An Introduction to International Relations





Pasco-Hernando Community College






Historical analogues of the 'state':


city-state (ancient and classical)

kingdom (ancient-modern

empire (ancient-modern)

national-state (modern)

post-national or 'democratic federation' (postmodern)


Today's global 'state system' or 'international system',


What does living in a 'state' involve?


-being a 'citizen'

-expectation of security, freedom, order, justice and welfare provided by the state

-states are armed! unarmed states are extremely rare

-the state acts as its own 'agent', it is a person, with a personality and can be held liable by its citizens

-independence is characteristic of the state, sovereign power within its own territory

-welfare is contingent on prosperity, and the state is expected to put sound policies in place to ensure high employment, low inflation, and make the uninterrupted flow of goods and services possible




The countries of the world (called 'states' or 'nation-states') form an 'international system'. Synonyms include 'global system', 'the state system', and 'the world order.' The need for studying this system has never been greater, and is the focus of International Relations. 'No man is an island.' Perhaps so, and we can add that no state is one either. The scattered stone age peoples of the world who are still left, with traditional economies and cultures unassimilated to the international state system may be considered exceptions, but these are tenuous. Political and economic ties mean 'relations' exist between states. Some states are rogue, in that they do no cooperate with the international system, do not sign treaties and accords, and in fact try to isolate themselves. 2001: Iraq, North Korea, Iran made up Bush's 'Axis of Evil', for doing this. Perhaps today the list would focus on Burma more than Iraq.


This International System we have today was begun in 1648 in Europe. The Treaty of Westphalia at the end of the 30 Years War founded it in principle, in that specific place. The state system begun there has grown and expanded into the global system today, spread over all the territory of the planet Earth. The only large territory today that is not a state is Antarctica. States are sovereign in their own territory: they legally monopolize the use of violence on their territory. It is ok for the government of a state to use physical violence. It is not ok for you to. Call the agents of the state, the police or the military.


IR wants to know


1. what living in a state implies for us.

2. how important living in a state really is and...

3. how we should think about it


In essence, what do we expect from living in a state that is caught up in the state system?


We expect five basic social values to be provided by our state: security, freedom, order, justice and welfare.


These values are so fundamental to human life and well-being that they simply must be protected and ensured. In the past, these values were in the purvue of the family, clan, tribe or ethnic or religious group to which one belonged. Today, they are the purvue of states. If a person gets picked on and they call their friend who is in a motorcycle gang, who brings the gang to intimidate and beat down the bully, that is not 'how it is supposed to work' anymore. States are supposed to have the legal use of violence monopolized to themselves within their own territory.


From these 5 values emerge the foci of the dominant theories in International Relations.


1. Security. States today are almost all armed- even France has an army. The Swiss maintain a Swiss army, despite being officially neutral for 700 years. The buck stops at the state to defend its territory and people from outside threats from 'the wild.' Traditionally it has been other states declaring war that have formed the major issue in national security, but recently and especially since Sept. 11, non-state actors have assumed their place as well. Alliances are formed between states to offset threats and preserve the security of the states in the group. A good balance of power, military power, helps maintain the security of nations.


Because security is so important, the REALIST THEORY in IR, pioneered in 1960 by Morgenthau, postulates that the best way to characterize how IR goes, is in thinking about the states as competing rivals who are 'armed and dangerous' and sometimes even go to war with each other.


2. Freedom. Well, there are two kinds of freedom- individual and national. National is the 4th of July Independence freedom, the freedom from being oppressed or ruled by a foreign nation... and individual is your own freedom to do whatever you want, get whatever job you want (and can), cut your grass on Sunday instead of Thursday, read what books you want (it wasn't always so), and have the freedom of thought. But wow, at what price? We have to pay taxes! So, we are 'free'... to pay taxes! Sounds like that comic insult dog. But those taxes are what we pay uncle sam to keep us 'free.' And national freedom too- if our country is not free, we are not free. If our country is free and we still are not, well, that's our own problem.


Because freedom is so important, the LIBERAL THEORY of IR (pioneered in 1971 by Claude), says that we can characterize states as entities that cooperate with each other to maintain peace, freedom for each other and progressive change.


3/4. Order and Justice. We expect states to uphold justice and in doing so, promote social order, instead of social chaos. The state acts as judge, jury and executioner- when us commonfolk serve on juries, we are acting in the name of the state, which in our democratic republic, is usually phrased something like: 'in the case of the people vs. Ferris Beuler...' and we jurors decide on the fate of the party, and for that one moment exercise the power of the state in our own hands. Internationally, states have a common interest in order and justice too, so they can coexist in a stable system. Trading is an economic benefit, so some international law needs to regulate it that all states follow. In order to negociate those laws and norms, diplomatic ties are fostered. In this day-in-age, some made up 'human rights', that people automatically get when they are born, have been extended to everyone on Earth (except people living in the territory of a great power that no international alliance of other states will agitate on their behalf). Protecting these 'human rights' are used as a pretext for intervention into states, think Serbia in the 1990s and Iraq in the 2000s.


Because justice and social and international order are so important, the INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY THEORY of IR (pioneered in 1995 by Bull- not Bull Shannon from Night Court, although it would made sense somehow) takes as its thesis the idea that states can be characterized best as socially responsible actors who have a common interest that can be appealed to, in international order and stability through justice.


5. Welfare. Economics are very important to people in most all the states. In fact, a state with a good economic policy that has less resources can yet have a higher standard of living than one with an inefficient economic policy but with lot of resources. Think Switzerland vs. Paraguay. Similar inputs argue for economic equality, and the advantage should go to Paraguay thanks to its natural resources, but Switzerland runs much better economics, and has a much higher national standard of living. At the same time, states economically act together now, and interdependence is growing into a global economy. This can be good, like when people in one country are made free by the global economy to do something more specialized and sell it in a bigger marketplace, or bad, as in when national freedom is lessened by dependence on foreign goods and services.


Because economics, poverty and wealth are important to people, deciding if they are destitute or prosperous, the IPE (INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL ECONOMY) THEORY of IR, pioneered by Gilpin in 1987, argues that Int'l Relations is best characterized by looking at the world and the state system in socioeconomic terms, not 'just' political or military ones.