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Penguin Dictionary of International Relations

International relations (IR)

This term is used to identify all interactions between state-based actors across state boundaries. The term can immediately be compared with, though is broader than, international politics. Indeed, the latter is subsumed as one, and certainly one of the most important, sub-fields of international relations. Thus international law is part of international relations but not international politics. Law is, after all, certainly in its customary form, created by interactions between state-based actors. Similarly international economic relations are part of international relations but not international politics. This is not to say that political calculations will not intrude into these areas, but only that they can be separated for the purposes of analysis.

International relations (IR) is thus an interdisciplinary and heterogeneous area of study. It has no unifying methodology because, taken with three examples mentioned above, international economics is an empirical science, international law is far more normative than most social sciences international politics is eclectic, borrowing from a number of traditions and divided in many minds into a rather unruly flock of activities. It should also be noted that the above listing is illustrative rather than exhaustative, diplomatic history, which again has its own methodology, being an obvious omission.

Despite its multidisciplinary and fragmented nature, most students of international relations view it as a sub-discipline of political science, broadly con-ceived. Although the main professional societies in the Anglo-American world have specifically and deliberately avoided using the term IR in order to indicate its multidisciplinary character (The International Studies Association and the British International Studies Association) the majority of members are in fact drawn from the study of politics. Indeed the domain of IR is often still referred to as 'international polities' despite the differences noted above. This terminological imprecision can also be noted in related labels such as 'world polities', 'foreign affairs', 'international affairs' and more recently 'international studies' and 'global polities'. Foreign policy analysis, security studies, International Political Economy and normative theory are the most vibrant sub-fields and these also are dominated by political scientists.

History and approaches

As a separate field of academic inquiry distinct from International Law, Political Theory and Diplomatic History. IR effectively began with the establishment of its first chair at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth in 1919. The first general theoretical perspective was popularly labelled idealism and was characterized by a belief in progress; that the international system could be transformed into a fundamentally more peaceful and just world order.

From the start therefore IR was policy-orientated. Thereafter the subject underwent a succession of waves of theoretical activity which inspired a number of 'great debates' within the discipline. In rough chronological order (mindful that these 'schools' are not exclusive and do overlap) these are: realism, behaviouralism, neorealism, neoliberalism, world systems theory, critical theory and postmodernism. These perspective shifts often involved bitter disputes about methodology, epistemology and ontology. However, there is now general

acceptance within IR that given the range and complexity of the subject matter, a wide variety of theoretical approaches might be an asset rather than a liability. Most of these paradigm controversies were centred on the work of analysts in the USA and Europe (sometimes, inaccurately referred to as the Anglo-American tradition') which tended to concentrate on great power/superpower issues. IR students in the Third World or South by and large, by- passed these debates and not unnaturally focused on particular policy problems with their states or regions. Overall theoretical perspectives, if developed at all usually had their origins in Marxist/Leninist theories of imperialism, in dependency theory and structuralism. With the ending of the Cold War. IR like its subject matter is in a state of flux. The two dominant perspectives are neorealism and neoliberalism but the general uncertainty about the continued validity of the state as the key actor in world politics, has led to doubts about the ability of IR in its present form, to survive as a separate area of academic study.

International politics

This term is used to identify those interactions between state factors across state boundaries that have a specific political content and character. These interactions will be handled by governments directly or by their accredited and accepted representatives. The term 'international' rather than ‘interstate’ is used because the latter has confusing connotations with federalism and federations. The term may immediately be compared with international relations. It is generally accepted usage to regard international politics as a class or category of international relations. The relationship between international politics and foreign policy is also close. If the former is concerned with interactions, the latter is concerned with actions and reactions. From the foreign policy perspective, international political relationships are created by states engaging in the activity of making policy.

International politics implies that states are the dominant actors in the field. If other actors are identified then their ability to 'act' autonomously must be senously questioned. The moment the assumption about state primacy ceases to be possible, then the term 'international' begins to look seriously deficient and some other designator - such as 'world' or 'global' - has to be used in conjunction with politics in its stead. Considerable confusion has been caused over recent decades because this terminological requirement has not been observed and authors have persisted in using 'international polities' when they mean world politics. Discussions on international politics are also made more difficult because there is no agreed definition of what the word 'polities' means. Indeed, some writers have wanted to define politics very narrowly in terms of the 'polity'. Without the polity one cannot have politics. Since there is no international polity, there is no international politics. This, albeit briefly, is the nub of the argument. Other definitions of politics, which stress the centrality of power considerations, are much more compatible with international politics. They are also intuitively acceptable to the extent that they confirm the importance of the power variable in international politics and foreign policy. Some definitions of politics favour a more decision- making approach. Thus, in one famous aphorism, politics has been defined as 'who gets what when why and how?' In terms of state behaviour this definition certainly re-establishes the links between foreign policy and international politics. However, it is necessary in this instance to insist on the state-centred character, otherwise an winter-national organization deciding to lend money to a state becomes an international political actor.

World politics

Unlike international politics or international relations this term does not stress the primacy of intergovernmental relations and transactions. Instead its use indicates reference to a much wider range of actors and activities than the war/peace/security /order scenarios involved in the classical state-centred paradigms The 'world politics perspective' is closely identified with the work of Keohane and Nye (especially Transantional Relations and World Politics, 1972) who argued that the state-centric view and its obsession with the interstate system provides an inadequate analytical framework for comprehending the contemporary world. This was not merely a question of semantics (the word international has long been thought of as unsatisfactory); it denoted a profound change in the structure, procedure and substance of the subject in the 1960s and 1970s. As the authors point out, given that many business enterprises have annual turnovers larger than the GNP of many voting members of the UN, and given that large private financial corporations can frustrate the financial policies of even powerful sovereign states, substantial modifications are needed to the original state-orientated model of international politics if those developments are to be grasped. The term 'world polities' is thus intended to expand the boundaries of the subject of inquiry, away from the narrow confines of interstate relations towards a recognition of global developments which are in effect beyond the range of the traditional approach. In this way it is closely allied to the world order and world society approaches in that it seeks to draw attention to the increasingly complicated network of relationships that now exist between non-governmental actors. Whereas international politics is concerned primarily with relationships between governments that involve conflicts of interest, world politics is characterized by a multiplicity of actor types and issue areas.