Theories of International Relations

Theories of International Relations
International relations are governed by competition and cooperation
depending on the prevailing circumstances. International politics are
guided by different variables that are dependent on circumstances. These
variables are both material and information. The theories of
international relations appreciate that there are many actors in the
politics of international relations. Cooperation or competition is based
on national interests, leadership quality and policy makers of a nation.
There are two main theories that explain international relations and
these are rationalism and non- rationalism. These theories relate with
international politics and other factors such as economic and military
The rationalism theory holds that world politics is about finding a
favorable middle ground. Multinationals as well as multilateral
organizations such as Non- governmental organizations have their place
in world politics. Rationalists believe that all the world needs is a
standard rule of law as this reduces conflicts. It compels states to
negotiate agreements peacefully while protecting their own interests
(Jackson & Soresen, 2012). The rule of law sets the parameters of
negotiation so as to promote internationalism. This will ideally prevent
other countries from exploiting others. Thus, rationalists advocate for
an international rule of law that guides how states engage with each
other and negotiate terms of engagement.
The neo- realism school of thought holds that states are bound to seek
out for their own interests and protection in international relations.
All states are sovereign and operate under a standard structure which
regulates state actions. Such structures include regional blocs such as
United Nations. Thus, international powers are decentralized into
governments that are autonomous but cooperate for their own benefits.
However, states mistrust each other despite trade cooperation (Daddow,
2009). Such is the case of China and Japan, which are strong
economically and militarily, but do not trust each other due to their
conflict over the mineral- rich HYPERLINK
“” o “Senkaku
Islands dispute” Senkaku Islands . Thus, the anarchical international
structure presents mistrust among states at international level.
The neo- liberalism school of thought, however, holds that individual
states are the most important players of international politics. They
argue that states should focus on absolute gains first and not relative
gains with other states at international levels. According to this
school of thought, states create institutions, which play a crucial role
in settling international conflicts. Thus, states cooperate despite
existing conflicts, based on international structures of cooperation and
conflict management. For example, regional trading blocs facilitate
trade between China and Japan despite deep rooted mistrust. Thus, both
states continue to accumulate military power based on speculation and
mistrust but still cooperate in the trade that is guided by
international structures. Thus, states democratic states avoid warfare
through the use of established structures that dictate how they
cooperate and solve conflicts.
The non- rationalism theory has six main arguments under it. This
theory holds that ideologies, norms, and public perception of matters
relation to international politics, matter. The theory is of the opinion
that non- state actors are capable of shaping how countries relate and
that such actors are mainly driven by ideologies. The liberalism school
of thought argues that domestic leadership of counties determines
international relations (Jackson & Sorensen, 2012). In addition to this,
institutions, and commercial interests enable countries to maintain
peace and stability at the international level. Thus, peace is
maintained through internal interests and international institutions
which moderate the actions of individual states at international levels.
Liberal state norms also affect how states relate with each other.
Countries with liberal norms may have a hard time relating with those
with rigid norms because states first protect themselves before engaging
with other states at international level.
Kant’s perpetual peace explains the liberal approach to international
politics. According to Kant, the only way for states to maintain
perpetual peace is through respect for sovereignty, permanent
elimination of standing armies, and use of fair tactics during war. This
theory explains why the war on Iraq has led to perpetual friction
between Iraq and the United States (Jackson & Sorensen, 2012). The
United States entered Iraq with no concrete facts about the possession
of nuclear weapons. This led to a war that did not result in any
meaningful results. The United States entered Iraq on speculation that
Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons and sponsored terrorists who
threaten international peace. However, there was no evidence of these
accusations after the invasion, and this has led to lack of peace
between the two countries.
According to the classical school of thought, states are naturally
selfish, and their actions are guided by the desire to protect
themselves, as opposed to international ideologies. States are driven by
the desire to desire to have power and dominate other states (Drifte,
2002). This could explain the decision by the United States to invade
Iraq on the pretext of seeking nuclear weapons. It should be noted that
America invaded Iraq after 9/11 because of the drive for nationalism.
The country needed to restore its national and international pride, and
this informed America’s decision to invade Iraq despite the lack of
concrete evidence of the existence of nuclear weapons (Ricks, 2006).
Thus, the argument is that states invade others in a bid to maintain
power and control over other states. According to classical realism,
those states with strong economic and military strength wage wars
against other states since they control international structures.
According to the constructivist school of thought, set international
world orders are historically and socially constructed. Thus, power and
politics are socially constructed, and these are what influence how
states relate to each other. Some rivalries and disagreements at
international levels have historical and social relevance as opposed to
current relations (Jackson & Sorensen, 2012). This is the case of the
conflict between China and Japan whose current disagreements are
historical. Their rivalry especially over a territorial dispute started
after the Second World War and has lasted to date despite changes in
leadership. The cooperation of human beings is based on shared
ideologies with give humans a commonality of purpose.
Non- rationalism also acknowledges that norms and values are crucial in
international relations. Norms and values are what form the primary
identity of a society. These affect the actions of the people at
national and international level (Daddow, 2009). For example, during the
war on Iraq, America recognized the importance of having Muslim leaders
denounce terrorism. This is because it would help in changing people’s
perception of the war and thus, deterring more people from joining the
war. Thus, by having Muslim leaders condemn terrorism this effectively
gave the war a moral debate and angle. The basis of the evaluation was
about what the appropriate behavior was for Muslims and what was
Public perception of international relations and actions is also very
important especially in securing public support. Every society has its
norms and values which shape behavior. This behavior is evident at
international levels through trade and association. Thus, activities
such as international trade are affected by public perception. For
example, despite trade between China and Japan, citizens of both
countries view each other with suspicion. The public perceives each
other as enemies and engages in cold relations between each other.
Multilateral trade between the two countries is evident, but bilateral
trade is almost non-existent (Drifte, 2002).
Ideologies are at the center of this theory. Ideologies are important
because they shape people’s perception of the world and this shapes
their actions. For example, the war on in Iraq later turned into a war
of ideologies because most people across the Middle East viewed the
Iraqi as a war against Islam. One of the reasons for going to war was,
in a bid to fight terrorists (Ricks, 2006). However, the so called
terrorists were invisible people who were non- state actors. The war
thus turned into a war of ideologies with more Iraqis turning into
jihadists due to the belief that they were being attacked based on
religious grounds. Thus, the war became a complex web of fighting
ideologies against people who did not act on behalf of the state as
initially thought.
The foreign policy analysis looks at how governments make decisions
based on war, foreign policy, and economic relations. The process
involves assessment of international and domestic policies and potential
gains to be made. These gains must be for the benefit of the state, and
there should be minimal risk involved. Public perception of any
international activities is also very crucial in the analysis. Every
society has its norms and values which shape behavior. This behavior is
evident at international levels through trade and association. Thus,
activities such as international trade are affected by public
perception. For example, despite trade between China and Japan, citizens
of both countries view each other with suspicion. The public perceives
each other as enemies and engages in cold relations between each other.
Multilateral trade between the two countries is evident, but bilateral
trade is almost non-existent (Drifte, 2002).
The Marxist approach looks at the separation of classes in
international politics. The main area of analysis is the economic
domination of one country by another, of higher economic and military
might, than the dominated state. This theory separates countries into
two major theories, namely the world- systems theory and the dependency
theory. The world systems theory separates the world into two major
classes namely the core and the periphery. The core is the wealthy
industrialized nations which have an influence over world politics and
economies. The poorer countries provide cheap labor and resources to the
core countries. This could explain the war in Iraq where America felt
that a periphery country had invaded it and thus, used its influence in
international politics to invade Iraq (Ricks, 2006).
The dependency theory states that wealthier countries take raw
materials from poorer countries to enrich themselves while depriving
poorer countries of chances of getting wealthy. These poorer countries
usually have no say on these matters because rich countries use their
influence to dictate terms and conditions (Daddow, 2009). However, rich
countries cannot threaten each other because they both have economic and
military might. This explains why despite frosty relations between China
and Japan, the two countries still maintain mutual international trade.
This is because they depend on each other for trade and thus, they
ignore their differences for the sake of trade relations.
Despite the role of women in state affairs, women have largely been
left behind in international relations and foreign policy. The
percentage of women in international relations is fairly small compared
to that of men. Even when present, the women play subordinate roles, and
these roles usually have no much impact on policy. International
relations are majorly formulated by masculinity, and such decisions do
not consider the female perspective. For example, scholars argue that
the decision to go to war by any country is guided by the masculine urge
for power via any means preferably aggression.
In conclusion, international relations are mainly driven by
international politics. These politics are based on ideologies and
national interests. Every country in the world, regardless of its
economic and military strength, seeks to protect itself and safeguard
its sovereignty. However, the sovereignty of a country can be violated
depending on its actions on national and international levels, as is the
case of the war on Iraq. Additionally, ideologies are important in
international politics, and they shape how countries interact and relate
with one another. Thus, it is important to consider ideologies in
international politics.
Daddow, O. (2009). International Relations Theory. New York: SAGE
Drifte, R. (2002) Japan`s Security Relations with China since 1989: From
Balancing to Bandwagoning? New York: Routledge.
Jackson, R .& Sorensen, G. (2012). Introduction to International
Relations: Theories and Approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
“” o
“Thomas E. Ricks (journalist)” Ricks, T. E. (2006). HYPERLINK
“” o “Fiasco (book)”
Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq . New York: Penguin.