International relations as a discipline is a branch of politics or political science to be specific. It specializes with the study of relations between states or what is commonly referred to as foreign affairs. It is also concerned with global issues that are not necessarily dealt with state actors, like climatic changes, globalization and environmental degradation among others.
In addition it is necessary to note that the field of international relations does cover other specialized entities like non-governmental organizations, inter-governmental organizations, intra-governmental organizations as well as supra-governmental agencies.
Apart from being a branch of political science international relations is a discipline that draws a lot from other disciplines. For example international relations draws a lot from economics, law, geography, history, sociology and law.
The international system in a layman’s definition could be defined as a global system in politics that incorporates not only a person individually but also, the nation state as a sovereign entity, the intergovernmental network, trans-national co-operation as well as the global village. Thus the international system is that system that conjoins all people individually, democratically, socially, organization and trade-wise.
Although international systems are well studied through international relations it is important to note that only the contemporary international system has been has been studied deeply in international relations since it has only been existent from the start of the cold war era.
An international society can be defined as a unique group within the international system that is relatively specialized and its membership is limited. Although it brings people from all over the world together, an international society deals with people with a common cause.
International relations as a discipline did not exist as a field of study until after the Second World War. It was not until the formation of the League of Nations and subsequently the United Nations that the discipline has taken root. Despite this fact, it is however necessary to note that the international system has ever been existent since the discovery of the Americas.
The study of international relations can be viewed from many perspectives depending on the theory of analysis. Due to this fact it however not surprising to find that the definition and analysis of international systems and societies will also be varied.
Among the key theories that purport to explain the nature of international systems and societies include; liberalist theory, neo-liberalist theory, realism, Marxism as well as the dependency theory. Each of these theories views the international system or an international society from its
own point of view.
From a liberalist perspective the international system can be viewed as a global system that has assisted in the development of globalization, increased trade and the transfer of technology worldwide. On the other side an international society can be viewed as any specialized global agency that concerns itself with the development of a single field of science or study e.g. the international society for optical engineering.
If we were to look at the two concepts from a dependency theory perspective we could define an international system as the global system through which the western world, or the developed nations and most colonial powers used in order to gain power to imperialize and subsequently exploit resources from most of the developing world. From the same perspective we could define an international society as any advances global agency that has or is acting as a catalyst in the advancement of global exploitation of resources especially from the third world countries.
An International society can also be viewed as an international institution. These international institutions usually play a very important role in contemporary politics or international relations to be more particular. Nowadays much interaction at the global or international system level is carried out through these institutions.
The role of sovereign nation states as the basic political communities is increasingly being challenged. This is as a result of increasing global institutions that command more resources than specific countries and thus are better equipped to deal with emerging pandemics, climatic changes, and the threat of terrorism among many others.
In addition some of these international societies have been able to address issues of refugees, political and legal status of people who have become stateless as well as being able to address new challenges as the “Dogville” effect more precisely than nation-states.
The role of international societies or institutions has also been advanced by the constrained pluralism concept being advanced by such futurists as Paul Raskin. According to this concept there are three characteristics or principles that advance for the formation of these international societies or institutions.
The first characteristic is that of irreducibility. According to this principle there are some issues that can only be decided at the global level. Some of these include the control of carbon dioxide emissions, terrorism among others.
The second principle is that of subsidiary. This principle advances that in an increasingly interacting global village there needs to be a limit on the scope of global issues delegated to global authority while at the same time allowing for smaller issues being addressed by lower state levels.
The third dimension is that of heterogeneity, this characteristic allows for the existence of diverse types of regional and local institutions given the fact that they meet global challenges and obligations.
Although the field of international relations is quite young as compared to other disciplines like its parent political science, the discipline has tried to offer the best analysis of its subject matter. As more global challenges faces the global community it is up to the intellectual community within the discipline to devise new theories and mechanisms to help solve these global challenges.
Through the international system the process of globalization has been accelerated. In addition the process of international trade and the spread of more modern and efficient technologies has been improved also.
The role of the international system and international societies or institutions has become more important in a developing world and it is up to the designers of international relations to devise new ways of advancing the role of foreign affairs and global institutions in order to build a better community not only for the current generation but also for generations to come.
Jeffrey Haynes (2002), Politics in the Developing World: A Concise Introduction, Blackwell Publishing.
John Baylis, Steve Smith (1997), The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Joseph S. Nye (2006), Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History, Pearson Longman.
Martha A. Finnemore (1996), National Interests in International Society, Cornell University Press, Cornell.
Raskin Paul (2006), the Great Transition Today: A Report from the Future. Available at: www. gtinitiative.org/documents/pdffinals/2gttoday.pdf
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