An Introduction to International Relations





Pasco-Hernando Community College




Class 3 -



These theories of IR share one thing in common: faith in the state system and the idea that what we have is better than nothing, and can be improved. We take the state system (international order) for granted, but it's a case of 'you don't know what you have until its gone.' But lets go back to a time when we were less enlightened: 1914. Modern IR theories have been buffered by the need to keep order, and some major events in the last 100 years have brought the issues front and center.


World War One. WWI left a shocked Europe (and a shocked America) struggling to comprehend how the world had just changed. Modern industrial war was exposed for the first time on such a horrible scale, and the millions who died in the trenches of northeastern France gave us the responsibility to NOT DO IT AGAIN. In fact, WWI was billed 'the war to end all wars.'


The Great Depression. Great as in 'big' not as in 'totally awesome!'. The crash of 1929 and the years of hardship that followed in America (and in Europe) showed us the fragility of the economic order. It showed that good economic policy is key to prosperity.


World War Two. WWII alerted states to the need of constraining out of control powers. The League of Nations failed in that respect, and aggressive fascist regimes arose- which went on the warpath against the international system as it had existed at the time. Blitzkreig and Pearl Harbor were successful because there was no announcement of war, just a horrible surprise attack. The Rules of Engagement, created to civilize war as much as possible, were thrown out.


Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1962 the world got as close as it ever did to being sterilized of people. Nuclear war and the danger inherent in states using them forced IR theorists to take into account the absolute necessity of promoting a system that would help people and nations not be nuked.


OPEC Oil Shocks. The OPEC oil cartel of "Petroleum Exporting Counties" raised prices all of a sudden in the 1970s and again in the 1980s on the West... which resulted in economic problems caused by inflation and a scarcity of fuel. The situation stabilized through diplomacy, but exposed the problems with interconnectedness n a worldwide scale.


Sept. 11 2001. The resumption of 'history' in the United States. International terrorism was cast upon the stage for all to see, and is now considered a serious threat to the international system. Stateless actors pursuing their own agendas independently of state governments remove the monopolization of force states want to have on their own territory. Often, stateless actors like al Queda migrate from one place to another, depending on the political climate. In Afghanistan they found a good place to train in the 1990s, but when the US military arrived after 2001, they moved to Pakistan or other places, or went underground (literally and figuratively).


So, is the state system up for the task of upholding security, freedom, order, justice and welfare for the people of the world? Life inside properly organized and well-managed states seems to be beyond doubt better than life outside of these states. Europe, North America, Australia and Japan are pointed to as places where states have been so well organized that they have given their people a really positive chance at a good life. Statism is a core value, and the state a core institution of modern life. Belief in the benefits of a good state and state system is the unifying factor in all IR theories. They just disagree on which factor is the most important.


As in science and technology, there is a downside to states. Just as nuclear technology can be used for positive purposes like energy production and negitive ones like weaponry, a good state intimates that there can be bad ones too. Life inside poorly managed states can be harsh and mean, as is the case in many Third World states, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. These states are failing to provide security, freedom, order, justice and welfare. This calls into question if states and the state system really is the best, as we in our prejudice toward it assume it to be. But after all, it was created by the West, for the West, and only later 'brought to' the rest.