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Sunday, April 1, 2012



The study of relations among nations has fascinated scholars for several centuries. However, the term international was first used by Jeremy Bantham in the latter part of the eighteenth century, although its Latin equivalent intergentes was used a century earlier by Rijchare Zouche. Both of them had used this term in respect of that branch of law which was called law of nations, which later became 'International Law'. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, international relations have grown rapidly. Today nation-states have become far too interdependent; and relations among them whether political or those related to trade and commerce, have developed into an essential area of knowledge. In this unit, we are mainly concerned with the political relations among sovereign societies called nations, or nation-states.

No nation is an island. Because domestic policies are constantly affected by developments outside, nations are compelled to (rather than sit on the fence or out-rightly isolate themselves) enter into dialogue with target or initiating entities or form alliance(s) for the purpose of enhancing their status quo, or increasing their power or prestige and survival in' the international system. Because international relations is in transition following emerging realities in the international system, it has become complex and even more difficult arriving at a more universally acceptable definition of the subject. But this is not peculiar to international relations as there are more intense disagreements over the definition of political sciences itself. Nevertheless scholars have persisted in their attempt to define international relations.

International Relations and International politics

In most cases international relations and international relations are interchangeably found to have been used. The first Chair in International Relations was established at the university of Wales. (U.K) in 1919. The first two occupants of the chair were eminent historians, Professors Alfred Zin~merna nd C.K. Webster. At that time, International Relations as a subject was little more than diplomatic history. During the next seven decades this subject has changed in nature and content. Today the analytical study of politics has replaced descriptive diplomatic history. The term International politics is now used for the new discipline that has been emerging since the second world war. It is more scientific, yet narrow, as compared to International RelationsThe two terms are even now sometimes used as synonyms. But, they have two distinct areas, or content, of study. Hans Morgenthau believes that "the core of international relations is international politics", but a clear distinction between the two is to be made. International Relations, according to him, is much wider in scope than International Politics. Whereas politics among nations is, as Morgenthau says, struggle for power, international relations includes political, economic and cultural relations. Harold and Margaret Sprout opine that international relations include all human behaviour on one s~d eof a national boundary affecting the human behavior on the other side of the boundary. on the other hand, deals with conflicts and cooperation among nations essentially at political level. As Padelford and Lincoln define it, international politics is the interaction of state policies within the changing pattern of power relationship. Palmer and Perkins express similar views when they say that international politics is essentially concerned with the state system. Since international relations includes all types of relationships between sovereign states, it is wider, and international politics is narrower in scope. As students of IR, we shall indeed examine political conflicts and cooperation among states. But, we stiall also study other aspect of relations among nations as well including pconomic inter-action and role of the non-state actor.


Trevor Taylor (1979) defines International Relations as "a discipline, which tries to explain political activities across state boundaries".

According to Ola, Joseph (1999), "International relations are the study of all forms of interactions that exist between members of separate entities or nations within the international system".

Seymon Brown (1988) thus defines international relations as "the investigating and study of patterns of action and “reactions among sovereign states as represented by their governing elites.”Some scholars see power as the key to International politics. Thus, they define International relations as the subject that deals with those relations among nations, which involve power status.

Stanley Hoffman writes “the discipline of international relations is concerned with the factors and the activities which affect the external policies and power of the basic units into which the world is divided.” Thus, international relations is concerned with all the exchange transactions, contacts, flow of information and the resulting behavioral responses between and among separate organized societies. International relations could encompass many different activities social, economic, religious and so forth in so far as they have implications for international political relations.

In the words of Karl Wolfgang Deutsch (1968), “An introduction to the study of international relations in our time is an introduction to the art and science of the survival of mankind. If civilization is killed in the nearest future, it will not be killed by famine or plague, but by foreign policy and international relations.”The point expressed here is that we can cope with hunger and pestilence, but we cannot deal with the power of our own weapons and our own behavior as nation states. It is important to note that since the end of World War 1, nation states have possessed unprecedented instruments for national action in the form of ideologies and weapons, and they have become even more dangerous vehicles of international conflict, carrying the potential for its escalation to mutual destruction and ultimate annihilation. The nation state holds the power to control most events within its borders, but few events beyond them. It is thus decisively important for the student of international relations to understand that the world of today is marked by two factors. One fact has to do with the nature of power in the age of the atom; the other concerns the interdependence of mankind in an age of the individual.

Nature of International Politics

International Relations, like the world community itself are in transition. In a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world, it encompasses much more than relations among nation states and international organization and groups. It includes a variety of transitional relationships at various levels, above and below the level of the nation states. International relations are a multidisciplinary field gathering together the international aspects of politics, economics, geography, history, law, sociology, psychology , philosophy and cultural studies. It is a meta-discipline. The context and nature of IP have undergone major changes after the Second World War. Traditionally, world politics was centered around Europe and relations among nations were largely conducted by officials of foreign offices in secrecy. The common man was hardly ever involved, and treaties were often kept secret. Today public opinion has begun to play an important role in the decision-making process in foreign offices, thus, changing completely the nature of international relations. Ambassadors, once briefed by their governments, were largely free to conduct relations according to the ground realities of the countries of their posting. Today, not only have nuclear weapons changed the nature of war and replaced erstwhile the balance of power by the balance of terror, but also the nature of diplomacy chanqed as well. We live in the jet age where the heads of state and government and their foieign ministers travel across the globe and personally establish contacts and conduct international relations. Before the First World War a traveller from India to Britain spent about 20 days In the sea voyage. Today, it takes less than 9 hours for a jet aircraft to fly from Delhi to London, telephones, fax macknes, teleprinters and other electronic devices have brought all government leaders direct contact. Hotline communicat~onbs etween Washington and Moscow, for example, keeps the top world leaders in constant touch. This has reduced the freedom of ambassadors who receive daily instructions from their governments.

Decolonisation has resulted in the emergence of a large number of sovereign states. The former colonies of the European Powers, including India, have become important actors on the stage of international relatioh. They were once silent spectators. Today, they participate in the conduct of world politics. The disintegration of the Soviet Union has created 15 members of the United Nations, instead of the previous three. Some of the very small countries like Nauru may have no power but they also have, an equal voice in the General Assembly. Four very small countries viz. Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco and Andorra were admitted to the U.N. during 1990-93. The total number of U.N. members has gone up from 51 in 1945 to 185 in 1997. Thus, international relations are now conducted by such a large number of new nationstates. Besides, many non-state actors such as multinational corporations and transnational bodies like terrorist groups have been influencing international relations in a big way. With the collapse of the Soviet Union as a Super Power, the United States has emerged as the supreme monolithic power and can now dominate the international scene almost without any challenge. The Non-Alignment Movement ((NAM) still exists but with the dismemberment of one of its founders (i.e. : Yugoslavia) and the disappearance of rival power blocs, the role of the 'Third World' has changed along with that of NAM.

Scope of International Relations

Beginning with the study of law and diplomatic history, the scope of international relations has steadily expanded. With growing complexity of contacts between nations, the study of international organizations and institutions attracted the attention of scholars. The outbreak of the Second World War gave a strong stimulus to area studies and strategic aspect of foreign policy. This led to efforts to understand better the dynamics of national liberation struggles and anti-colonial movements. The foundation of the United Nations during the war encouraged thinking about post-war restructuring of the relations among nations. The study of cooperation became important even as the study of conflict remained central. The immediate aftermath was marked by a constructive outlook. This is reflected in titles of books like Swords and Plughshares written by Inis Claude. New topics like ideology and disarmament assumed unprecedented importance in the era of cold war. So did the system of alliances and regionalism. Contemporary international relations embrace the whole gamut of diplomatic history, international politics, international organisation, international law and area studies. Writing about the contents of international relations, a few decades back, Palmer Perkins had said that the then international relations was a study of "the world community in transition."

This conclusion is largely true even today. The transition has not reached a terminal point. While the underlying factors of international relations have not changed, the international environment has changed and is still changing. The state system is undergoing modifications; a technological revolution h s taken place in a very big way; new states of Asia and Africa are playing increasigly importaqt roles. India, in particular, is in a position to assert and take a rigid stand, as in 1696 on the question of signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). There is also a "revolution of rising expectations." Thus, as Palmer and Perkins wrote, "old and new elementsmust be interwoven" in the contemporary international relations. "The focus is still the nation state system and inter-state relations; but the actions and interactions of many organisations and groups have also to be considered." The scope of international relations at the end of the twentieth century has become very vast indeed. The world has virtually become a "global village", as interdependence of states has increased manifold. Economic relations between states, the role of international institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund ahd the World Trade Organisation today influences econonlic activity all over the worlld. The United Nations and its various agencies are engaged in numerous socio-economic and political activities. International terrorism is a cause of serious concern for the human existence. Multinational Corporations (MNCs), wlzo are giant companies operating the world over, are important non-state actors of international relations.

Thus, the scope of international relations has become vast, and, besides international politics, it embraces various other inter - State activities as well.It is known by now that international relations encompass a myriad of discipline. Attempts to structure and intellectualize it have often been thematically and analytically confined to boundaries determined by data. The core concepts of international relations are International Organization, International Law, Foreign Policy, International Conflict, International Economic Relations and Military Thought and Strategy. International/Regional Security, Strategic Studies, International Political Economy, Conflict/War and Peace Studies, Globalization, International Regimes. Moreover it covers , state sovereignty, ecological sustainability, nuclear proliferation, nationalism, economic development, terrorism, organized crime, human security, foreign interventionism and human rights. These have been grounded in various schools of thought (or traditions) notably Realism and Idealism.


There are many approaches to the study of international relations. The traditional or classical approach treated History as the laboratory from which meaningful conclusions could be drawn. Two of the main schools of the traditional approach are Realism and Idealism. Whereas the Realism School considers the struggle for power as the central point of all international relations, the Idealism School believes in the inherent goodness of man. Realists like Morgenthau do not attach much importance to means, or morality. For them national interest is the aim that must be served with the help of power. The idealists, on the other hand, feel that the ideal of world peace is attainable with the help of reason, education and science. In recent years, Neo- Realism has appeared as another approach to the study of international relations.

Traditional Approaches : Realism, Idealism and Neo-Realism

The two most important variants of the traditional approach of international relations are Realism and Idealism. Taking inspiration from Kautilya and Machiavelli, the leading twentieth century realists George Kennan and Hans Morgenthau argued that the struggle for power is the central point of all international relations. Individuals believe that others are always trying to attack and destroy them, and therefore, they must be continuously ready to kill others in order to protect themselves. This basic; human instinct guides the States as well. Thus, the realists argue that rivalry and strife among the nations in some form or the other are always present. Just as self:- interest guides the individual's behaviour, similarly national interest also guides tbe foreign policy of nation-states. Continued conflict is the reality of international relations and realists attribute this to the struggle for power. Thus, national interea, as defined in terms of power, is the only reality of international relations. The realists do not attach much significance to means, for them national interest is the end, and it must be promoted at all costs. Hans . Morgenthu's influential book "Politics among Nations" (1972) carried the torch of realism far and wide. For the realists, distribution of powers among states is all thatis there to explain in IR. Given a particular distribution of power, the realists claim that, it is possible to explain both the characteristics of the system and the - behaviour of the individual states.

The idealists firmly believe that the essential goodness of human nature will eventually pre vail and that a new world order would emerge which would be marked by the absence of war, inequality and tyranny. This new world order would be brought about by the use of reason, education and science. Idealism presents a picture of future international relations free from power politics, violence and immorality. Idealism argues that an international organization commanding respect of nation-states would pave the way for a world free of conflicts and war. Thus, the crucial point on which the realists and idealists sharply differ is the problem of power. St. Simon, Aldous Huxley, Mahatma Gandhi and Woodrow Wilson a;e among the prominent idealists. Morality is vital for them as they aim at international peace and cooperation.

An analysis of Realism and Idealism will show that both have their validity provided they give up their extremism. The approach that takes a middle position between "idealistic utopianism" and "cynical realism" is called Eclecticism. It has been described as a sort of synthesis of the 'pessimism of realism' and 'optimism of idealism'. Eclecticism tries to use the best in both realism and idealism. The former has been described by Quincy Wright as a representative of short-run national policies whereas idealism represents long-term policies of intearnationalism. Realists have been called 'Children of darkness' and idealists the 'children of light'. Neibuhr regards the children of darkness as evil and wicked and the children of light as virtuous. But, on the basis of another cirterion, he says, the realists are wise as they understand the power of self-will, and the idealists are foolish because they underestimate the risk ~f anarchy in the international community. Both have something to learn from this.

Neo-Realism, also known as 'Structural Realism' is one of the current approaches to the study of international relations. Waltz, Grieco, Keohane and Joseph Nye are among the prominent neo-realists. Neo-Realists believe that might is right in a system which is essentially Hobbesian (full of strife) in nature. The great powers are engaged in permanent rivalry. The structure has, more or less, remained one of anarchy though the prominent actors have been changing. The term 'structure' has been referred to "how the actors in a system stand in relation to each other." The present structure being anarchical (challenges to state domination are rampant), one finds powerful states are most interested in trying to prevent others froin improving relative capabilities. Keohane and Nye add that with the increasing rolwf non-state actors, the structure has become even more complex and unpredictable. In short, neorealism belleves that the nation-states still remain the most important actors in world politics: behaviour of the states can be explained rationally; states seek power and calculate their interests in terms of power. (All these they share with the scholars of realism). Hdwever, the neorealists add, the international system is characterized by anarchy and emerging 'multi-centric' activities emanating from sources other than state. This complexity is further compounded by international terrorism, religious war-fares, increasing incidence of civil wars and emerging competitive multinational corporations.

In the post-cold war years, international arena has assumed a new form. Nation-states are being threatened by divisive and secessionist movements. Many of the conflicts have assumed deadly proportions. According to John Stremlau "prevention has become a buzz word among diplomats seeking to stem anarchy in Africa. the Balkans, the new states of the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere." In 1992, for example, out of 30 conflicts across the world as many as 29 were military actions taking place inside states. One can refer to such examples to show that more military actions are being taken recourse to inside states rather than outside and among them. The ethnic conflict in erstwhile Yugoslavia (conflict between Serbs and Croats, and between Serbs and Bosnians), insurgency within Afghanistan, the conflict in Iraq regardiag Kurds, chaotic conditions inside Somalia, the conflict in Sri Lanka, Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM) related conflict in Palustan and terrorist activities in northern Indian States of Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab, are some of the ongoing military or paramilitary actions within nation-states. In the post-cold war conflicts, 90 per cent of casualties have been of civilians, not of the soldiers. Thus, neo-realism stresses the struggle for power not only between states but also intra-state struggles in an 'anarchic' world.

It will not be out of place here to mention that at a socio-political level, domestic determination of foreign policy options was not an important consideration with the realists who preferred states to remain confined to diplomatic, military and strategic sources of power. (See the box below). The post-cold war realists believe that peace was made possible in the world during the cold war period (1945-89) owing to stable bipolarity, balance of terror and a belief that nuclear war could be suicidal. With the end of the cold war, the realists hope for lasting peace to result out of the rules of conduct (for international relations) to be enforced by the United States which has virtual mondpoly of powers. Realism today recognises the role of the United Nations, Internatiphal Monetary Fund and World Trade Organisation yet they are still considered to be subordinate to the wishes of the powerful states. The realists do net want proliferation of nuclear weapons so that monopoly of the American power is maintained in that sector. Thus, realists (and neo-realists) still believe in promotion of national interest as expressed through State power. Despite international organisations, reg'rqes and non-state actors, power continues to dominate international relations, the realists still maintain. It may be of interest to students to note that Realism and Neorealistic approaches are mostly confined to,$ studies in USA and Europe. Bbth stress on state power systems and inter-state relations. An important difference between the two is, however, one of degree and focus.

Neorealism (which appeals more widely in USA and Europe) in IR differs from Realism by virtue of its lesser concern with the diplomatic, military and strategic sources which maintain or disturb the balance of power and more pre-occupation with the political and economic concerns which need to be addressed for a sustainable international system. Most of the neo-realists therefore have been students of international political economy. IR studies began focussing on the developing countries after neo-realistic approach came to vogue. They are moreconcerned with issues of dependence and development as against the state-centered approaches espousing the cause of "hegemonic stability" (that is to say, uneven distribution of power with one or a few states holding superior power to ensure stability in the world). As behaviouralists like Prof. James Rosenau often complained, concerned Third World students of IR often tend to be attracted to "dependency theory" (see below). This perspective posits that the Third World has been historically exploited by rich nations of the developed West.

Modern/Behavioural/Scientific Approaches of International Politics

Behavioural approaches to study of IR are often claimed by their western adherents to be scientific because they are based on quantitative calculations. They made us nlore aware of the complex nature of conflicts and provided many valuable insights into decision r making. The ultimate objective of the behaviouralist scholars is to develop a general theory of international relations. The traditional approach was rooted largely in Political Science and drew heavily from Law, History and Philosophy. With the help of the behavioural approach, a discipline of international relations is at last beginning to emerge which is devoted to behavioural studies in IR. There are several theories which may be lumped together under scientific/behavioural approach. Some like Systems Theory are more comprehensive than others like Bargaining and Game Theories. We will in this section briefly deal with only two of these behavioural scientific theories viz., the System Theory and the Game Theory.

System Theory

A system is defined as a set of elements interacting with each other. Another important feature of the system is that it has a boundary which separates it from the environment, the latter however, influences the system in its operations. Generally speaking, a system may be either natural (e.g. solar system), or mechanical (a car, a clock or a computer), or social (e.g. family). The social system itself may be related either to "society, or economy, or politics, or international systems." The general concept of an internationat system, and of international systems, formed the basis of work for many 'major scholars, Karl W. Deutsch and Raymond Aron being among the most prominent. As Aron observed, there has never been an international system including the whole of the planet. But in the post-war period, "for the first time, humanitfr is living.(in) one and the same history, and there has emerged some kind of global system". It is greatly heterogeneous but not to an extent that scholars may fail to hold them together in a discipline. As a matter of fact, Stanley Hoffman's working definition of the discipline was sufficient. "An international system", according to Hoffman "is a pattern of relations between the basic units of world politics which is characterized by the scope of the objectives pursued by these units and of the tasks performed among them, as well as by thg

means used in order to achieve those goals and perform those tasks". (System and Process in International Politics, 1957).

Among others, Prof. Morton Kaplan is considered the most influential in the systems theorizing of IR. He presented a number of real and hypothetical models of global political organisation. His six well known models were (i) balance of power system, (ii) loose bipolar system, (iii) tight bipolar system, (iv) universal actor system, (v) hierarchical system, and (vi) Unit Veto system. The first two are historical realities; the rqmaining four are hypothetical models. Although Kaplan did not say that his six systems were likely to emerge in that order, yet it was expected that the Super Power being very powerful, non-aligned countries were Likely to lose their status and become partsxf one or the other power blocs, leading to a tight bipolar world. With the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991, the erstwhile bipolarity phenomenon ended. Wh~lcth e Uniled States emerged Inore powerful than other countries, many countries like Germany and Japan a l m e r g e d as major economic powers. Thus, depending upon how one analyses the emerging global order, it may be characterized as a unipolar or a multipolar world. The present situation does not however fall strictly within any one of the six-models of Morton Kaplan which are described briefly below :

1. The Balance of Power System : This system prevailed in Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In this system some powerful states seek to maintain equilibrium of power individually or in alliance. Usually there is a 'balancer' - a state which assists anyone who is likely to become weaker than others so that balance is not disturbed.

2. The Loose Bipolar System : This was the situation during the days of cold war politics. Despite bipolar division of the global power scene, some countries refused to align with either block. They hang loose in an otherwisc stratified global order. Examples : Non-aligned countries (NAM).

3. The Tight Bipolar System : Think of a situation where the international actors like NAM countries are forced to align with either block, the result is - one of the tight bipolar system.

4. Thk Universal Actor System : In this system, an international organisation or actor commanding universal allegiance becomes the centre of power. Whether big or small, all states will accept the superiority of a universal actor like the United Nations. Thus, without giving up their sovereignty, nation-states will strengthen the United Nations and generally abide by its decisions. This may eventually pave the way for a world government.

5. The Hierarchical International System : In this system one country will become so powerful that all other states will be virtually dictated to by that one Supreme Power. This situation may be described as a 'Unipolar World Model'. The U.N. may still exist, but there will be no true non-aligned country and even the U.N. will not have enough power.

6. The Unit Veto System : Morton Kaplan's Unit Veto System in international context resembles the 'state of nature' as defined by Thomas Hobbes. Each state will be the enemy of every other state, because almost all the countries will possess nuclear weapons. Thus, all the international actors will be capable of using nuclear weapons against their enemies.

These six models were later supplemented by Kaplan himself by some other models. Meanwhile, other scholars have also suggested some other models. Thus, Couloumbis and Wolfe endorse Kaplan's six models, but add three more. These three are

a) multibloc (or interregional) model, b)hhe national-fragmentation (or multipolar) model, and c) the post-nuclear war mddel.

The multi-bloc model portrays a world divided into five to seven mutually exclusive spheresof influence. Each of these spheres would be controlled by one major power, thus giving rise to a multipolar world.

The National Fragmentation Model will be the outcome of political and territorial disintegration. Ethnic, tribal or racial separatist movements may cause many of the large states to disinteg;ate into small fragmented units. Examples : the former Soviet Union, former Yugoslavia and former Czechoslovakia which have split into several : sovereign states.

The Post-Nuclear War Model : is the world after a catastrophic nuclear war. If such a war takes place, its aftermath would be ghastly. In such a situation, only the most tyrannical regimes would be able to maintain orderly distribution of food, shelter and medicink. A new order will have to be found out to overcome such chaotic conditions.

Game Theory

Game theory attempts to provide models for studying world politics, especially in highly competitive situations when outcomes of the actions are difficult to anticipate. This has led scholars to create the game theory for a more scientific study of the calculation of probabilities in an uncertain situation. Game theory was created almost in one shot with the publication of Theory of Gamcs and Economic Behaviour (Princeton, 1994) by the mathematician John von Neumann and the economist Oskar Morgenstern. Karl Deutsch and Martin Shubik are among influential theorists who followed them. Though the economists were the first to adapt it to their purpose in recent years it has been applied to many other fields with suitable


In its slmplest version, the game theory is the model of a zero sum game which describes the situation of conflict/competition in which one party's total loss is exactly equal to the other adversary's total gain. This explains the name - the sum total of gain and loss is zero. For the study of IR, game theory model however is a multiparty non-zero-sum game. This is because as J.K. Zawodny reminds us, "we must recognize that some types of international conflicts today can be resolved only by s~tuatloilsin which neither side loses and in which sometimes both sides may win."

As you must have already understood, isolated, coinpletely independent states, are not affected by what other states do. They however are affected and interact through mutual dependence for some benefits. States play games to have maximum gains out of such a situation of inter-dependence. The two most important kinds of game that have been suggested are the "Chicken Game" and the game of "Prisoner's Dilemma". In the chicken game situation two car drivers are going in the middle of the road towards each other from the opposite sides. Unless one of them stops on the side and gives way to the other, there is a possibility of serious accident which may even result in the death of one or both the drivers. Any one who gives, way to the other will suffer a loss of reputation but accident will be avoided. Nations often face such a situation. Generally, none wants to suffer loss of reputation. The underlying idea of chicken game is that inspite of not being able to know the intention of its opponent, a country's foreign policy makers can adopt such a course as would ensure its own interest only if it does not mind the other country also benefiting from that course of action. A country standing on its prestige may suffer heavy losses.

The situation in prisoners dilemma is different. A nation, like a prisoner, often faces dilemma without having the slightest idea of its opponent's intentions. In this model two persons, charged with murder, are kept in two cells and they can neither see nor talk to each other. The prison-in-charge tells both of them separately that if one of them confesses to murder, and the other does not, the one who confesses will not only be set free but rewarded, and the other prisoner will be hanged. If none of them confesses, both will be freed but without reward. But if both of them confess, they both would be given serious punishment. The game suggests that everyone wants reward or advantage, but may land in serious situation as it does not know the mind of the other.

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