Fundamentals of International Relations Unit 1


Introduction to International Relations

International relations captures two categories- as a field of study or as an area of human endeavour. Just as no human is an island, states also can be viewed in light of this. What this implies is that no individual state can boast of absolute autarky and as such, there is the need for states to interact with others. Therefore, it is safe to say that international relations is the totality of relations that exist among states and non-states actors (multinational corporations, international organizations and terrorist groups) in the international system. Such relations are done in a bid to protect their national interests. When viewed as a field of study, international relations refer to the knowledge acquired from a systematic study of the relations between and among states and non-states in the international system.

The structure of the international system examines how power is distributed and its influence in the system, particularly the relationships between the dominant and subordinate. An example can be drawn from the demise of the Soviet Union which was followed by the emergence of the United States as the most powerful state in the world, with its power outweighing or incomparable to that of any other state or group of states. This system is regarded as having a unipolar structure. In Europe from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, power was distributed equally among a large number of states in such a way that none is capable of dominating or leading the others for any length of time. This structure is multipolar. When it is regarded as bipolar, the international system is structured into two or more antagonistic blocs of states, each led by a state of superior strength. An example of this is the cold war period. The two blocs were the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites in the East; and the United States and its NATO Allies in the West.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, international relations was majorly a European affair, having not more than twenty countries as participants. The dominant states in this period were the so-called great powers namely, Great Britain, Austria, Russia, France and Prussia (later Germany). The extension of the European into the rest of the world in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the subsequent emergence of over 200 independent political units in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and in other corners of the world has created a truly global international system. The diversity in size, population, resource endowment, military capability, economic strength and industrial capacity among the state actors necessitated a relationship of dependence and interdependence between and among them. The rules of interaction encapsulate the sovereignty, territorial integrity and equality of states.


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