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International Relations

  The name international relations is a misnomer shared by the mistitled multi-disciplinary academic subject of international relations and the sub-discipline of international law. The real meaning of ‘international’ is ‘inter-state’: that is, relationships between states, rather than nations—thus, ‘internationalism’, properly employed, expresses solidarity and equality among nations rather than states.

The relations between polities and states were not of central concern to the earliest political theorists and lawyers (although Aristotle and Machiavelli wrote on the subject) but from the 1600s onwards jurists like Grotius, Pufendorf and Vattel addressed the question of whether there was a ‘law of nations’ co-equal to the domestic law of states, and political philosophers like Rousseau and Kant addressed the possibility of moral conduct in war and the need for a stable and just international order. It was the distinctive dynamics of the European states\' systems which gave rise to the distinct theoretical discipline of international relations, although this did not develop institutional expression until the aftermath of World War I led academics to focus on the questions of why the war had occurred, and how a war of such magnitude could be avoided in future. This approach, based on a liberal view of human nature, was subsequently labelled idealist because it assumed that rational actors could agree that war was both unwanted and avoidable. This thinking was reflected in the formation of the League of Nations. Renewed challenges to world peace by the rise of Japan and Germany in the 1930s led to a reappraisal of the assumptions of the idealist school.

The self-proclaimed realist school, spearheaded by the English historian E.H. Carr and followed in the 1940s by Hans Morgenthau, was heavily influenced by Machiavellianism. The realists denied that a liberal conception of human nature could become the basis of world peace. Morgenthau declared that ‘peace and security’ is the ideology of satisfied powers. Realists assume that relations between states are governed by interests which are largely immune from morality. Power is central to this approach: the primary interest of the state and the primary means of fulfilling secondary interests. On this view the stabilization of the inherently anarchic world system is a result of the achievement of a balance of power.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the realist approach was challenged but ultimately reinforced by thinkers from the behaviourist school, who adopted more inductive, and empirical methodologies, which were especially influenced by theories of decision-making and game theory. Realism remains the most dominant of the Western schools of thought in international relations. However, another theoretical approach has challenged the realist\'s view of the state as the most important unit of analysis. Thinkers broadly classified as pluralists emphasize the influence of groups at the sub-state and transnational levels on the diplomacy and foreign policies of states. The influence of arms industries upon strategic balances is an example of the policy-shaping capacities exerted by non-state agents.

A third school of thought in international relations can be defined as structuralist or neo-Marxist. Work in this tradition emphasizes the globally systemic character of international relations in contrast to the state- or group-centred approaches described above. Structuralists tend to adopt models in which international capital is the primary determinant of relations between states. Although the realist school remains the dominant approach to the study of international relations, notably in foreign policy analysis, pluralist political thinking, especially that which emphasizes the importance of social and political movements and ideas like nationalism, ethnicity, feminism and environmentalism is likely be particularly influential in the post-Cold War era. BO\'L

Further reading Hollis, Martin and Steve Smith, Explaining and Understanding International Relations.



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