Introduction and Development of International Relations

History of the Discipline of IR:

IR in practice and as an academic vocation is both ancient and modern. It is relatively a juvenile discipline of social science. It achieved departmental status by setting up a Chair on IR at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth in 1919. A simple examination of the classics of political science and political thought signifies to its ancient status in theory and practice. The activities beyond one’s border in order to maintain and accumulate power at home and sustain ambitions and interests abroad provide the very stuff of IR in ancient context is made of as much as they do in the New Century. The past always acts as an acknowledged guide to the present and the future.

IR is integrally related to the First World War. Before that tumultuous and tragic event IR was not taught as a separate subject but in the US universities it was organized on lectures under History and Economics faculties. After the creation of the League of Nations, the League sponsored a series of International Studies conference through its Institute of Intellectual Cooperation. The Geneva Institute of International Studies served as an intermediary between the League and the growing subject of IR on the level of universities. In the aftermath of another Great War the UNESCO, a specialized agency of UN provided an additional stimulus to the development of study of IR. UNESCO sponsored conference of representatives of universities in 1948 calling to establish chair or department for systematic teaching, study and research of IR. The decolonization during that era expanded the scope of IR in new states. IR no longer remained the exclusive preserve of America and Europe. Though there was horizontal expansion of IR in all new countries it did not reach our mountainous country till 1960s.[1] Now we have access to the resources as well as learning it under the syllabus of an American university in the age of democracy.

The Development of IR Thinking

The stages of development of IR had its genesis in the first half of the 20th century. It achieved its maturity in the post-War world passing through several trends and stages.[2]

The first stage of IR ran up to the end of the First Great War. During that period IR was taught by diplomatic historians concerned with history than politics and contemporary events. They were interested in description of past events rather than critical analysis of the present and prediction of the future. This historical approach precluded a development of theories on IR. It could not prevent the Great War from occurring and after that international catastrophe the study focused on only current affairs. This second stage was perpetuation of also bias as it gave importance to the present without reference to the past. Therefore both stages were encumbered by ineffectual partial approaches. The third stage existed throughout inter-war years and then after the new scholarship was adopted which was an essentially moralist-legalistic approach renouncing war. There were votaries of peace, just world and internationalism. They were quite euphoric in reposing unstinted trust in international organizations to prevent wars and conflicts. They pursued lofty ideals of the rule of international law and civilized norms and values. The statesmen like Woodrow Wilson who put forth 14 Points Charter to chalk out liberal internationalism to be an elixir of the contemporary world. The great faith in the newly established League of Nations and creation of legal institutions and organizational devices had fizzled out with the rumblings of war machines in 1939. Continental Europe attracted magnetic involvement of the West as it soon was embroiled in a quagmire of wars and conflict. Therefore emphasis on utopianism/liberalism/idealism ignored the hard realities of international life and did not comprehend well the nature of IR.

After the Second Great War the fourth stage succeeded on the backdrop of the devastation which had shaken the moral foundations and faith in international organizations and law as instrument of peace. The emphasis now was shifted to making a scientific analysis of the developments in IR including causes of war and ways to avert it. The determinants and roots of foreign policies, techniques of the conduct of IR, the mode of conflict resolution, crisis management, forces and influences which mould and condition the behaviour of states became the cardinal concern of the study. The objective of studying IR was not to exalt or criticize international issues and problems rather to understand them comprehensively. Realism occupied a position of the prevalent school developed by thinkers like E.H. Carr, Hans J. Morgenthau, Kenneth W. Thompson, Reinhold Niebuhr, George F. Kennan, and Henry A. Kissinger. They conveyed what IR and international behaviour of states is as on contrary to what idealists espoused. Power according to them is the currency of international politics. It is a means as well as ends. International politics in the gist is the struggle for power. Every state seeks more of it to use and to fulfill and satisfy national interests. Some partial theories or more importantly approaches on the sidelines of application of realist doctrine were developed. The growth of deterrence theory in the 1950s and 1960s alongside new methodology of game theory came into existence.

On the shadow of hostile ideological camps, orthodox Marxism interpreted IR in its own tenets and tenor. It stressed on transnational class solidarities coupled with a liquidation of transnational class struggle. The thrust in the subject matter of IR was altered with the subsequent development in science and technology, decolonization, the emergence of universal values, spread of nuclear technology, arms race, growth of international and transnational actors. Its desire sought for theoretical contemplation and philosophy of IR.

The fifth stage was marked from mid 1960s to 1970s wherein structurally inter-paradigm debate figured prominently taking a cue from The Scientific Revolutions, a text by Thomas Kuhn. It was the post-realist paradigm which was aptly labeled the behavioural approach to the study of IR followed the paradigm shift. It was thorough and heated exchange of theses over the principles and procedure most suitable for delving into international phenomena. The emphasis on law-like generalizations purported to patterns and regularities presumed to be constant across space and time. The quantitative study of IR was made. To some extent nation-state as a unit of analysis lost the appeal and luster and attempts were made to ascertain real forces of IR. The more relevant unit of analysis – individuals, group think, transnational organizations and bureaucracies were examined. Non-state actors with international reach and scope became the subject matter of this study. The transnational perspective responded with the dynamics of IR and global circumstances.

Neoliberalism or transnationalism in 1970s reflected the ongoing international economic exchange. It formulated complex interdependence in IR introducing transnational relations, economic interdependence, security communities, international organizations and the broader concept of international regimes. A critique of such positive interdependence responded with fine tuning radicalism from Marxist perspective in the form of the world-system, dependency and underdevelopment postulates. It was well received both in Latin America and the US in the late 1960s and 1970s due to American intervention to contain ideologically hostile regimes in the non-Western world.

The North-South disparities were widening the gulf between the affluent and the impoverished societies. The conflicts about unequal dividends of global economy demanded New International Economic Order by the countries of the South. The concepts such as neo-imperialism, neo-colonialism, structural violence, international political economy, peace and other alternative movements became a subject of discourse and analysis of IR. Peace research was started which one of the manifestations of a resurgence of neoliberal theorizing. It appeared at a time when the Cold War lost the chill to détente. It was developed by heavy funding within Western Europe and Scandinavia. Then functionalists, neo-functionalists, world federalists and integration theorists discussed the issues of regionalism, global stability, global order and global peace. Ethically concerned futurologists motivated the people to mull different and alternative worlds for the secure future of the posterity. These trends are known as the post-behavioural era.

The sixth stage from late 1970s to the first half of 1980s the study of IR was influenced by variables such as economic issues, ecological and environment challenges. It became the concern of international community. In 1980s realism was transformed into neorealism with both neoliberalism and radicalism faded.

The conscious or subconscious rationalization involved in contemporary theorizing by the Western scholars was challenged by the intellectuals of the South. The Western theories in many cases were considered irrelevant and inapplicable to the countries of the South. Its inadequacies led to the growth of non-Western perspectives on IR. It came to fore as the demand for a more credible effort on the part of the capitalist West to establish an egalitarian global economy was raised. During the heyday of Cold War most of these countries to note chose nonalignment and peaceful co-existence despite some regional powers courted either superpowers – the US and Soviet Union. The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 ushered the triumph of liberal democracy and “the end of history.” the disintegration of Soviet Union was the resultant product of its own inherent flaws in political and economic system. The great debates were also not squarely debated instead the theories were refined within the respective schools of thought. By the end of 1980s the theoretical contestation was reduced to relatively narrow discord.

The mainstream of controversial theories was replaced by rationalists and reflectivists camps. The post-modern debate ensued in the seventh stage. In contrast to neo-realists and neo-liberals shared belief in rational (scientific) methods, reflectivists are characterized by emphasizing interpretation (hermeneutics), the reflections of actors and agents central to institutions. Norms and regimes seen as inter-subjective phenomena are to be studied by non-positivist methods. Four main undercurrents of post-positivism in 1980s were critical theory, post-Marxism, post-modernism and post-modern feminism.

The eight stage had salient feature of unipolar moment with a lonely superpower the US on the landscape of IR. However there were concerted efforts by European countries and other major powers of regions to create a multipolar world order. The post-Cold War era traits comprised of the process and move toward democratizing IR. A thesis on power diffusion has become vogue as the great powers in contemporary IR are constrained to use traditional attributes and resources to achieve their objectives than in the past.

A comparatively new discipline IR has passed through different stages as mentioned above in ordeal atmosphere since its inception in the early 20th century. The study of IR is thus neither well-organized nor fully scientific nor having comprehensive conceptual framework. Yet it has developed itself as an autonomous discipline under the branch of political science apart of which draws upon such diverse fields as economics, history, law, philosophy, geography, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and cultural studies.

The “Great Debates”/ Inter-paradigm debate

First Major Debate: Utopian Liberalism/Idealism vs. Realism (1930s & 1940s)

Second Major Debate: Traditional Approaches vs. behaviouralism (late 1950s & 1960s)

Third Major Debate: Neorealism/neoliberalism vs. Neo-Marxism (late 1960s & early 1970s)

Fourth Major Debate (the early stages): Established traditions vs. post-positivist methodologies (late 1980s & 1990s)

Earlier the inter-paradigm debates was confined and subsumed easily in a conventional tripartite superstructure designated aptly by three waves. There are new debates and there are cutting edges across approaches to IR but we can still discern no new dominant paradigm.

The modern world-system has its origin since a half millennia approximately 1500. Immanuel Wallerstein sees it essentially as a world economy without a world empire. George Modelski concentrates on political leadership in a society although it has anarchical elements is still nevertheless a society. So contemporary world system of the last half millennium is rooted in economic or political relationships. Realism, world society and structural approaches were evident in 19th century theory and practice in concert system (realism), in the growth of international civil society organizations (world society approaches) and in the structuralist Marxist and geopolitical traditions.

The modern state system emerged and got inured n the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and the subsequent treaty. Hobbes and Machiavelli were considered realists. Callières outlined a Treatise on Diplomacy and Hugo Grotius was regarded as the father of international law. The Duc de Sully and Kant sought to create conditions for a permanent and working peace system. Friedrich Gentz became the father of modern diplomacy. De Tocqueville envisaged the outlines of mid-20th century international relations. Carl von Clausewitz said war was the continuation of politics by other means. The geopoliticians flourished and the Marxist tradition was germinated.

There was briefly in the 1920s a consensus in theory and practice on the practice of precepts of Wilson’s liberal internationalism. The Anglo-American tradition of idealism or utopianism came under scathing attack from by the European continental scholars who had the first hand experience of ultra-nationalist war mongering regimes in those countries. Those scholars were steeped into prudential realism and axiomatic power politics. Morgenthau put forth well known six principles of realism. In Europe as liberal democracies were at the margins and isolation. The Second great consensus was therefore on realism. The discipline of IR had been founded on the notion that international politics were in essence state-centric and that the dominant mode of relations between states was power politics. It is beginning to crack.


The Study of IR in Japan, China and India: A Concise Glance at the State of the Art Discipline in Three Asian Powers

International Relations as a disciplinary study in Japan can not be found as a separate departmental specialization except in the Graduate Schools of Area Studies, International Cultural Studies, Political Science and Law faculty. From 1868 (the Meiji restoration) till at present there are four traditions governing the principles of Japanese IR which are Staatslehre or statecraft principles, Marxism, historicism and American political science.[3] In brief Staatslehre tradition significantly influenced the study of pre-war military and colonial period and after 1945 also it was forcefully appeared in the academic scene. From 1920 to 1960 Marxism was put forth to criticize the government of the day and in 1920 the word Shakai Kagaku or social science came into prominence. Historicism did not care about relevance of policy and it included in its matter pre 1945 events and personalities. In pre 1945 in Japan there was an influence of European social science and after the war American social science dominated. Prof. Inoguchi has remarked that the salient feature of Japanese political science and IR is diversity without integrated discipline or without institutional integration. During Cold war between 1960 and 1970 Japanese academics were in dilemma to choose either realism or idealism which is not solved even today regarding partial peace with the West and total peace with friendly powers. The post-Vietnam war displaced the Japanese realism about running the world by post-realism and post-idealism.[4]

There are three stages of IR development institutionally in China. The first stage since 1953 catered the needs of civil servants of the Foreign Ministry and new talents in the field of national and public security. The second stage from 1964 to 1979 established three departments of international politics at Peking, Remin and Fudan universities studying the national liberation movements in the Third World, communist movements in the world and IR in the Western world respectively. The third stage from 1980 to the present there are 36 schools of IR within universities, and 54 bachelor or master degree programs, and 29 doctoral degree programs in IR. In China IR is developed and explained within the Marxist thought. Of late Chinese IR scholars are involved in brain storming of non-Marxian theories in Chinese context.[5]

With respect to India liberal-idealism of Nehru’s doctrine in Indian foreign policy is under duress from intellectuals and think tanks to overhaul it.[6] They emphasize the Indian establishment to profess and pursue realist principles while conducting IR especially after 1990 which heralded New World Order. They are cognizance of the fact that the new nuclear nation is a major power to reckon with in the 21st century. There are four universities at four corners in India at the departmental status for imparting specialization in the discipline of IR. Indian analysts and thinkers are imbued with Western paradigms on IR and they indulge in appraising them in their context.[7] Recently they are reclaiming the post-colonial space of discourse due to development of the post-colonialism as a distinct strand of theory. Despite analyzing the workings of the post-colonial state in contemporary settings of IR, authorities on it are based in Euro-American academics employing a textual language of the Occident.


[1] Sridhar Khatri, “Teaching International Relations in Nepal,” Contributions to Nepalese Studies, Vol. 28, No. 2, July 2001, pp. 139-154.

[2] Heavily referred to Vinay Kumar Malhotra, International Relations, (New Delhi: Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd., Reprint 2006), pp. 1-13.

[3] Takashi Inoguchi and Paul Bacon, “The Study of International Relations in Japan: Towards a More International Discipline,” International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, Vol. 1, 2001, pp. 1-20.

[4] Takashi Inoguchi, “The Sociology of a Not-So-Integrated Discipline: The Development of International Relations in Japan,” Journal of East Asian Studies, February, 2001, Vol.2, No.1, p.119.

[5] Qin Yaqing, “Why is there no Chinese international relations theory?” International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 313-340.

[6] C. Raja Mohan, Crossing the Rubicon: The Shaping of India’s New Foreign Policy, (New Delhi: Penguin Books/Viking, 2003).

[7] Kanti Bajpai and Siddarth Mallavarapu (eds.), International Relations in India: Bringing Theory Back Home, (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2005); Kanti Bajpai and Siddarth Mallavarapu (eds.), International Relations in India: Theorizing the Region and Nation, (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2005).