Different Theoretical Perceptions in International Relations (IR)

In International Relations (IR) there are different theoretical perceptions and approaches. Being a student of IR you must understand these theoretical approaches. Here you will find the most important theoretical perception in International Relations.

Theoretical Perceptions in International Relations (IR)

Before going deep to understand these theoretical perceptions in International relations you must the elements involved in these theories.

Understanding Theories in International Relations (IR)

Theories are very vital for the grasp of IR. These provide fundamental knowledge of the subject. The relevant explanations for all events in IR are laid down by the theories.

Theoretical knowledge can be acquired by cramming, generalizing, and then testing the facts and relevant data. Various theories can explain the results of confusing and puzzling events, though not perfectly, as a case of a more general principle. Each theory also foretells logically other outcomes, and these can be tested conditionally. A science laboratory, controlling all but one variable can examine efficiently theoretical prophecies, but IR cannot do it as it does not have laboratory apparatus at hand and as many variables operate at the same time. Therefore, it is imperative to weigh critically the events of IR and take into account diversified theoretical explanations before deciding which provides the best explanation.

Actors and Influences in International Relations

The leading actors in IR are the world’s governments. The students and scholars of IR habitually study the decisions and acts of all governments in relation to each other. But the international stage is huddled with actors who are small or large and are closely connected with the decisions of the governments. These actors are leaders and ordinary citizens of a state. They operate in foreign offices as bureaucratic agencies. They may be terrorist groups in the shape of multinational corporations.

Various State Actors in International Relations

States are the most vibrant and influential actors in IR. A state has territory as one of its essential elements. It also has government to run its affairs, and population to make it a physical reality.
The state government is fully independent and sovereign. It lays its supreme authority over its territories and all the subjects living within the territory. The state enforces its laws and commands, collects taxes, and imposes levies. The other states recognize the sovereignty of the state by establishing diplomatic relations and by membership in the UNO.

The population that inhabits ^ a state is called “civil society”. It sets up institutions to participate in political and social life. The entire or some part of the population that makes a group may consider them a “nation”. The government of the state is a democracy because it is controlled by the people inhabiting the state and it has not been imposed on them.

Every state has a seat of government called the capital from which the state runs its affairs and administers its territory. Sometimes, an individual who acts in the name of the state is known as a “state leader”. He or she may be the head of the government, called president, king, or queen. In countries with a presidential form of government, the same person is the head of state and government i.e., the United States. In other countries with parliamentary or cabinet forms of government, the head of the state and head of government are segregated and the position of head of state i.e., the president or monarch, is titular and symbolic. In some countries, even the status of the prime minister has become purely representative.

However, in any case, the most influential political personality is the “State leader”. These are the main individual actors in IR regardless of whether they are democratically-elected representatives or dictators. The individual leaders and bureaucratic organizations i.e., foreign ministries are state actors who act on the behest of the state.

The relationship among the world’s states, erected on certain rules and patterns of interaction, is called the international system. Some rules governing this relationship are sure and definite while others are vague, ambiguous, and difficult to comprehend. These rules and regulations define who is the member of the system, what are the rights and duties of the members and what kind of actions and responses normally crop up between states.

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The modern international system is less than 500 years old. Before the advent of the modern international system, people used to live in combined political units such as city-states, empires, and feudal estates. During the last two centuries, a new theory got roots that the nations and groups of people who have a common language and culture should have their own states. These states are called nation-states.

Most of the modern large states today are nation-states inhabited mostly by people sharing common values such as common culture and common language. But the process of decolonization after World War II in most of Asia and Africa brought to the fore many new states though some of them were not at all nation-states.

In the modern world, the usually incompatible outlook of the perceived nations and actual state borders is the major cause of friction and war among nations at present. “When people identify with a nationality that their state government does not represent, they may fight to form their own state and thus to gain sovereignty over their territory and affairs”. This is known as “Substate nationalism”. It is a growing trend that impairs the present state system. Other such trends that debilitate the present system of states are the globalization of economic processes, the power of telecommunication, and the proliferation of ballistic missiles.

The number of sovereign states in the world multiplied when the former colonies, shedding the yoke of slavery, became independent. The large multinational states such as the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia disintegrated and split into small states giving birth to the Central Asian States and Serbia. However, the exact total of states depends on the number of semi-states political Status that keep on changing as political units merge or break up. There were 192 member states in the UN in 2007. Now it has about 198 members.

Modern states differ from each other on the basis of population. Some states are large while others are small population-wise. But the size of the population in no way impacts the sovereign status of a state which remains intact irrespective of the size of the population.

The population of the world’s states varies from one state to another in a rather contrasting manner. China and India are the most populous states, each with a population of more than one billion people against tiny states like San Marino and Monaco which have nearly 100,000 people. With the emergence of a number of small states recently, the majority of states now have nearly 10 million people each and the rest of the states have 10 to 50 million people each. But, 15 states comprising 70 million people together form about two third of the world’s population.

Modern states differ from each other on the basis of population. Some states are large while others are small population-wise. But the size of the population in no way impacts the sovereign status of a state which remains intact irrespective of the size of the population.

The population of the world’s states varies from one state to another in a rather contrasting manner. China and India are the most populous states, each with a population of more than one billion people against tiny states like San Marino and Monaco which have nearly 100,000 people. With the emergence of a number of small states recently, the majority of states now have nearly 10 million people each and the rest of the states have 10 to 50 million people each. But, 15 states comprising 70 million people together form about two-thirds of the world’s population.

States also differ on a large scale with respect to the size of their economic performance. “Their annual total economic growth; Gross Domestic Product (GDP) differs greatly from the $12 trillion US economy to the economies of smaller states such as the Pacific Island of Vanuatu ($ 600 million). A few large states dominate the world’s economy. Each state— large and small— is an important actor in world affairs.

Some of these large states possess indomitable military and economic strength and influence that is difficult to subdue and suppress. These states are called great powers. Some of the great powers, who are very powerful with global sway, are known as “Superpowers”. During the Cold War, this term referred to the United States and the Soviet Union. Ever — Since the Soviet Union withered away, this term is now referred to as the United States only.

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The great power system is a unique way of relationship among great/Super Powers. Great powers have their own ways of behavior and interaction with each other. These modes of conduct are not applied to other states while interacting with them. Superpowers play a significant role in IR and leave their indelible marks on world affairs.

Some other political bodies are sometimes referred to as states or countries though they are not lawfully recognized as such. Taiwan is the most glaring example of this trend. For all practical purposes, it functions independently. But China lays its claim on the territory of Taiwan which is recognized formally by the fraternity of nations. China’s claim is reinforced by the fact that Taiwan is not a member of the UN. Colonies and possessions still exist but their status will change in the future. These colonies and possessions include. “Puerto Rico (US), Bermuda (British) Martinique (French), French Guiana, the Netherlands Antilles (Dutch), the Falkland Island (British), and Guam (US).

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1977 from British hold. It, however, retains a separate economic identity under China’s “one country, two system formula.” The current situation with respect to the Vatican (Holy See) in Rome is not clear. These territorial holdings with states have brought the number of world states or semi-state actors to 200. There are some other potential states like Kurdistan (Iraq), Abkhazia (Georgia), Somaliland (Somalia), and Western Sahara, which may be in full control of the territory. They claim but are not recognized by the fraternity of nations. As the smaller states may continue to cede to the larger states (Quebec, Canada), the number of state actors is likely to swell.

Non-State Actors in International Relations

State governments are the most important actors in IR but they are extremely influenced and under pressure by different types of non-state actors. The non-state actors are also called “transnational actors” when they act beyond international borders. These non-state actors are placed under several types of categories.

under pressure by different types of non-state actors. The non-state actors are also called “transnational actors” when they act beyond international borders. These non-state actors are placed under several types of categories.

There are factions and groups within states who control the foreign policy of the states. They may be defined as sub-state actors. The sub-state actors have their own interests to promote and safeguard. They achieve this objective by influencing foreign policy formulators. The American automobile, tobacco industries, and Japanese electronics industry have their interest in the economic and foreign policies of their countries.

They have to sell their products i.e., cars, cigarettes, electronic goods, etc., abroad. To ensure a lucrative sale of their products, they have to block the import of competing goods produced abroad. The sub-state actors are politically mobilized and are placed in a dominant position to pressurize foreign policymakers to watch their interests. In order to promote and protect their interests in economic foreign policy, the sub-state actors need to have favorable policy measures which they get by asserting their influence on foreign policy formulation. They do it through political action committees, lobbying, and other arm-twisting methods.

A large number of multinational corporations (MNCs) are important transnational actors. The interests of a large company, in doing business on an international level, are not similar to any one state. Such a company may sometimes act against its own government’s policies. MNCs often have complete control over resources and work on an international level more effectively than many other small states. MNCs are capable of propping up or creating friendly foreign governments as did the United Fruit Company hundred years ago in the “Banana Republics” of Central America. The MNCs also help the poor states by providing them with much-needed foreign investment and tax revenues. In turn, they (MNCs) depend on states to provide protection, well-regulated markets, and a congenial political system.

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Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) are another kind of transnational actor. NGOs are private organizations of considerable size and resources. Gradually, NGOs are being recognized alongside other states though not equal to them. Some of the NGOs are politically motivated while some work purely on humanitarian grounds and some are economic or technical setups Sometimes, NGOs combine efforts thorough transnational advocacy networks”.

There is no single pattern to NGOs. Together IGOs and NGOs are referred to as international organizations. They interact with states and directly with relevant institutions. The immensely horrifying attacks of September 11, 2001, showed the massive power that technology gives terrorists as non-state actors. Like Greenpeace, which can travel to any remote area and show the world videos of its environmental actions, al-Qaeda too can place suicide bombers in any city of the world, it can coordinate its finances and functions through the internet and global audience with videotaped appeals and instigations by Osama Bin Laden. “Global reach” which sometimes was an exclusive prerogative of great powers, now is available to many others who can use it the way they like.

Some non-state actors are sub-state actors. They exist within one country and influence the foreign policy of that country, and may operate independently or do both. The state of Ohio is part of the USA but it runs an International Trade Division to expand export and foreign investment. The sub-state economic actors i.e., companies, consumers, workers, and investors, accelerate economic activity which is thwarted by international political happenings and within which governments must operate.

Since the world economy is interlaced, the states still hold importance against sub-state actors and transnational actors. However, to some extent, they (states) are being slowly pushed aside as the companies, individuals, and groups tend to interact directly with each other across the borders. Now IR goes beyond the interaction of national governments.

Information Revolution in International Relations

The world is going through a massive revolution in information technology. Both state and non-state actors are extremely affected by the revolution in information technology going on at present. The world, ridden with intensive information, is bound to reshape international relations thoroughly. Technological change immediately impacts actors’ relative prowess and even preferences. Telecommunication and computerization enable economics, politics, and culture alike to move on a global level as never before.

Theories of World Politics in International Relations

International Politics revolves around different theories. These theories can be tested by realistic and practical approaches rather than mere theoretical knowledge. A theory must not be judged by some preconceived or general ideas or concepts that are not connected with reality. But it should be seen and weighed in view of the clear objective to introduce order and substance to a group of some excellent and extraordinary objects without which it would remain disconnected and difficult to understand and apprehend. The theory must have in view a dual test that is both empirical and logical.

The history of modern political thought is based on two schools that stand poles apart from each other in their conception of man, society, and politics. One believes that a rational and moral political order, taken from universally acknowledged principles, can be accomplished at any time. It takes into account the essential goodness and great flexibility of human nature and puts the blame of failure on social order to assess the rational standards on lack of knowledge and understanding, aging social institutions, or the sensuality of certain isolated individuals and groups. It re-poses its trust in education, reforms, and occasional use of force to eliminate these flaws.

The other school of thought believes that the world is the result of forces inherent in human nature. To improve the world, one must collaborate with those forces; not work against them. This world is full of contrasting interests. As moral principles can never be accomplished fully, they must at least be brought roughly near the realization through the temporary balancing of interest and resolving the conflicts. This school then advocates a system of checks and balances as a than to general principles and absolute good.

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