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THE NATURE OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

THE BASIC VOCABULARY OF IR

The purpose of this book is to offer you a critical introduction to the basics of international relations (IR). The keyword here is ‘critical’ rather than ‘basics’. If at the end of this introduction, you understand why the word critical is key, you will be in a strong position to move on to the next chapters. To help you reach this initial goal this introductory chapter will focus on the nature of the study of IR as an academic discipline. Here we aim to give you a sense of the ‘shape’ of the subject and an insight into the challenges that lie ahead.

International Relations Books PDF for CSS

IR is usually characterized as a separate and discrete academic discipline. You will find separate departments of ‘International Relations’ or ‘International Politics’ in many universities. You will find separate curricula and degree schemes, and professors and lecturers of IR. However, in an important sense, this separateness is artificial. (International Relations Books PDF for CSS)

On the one hand, it seems intuitively simple to say that IR is a distinct entity. It is at the most basic level, the study of something that exists out there. Inter – National – Relations, the study of relations between nations. When we say ‘nations’ here we usually intend to refer to the interactions of nation-states – sovereign territorially bounded political units like the United States of America or France. However, it is also clear that this does not tell us very much about our subject. (International Relations Books PDF for CSS)

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Taking a brief glance at the world around us we find that some of the principal actors in world politics, the agents of international relations that make up the political landscape of our subject area, are not nations at all. When we look at the world of global politics we inevitably see international or trans-national governmental organizations (IGOs) such as the United Nations (UN) or the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

International Relations Books PDF for CSS

We see regional organizations, such as the European Union (EU) or the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), important non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Red Cross (and Red Crescent) or Amnesty International, and powerful multinational corporations (MNCs) with bigger annual turnovers than the gross national product (GNP) of many countries. We also find that many issues that we associate with IR transcend this basic description. (International Relations Books PDF for CSS)

Are our concerns about an HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, or human rights reducible to IR in this narrow sense? There is clearly much more to IR than inter-national relations. We also find that the questions and issues that arise as an obvious part of IR seem more properly to be thought of as questions of politics, economics, law, development studies, geography, history, moral philosophy, strategic or war studies (the list could go on and on).

Take a closer look at your faculty list and you will find that each ‘IR specialist’ is, in fact, a specialist in a subfield of IR. They may be experts in ‘theory’, ‘security studies’, ‘international political economy’, ‘foreign policy studies’, ‘international history’ or ‘inter- national law’ (again the list could go on). What does all this tell u about IR? First and foremost it tells us that IR is a general descriptor for a complex, multidisciplinary subject area.(International Relations Books PDF for CSS)

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To study IR is to become a generalist. It is to find a way of engaging with a hugely complex, but fascinating and politically urgent, aspect of our lives. Politics and IR share this multidisciplinarity. Those aspects of our world that we describe as political form the framework within which we live. International politics impacts on you from the price you pay for your shopping, to the laws your government is allowed to impose. It encompasses the management of the long-term ecological, political and financial effects of the world economy and the short-term effects of poverty, starvation, and disease.

International Relations Books PDF for CSS

It confronts the refugee crises that follow natural and human-made disaster, manages the conduct of war, and attempts to coordinate the prosecution of international law. If you switch on the television or pick up a newspaper, you will see international politics everywhere.(International Relations Books PDF for CSS)

The way to begin to get a grip on this wide-ranging and challenging subject is not to become an expert in every aspect of world politics. This might be an ideal solution but it is simply not a realistic goal. Rather, you need to find a way to ‘cope’ with complexity and multidisciplinarity. This is what IR, as an academic discipline, and you, as a student of IR, must try to achieve. IR, at its most basic level, is a matter of orientation.

It attempts to manage the deeply complex nature of world politics by breaking it down into understandable chunks and helpful general theories. The key is
to find ways of describing and analyzing world politics that can both acknowledge the vast array of causal and determining factors yet give us the critical leverage we need.

International Relations Books PDF for CSS

We need to be able to see the ‘shape’ of the subject to enable us to understand the general principles that inform the technicalities of international economics, law, and politics. This is not to suggest that IR is in any way a second-order discipline. indeed, if you want to understand the world economy or public international law then a study of the general nature of IR is essential.

IR is the background upon which the many dramas of world politics are played out. Neither is it to suggest that IR is not complex in itself. You will need to master a whole range of historical and conceptual skills. Learning to understand the historical development
of ‘the state’, ‘the international system’, ‘a globalized economy’ etc. offers huge insights in to the nature of IR. Similarly, learning to understand the political, cultural and moral arguments that defend or criticize these features of our world is crucial to a basic understanding of IR.

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