International Relations is a branch of Political Science dealing with interactions between actors (typically states) in the international system. There are several schools of thought which claim to provide a theoretical model for International Relations, and therefore understand or even predict the behavior of actors on the world stage.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Course Outline and Objectives
- 3 Unit 1: What is International Relations?
- 4 Unit 2: Rationalist Theories
- 5 Unit 3: Constructivist Theories
- 6 Unit 4: World Politics since 1945
- 7 Unit 5: International Political Economy
- 8 Unit 6: Security Studies
Structural Realism usually begins with the following assumptions:
- that the international system is anarchic; that is, there is no credible power above the states that compromise the system.
- that states cannot be certain of the intentions of other states
- that at least some states have offensive capabilities
- that states have preferences which they seek to realize, and that survival is a prerequisite for realizing such a preference
From these premises, Structural Realism concludes the following: because states require survival in order to seek their preferences, they seek to survive. Because they cannot be certain of the intentions of other states, which may have offensive capabilities, and because there is no higher authority which can protect them from those other states, it is rational for states to seek some optimal level of power relative to all other states in the system. Relative power can then be used as a means to survival, and therefore a means to the state's true preferences.
The result is an international system in which each state competes with every other state for relative power. While power is an unlimited resource, the competition is, in effect, zero sum, because what is important is how powerful a state is relative to all other states. An increase in absolute power for one state and no change in absolute power for all other states will mean a decrease in relative power for all other states.
Note that, in Structural Realism, states must seek power before being able to realize their preferences. Therefore, the structural imperative to seek power will, in Structural Realism, tend to override any contrary preferences that the state has, at least for a rational state. In this way, Structural Realism posits that the driving factor behind a rational state's foreign policy is not internal politics or preferences, but an externally-determined set of structural imperatives. For this reason, Structural Realists can be very dismissive of a state's domestic politics.
Structural Realists can be further divided into Offensive and Defensive Realists, based on how much power they believe is optimal. Defense Realists posit that there is some ideal level of power which a state should seek; below that level, it cannot be guaranteed of its own security, but above that level, other states will begin to see it as a threat and counter-balance it. Offensive Realists hold that states should maximize their power, since the collective action problem will impede counter-balancing.
While Structural Realism posits an international system where it is rational for each state to compete with every other state, Liberalism posits a system in which cooperation is the rational choice.
Course Outline and Objectives
- An overview of key theories of International Politics
- An overview of International Political Economy
- An understanding of some of the key issues in contemporary World Politics
Unit 1: What is International Relations?
International Relations is a branch of Political Science dealing with interactions between actors (typically states) in the international system.
Unit 2: Rationalist Theories
Rationalist Theories of International Relations differ greatly from each other, but are similar in that they each posit that the characteristics of the international system make it rational for states (or other actors) to behave in some particular way. Rationalist theories can be broadly divided into Structural Realism and Liberalism.
- Carr, Edward H.; The Twenty Years' Crisis 1919-1939 - An Introduction to the Study of International Relations. New York: Harper & Row, 1964. [Read chapter 4, The Harmony of Interests, online. A classic in political realism critics of liberalism]
- Approaches to the Study of International Politics: Realism, Liberalism and Marxism - Read the sections on Realism and Liberalism
- Outline the assumptions of Realism and Liberalism concerning human nature. How do these assumptions influence each theory's view of International Relations? This is a 1,000 word assignment.
Unit 3: Constructivist Theories
- Adler E. "Seizing the middle ground. Constructivism in World Politics", European Journal of International Relations, 1997, vol. 3, issue 3, pages 319–363
- Checkel J."The Constructivism turn in International Relations Theory", World Politics vol. 50, issue 1, 1998, pages 324-348
- Hopf T. "The promise of Constructivism in International Relations Theory", International Security, vol. 23, issue 1, 1998, pages 171-200
- Price R. Reus-Smith C. "Dangerous liaisons? Critical international theory and Constructivism", European Journal of International Relations, vol. 4, issue 3, pages 259–294
- Wendt A., Social Theory of International Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Unit 4: World Politics since 1945
- Calvocoressi, Peter; World Politics since 1945. Addison Wesley Longman, 1996.
Unit 5: International Political Economy
THE WORLD BANK & THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND (IMF)
- Gilpin, Robert; The Political Economy of International Relations. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.
- Gilpin, Robert; Global Political Economy - Understanding the International Economy Order. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001.
- Gilpin, Robert; The Challenge of Global Capitalism - The World Economy in the 21th Century. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000.
Unit 6: Security Studies
- Collins A. (ed.), Contemporary Security Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
- Kolodziej E., Security and International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
- Terriff T., Croft S., James L., Morgan P., Security Studies Today. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999.