Definition and Scope of International Relations

Do you want to know about the definition and scope of International Relations (IR)? International Relations is an optional subject in the CSS examination. To understand IR better first you need to understand the definition and scope of IR before going deep into this.

Meaning and Definition of International Relations

International Relations is an engaging subject to study. It captivates the reader with its broad and alluring subject matter. The reader gets engrossed in its contents and cannot think of anything else while going through the subject of IR.

A brief definition of International Relations is, “the way in which two or more nations interact with and regard each other, especially in the context of political, economic, or cultural relationships”.

It is so because IR has a close connection with the people and diverse cultures of the world. The wide scope and complicated interactions among several groups make the study of IR a daring endeavor as these relationships cannot be understood in isolation.

All these relations are closely connected with other human forums like International Organizations and Multinational Corporations (MNCs). They are associated with the individual who is an important actor in society. These relations have a deep impact on other social structures like domestic politics, Economics, Culture, Geography, and History.

Since the world has been squeezed due to scientific and technological advancement, it has become difficult to keep aloof from the development and progress at the global level. The Universe is undergoing rapid change, therefore, the study and understanding of IR have become complex as it has to deal with multifarious issues with the 196 nations of the world interacting with each other.

The IR plays its role as the main actor in the international community. With the modern techniques that are being applied by scholars and analysts in international affairs, the scope and approaches to the subject are undergoing constant change and growth.

The study of International Relations, like the world community itself, is in transition. In a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world, it encompasses much more than the relations among nation-states and international organizations and groups. It includes a great variety of international relationships, at various levels, above and below the level of the nation-state, still the main actor in the international community. Both the content and approaches to the subject are expanding as scholars apply the insights and techniques of many disciplines and the tools of modern technology to the problems of international affairs.

To understand the definition and scope of international relations better IR as a discipline.

International Relations as a Discipline

Although the study of International Relations has emerged from its earlier status as a poor relation of Politics and History, it is still far from being a well-organized discipline. It lacks a clear-cut conceptual framework and a systematic body of applicable theory, and it is heavily dependent upon other and for the most part better-organized disciplines. But it does have certain features which set it apart from other disciplines, and above all, it has a particular approach to the problems with which it deals.

Now let’s discuss the impact of the international environment on the study of international relations.

Impact on International Environment on Study of International Relations

The study of International Relations is still too subjective in character and content, too likely to be perverted from its real purpose. In its early stages, it was glaringly and frankly utopian. But the failure of the “League of Nations” and of the “Collective Security” system clearly revealed the inadequacy of pure aspirations as the basis for a science of international politics.

The two terms i.e. international politics or international relations are often used interchangeably. Some modem students, however, particularly those who specialize in the study of political behaviors, believe that there is a distinction in their usage and that the failure on the part of writers and practitioners of international affairs and diplomacy to make a distinction has contributed to a semantic confusion in the study of International Relations today. However, International Relations is a broader term than international politics and its study is being enriched by the wider and more versatile approaches.

Now let’s discuss the role of International Relations in daily life.

International Relations and Daily life

Sometimes, IR is depicted as a formal exercise performed by state functionaries such as Presidents, Prime Ministers, Generals, and Diplomats. Although leaders, politicians, and diplomats do play a significant role in international affairs, there are many others who make their, contributions by participating in formulating and implementing foreign policy as well.

The college students, citizens, and individuals from other walks of life contribute to International Relations by taking part in voting and working on political campaigns. They also give a boost to International Relations by reading newspapers and watching the news on TV channels. The activities, we undertake in our daily lives, eventually leave an indelible mark on the world we live in. Through those choices or/ and activities, every person contributes in a unique way, however small or insignificant, to the world of IR.

In turn, IR lays a deep impact on the daily lives of college students and other citizens. The chances of getting jobs after studies depend on the global economic environment and international economic competition. Such jobs are likely to involve arduous travels, sales, or communication. The rules of international business and trading systems affect the goods and commodities, students consume such as clothes, petrol, and electronics.

With technological advancement, the world is shrinking day by day. The globe has turned into a small family where all the members are in constant touch with each other better communication and smooth and fast transport facilities frequently expand the ordinary persons’ contact with the people, products and new ideas from other countries. This is the Globalization of the International Relations.

Scope of International Relations

The definition and scope of international Relations are not complete without understanding the scope of international relations.

IR as a Field of Study

IR is a rather practical discipline. There is a close connection between scholars in colleges, universities, think tanks, and the policy-making community working in the government. Some professors serve in the government and sometimes they express their views about foreign policy through newspaper columns or TV interviews.

In this way, they influence their government’s foreign policy. It provides the scholars with a forum and a laboratory to test their ideas in practice. Therefore, diplomats, bureaucrats, and politicians benefit from knowledge.

Theoretical discussions in the field of IR are of prime importance and crucial. But they remain unresolved due to the complexities of world politics. It would be for the next generation of college students to understand as how world politics works.

IR deals with international politics, and the decisions of governments about foreign actors. To some extent, the field of IR is also related to economics, history, sociology, and other disciplines. Some universities offer separate departments for the study of IR while some teach IR as part of political science. However, their focus is on the politics of economic relationships or the politics of environmental management.

Political connections between the nations cover a diversified range of activities which include diplomatic relations, war, trade relations, agreements and alliances, cultural exchanges, state visits of dignitaries, participation in international organizations, and talks and negotiations on bilateral issues.

Particular activities within these spheres make up distinct issues areas on which scholars and foreign policy formulators focus their attention. The scholars, researchers, and students of IR have to keep their attention on these areas in order to be well-versed with the contents and subject matter of IR.

Every state has its foreign office/ministry to keep itself abreast of the happenings on a global level with regard to these issue areas. The issue areas include global trade, the environment, and specific conflicts such as the Arab-Israel conflict. Within each issue area and across the range of issues of concern in any international relationship, policy-makers of one nation can behave in a cooperative manner or conflictual manner extending either friendly or hostile behavior toward the other nations.

IR scholars often look at international relations, in terms of the mix of conflict and cooperation in relationships among nations.

The scope of the study of IR can also be defined by the subfields it covers. Some scholars consider foreign policy or international law as subfields. Traditionally, the study of IR has focused on questions of war and peace, the subfields of international security studies.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the movements of armies and diplomats, concluding treaties and alliances, and the development and deployment of armies were the subjects that had bearing on the study of IR which still hold a dominant position in the field. “Since the Cold War, regional conflicts and ethnic violence have received more attention, while interdisciplinary peace studies programs and feminist scholarships have sought to broaden the concepts of “security” further.

International Political Economy is another important subfield of IR. It deals with trade and financial relations among nations and keeps its focus on how states cooperate politically to create and maintain institutions. With economic growth on a global level, the subfield of International Political Economy acquired immense utility in the IR. It became the focal point of international security studies as the second subfield of IR.

The students and scholars of IPE make research as to how states and nations cooperate publically with each other and protect and maintain those institutions which regulate the flow of international economics and financial transactions.

These matters are an inseparable part of the foreign policies of the economically richer nations but the decade of 1990s saw a shift of focus when intense attention was paid to the relations of poor and rich nations of the North-South region with respect to topics such as economic dependency, debt, foreign aid, and technology transfer. The subfield of IPE is expanding accordingly in view of the newly-important issues of international environmental management and global telecommunication.

To analyze the scope of International Relations let’s discuss its levels.

Levels of Analysis

Some actors involved in IR make competing explanations and theories more complex and confusing. The scholars of IR have tried to solve this enigmatic problem of multiplicity of influences by putting actors and processes in various categories of different levels of analysis.

A level of analysis is a perspective on IR, based on a set of similar actors or processes that suggest possible explanations to “why” questions. IR scholars have proposed various levels-of analysis schemes, most often with three main levels (and sometimes a few sublevels between). A level of analysis is a point of view of different actors and processes that give possible explanations of certain issues and raise inquisitiveness.

  1. First of all (the individual level of analysis) relates to the perceptions, choices, and actions of individual human beings. Great leaders mold the course of histories like individual citizens, philosophers, military commanders, and the electorate. It was Lenin who perceived the Soviet Union. If a few more US voters had voted in favor of Nixon than Kennedy in the 1960 election, the Cuban Missile crisis would have ended in a different way.
  2. The domestic, state or societal level of analysis pertains to individual groups within states who determine state actions in the international field. Such individual groups/associations include pressure groups, political bodies, and government institutions. These groups/associations function in different kinds of societies and states. For example, democracies and dictatorships differ in their content and may act differently from each other. During elections, democracies operate differently from the way they function at other times. The politics of ethnic discord and nationalism erupt from within states and play important role in the development of relations between states, and foreign policy agencies within governments usually quarrel over policy decisions.
  3. The interstate or international or systematic level of analysis refers to the impact of the international system upon outcomes. This level of analysis keeps its focus on the interaction of states ignoring their internal setup and the particular individuals who lead them (states). This level keeps in focus states’ relative power position in the international system and interaction i.e. bilateral trade between them. This level of analysis has been the most significant of all the levels of analysis.

To the three levels mentioned above, a fourth called the global level of analysis can be added. It seeks to explain international outcomes in terms of global trends and forces that transferred the interaction of states themselves.

The fast-evolving human technology of worldwide beliefs and human relationships to the natural environment are all global-level happenings that impact international relations. Therefore, global level analysis needs to be given deep attention in view of the developments on the global level.

It is for this reason that the global level is increasingly becoming the focal point of IR readers and scholars who are studying transnational integration through worldwide scientific, technical, and business communities. The widespread global impression is the outcome of historical European imperialism—Europe’s conquest of Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

Levels of analysis present diverse interpretations of international events. For example, there exist a number of theories and reasons pertaining to the 2003 US-led war against Iraq. If viewed from an individual perspective, the outbreak of war could be ascribed to Saddam Hussain’s illogical and stupid perception of defeating the forces that stood against him or to President George W. Bush’s desire to remove an abhorred person from the helm.

At the domestic level, the war could be attributed to the rise of neoconservative groups that brought around the Bush administration and Americans that Saddam was a menace to American security in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. At the inter-state level, the US-Iraq war could have been prompted because of the predominance of US military power. Since there was no state willing to support Iraq’s army, the United States, being the strongest military power, got a huge incentive to attack Iraq with no fear of a large-scale military response.

Similarly, there could be many possible classifications for the 1999 Kosovo War between Serbia and NATO. From the individual point of view, the War may have erupted due to irrational gambles and misjudgments of Serbia’s leader, Slobodan Milosevic.

At the domestic level, the War might have been fought because of Yugoslavia’s multiethnic federation which made Kosovo a province of aggressively nationalistic Serbia with a large Albanian population. Finally, at the global level, the US-led Iraq War is attributed to a global fear of terrorism or even a clash between Islam and the West.

Although IR scholars aim their research on one level of analysis only, other levels too have a bearing on a problem or an event at the same time. There is no single correct answer to a given “why” question. No doubt levels of analysis bring forth diverse interpretations and approach to explain an event. They help students and scholars to consider different options and go beyond the immediate and flimsy aspect of an event and look for more reliable and cogent causes.

There are many influences that impact the course of IR. Levels of Analysis present a groundwork to classify those influences and to offer various explanations of international events. The following table will enable the reader to comprehend these explanations/examples.

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