efforts to obtain unilateral advantage at the expense of the other, directly or indirectly, are inconsistent with these objectives. The prerequisites for maintaining and strengthening peaceful relations between the USA and the USSR are the recognition of the security interests of the Parties based on the principle of equality and the renunciation of the use or threat of force.”

Justice and the Rule of Law in International Relations

M.N.S. Sellers (2006; Justice and the Rule of Law in International Relations. In: Republican Principles in International Law. Palgrave Macmillan, London) wrote: “No inquiry into international law, and its place in the international order, can get very far (or make much sense) without a theory of what law is, and what makes the law worthwhile. The answer to both questions is this: the central element of law in every legal system — what makes law “law” as distinct from other systems of rules or coercion — is law’s claim to codify justice. All laws and legal systems claim to realize justice. Rules that do not claim justice cannot claim to be laws.1 This is not to say that all laws are just, but rather that all legal systems claim to be just, or to realize justice better than other available systems for mediating conflicts and regulating human society.”

International Relations


See Also

Further Reading


Notes and References

  1. Information about International Relations in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia
  2. Information about International Relations in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia

See Also

  • Arms Control
  • Disarmament
  • Balance of Power
  • Cold War
  • Cold War Origins
  • Cold War Termination
  • Containment
  • Deterrence
  • Internationalism
  • Nuclear Strategy
  • Nuclear Diplomacy
  • Power Politics.

Further Reading

  • N.J. Smelser and P.B. Baltes (eds.), The International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavorial Sciences. Elsevier. Oxford, 2001.
  • M.N.S. Sellers, The Sacred Fire of Liberty. Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke, England, 1998, pp. 84–85.

Hierarchical Display of International relations

International Relations > International affairs > International affairs
Trade > International trade > International trade
International Relations > International security > International security
International Relations > Cooperation policy > Cooperation policy > International cooperation
International Relations > Defence > Defence policy
Science > Humanities > Social sciences > Political science > Geopolitics

International relations

Concept of International relations

See the dictionary definition of International relations.

Characteristics of International relations


Translation of International relations

Thesaurus of International relations

International Relations > International affairs > International affairs > International relations
Trade > International trade > International trade > International relations
International Relations > International security > International security > International relations
International Relations > Cooperation policy > Cooperation policy > International cooperation > International relations
International Relations > Defence > Defence policy > International relations
Science > Humanities > Social sciences > Political science > Geopolitics > International relations

See also

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