International Politics

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International Politics

The Western state system

The actors

National goals and the power base

Modes of state action

Power relations, peace, and stability

The study of international politics


This article discusses the important institutions, processes, and problems in the relations among nations. For detailed information about related topics, see under INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS.

Problems of war and peace and of conflict and cooperation among independent political entities have long fascinated statesmen and scholars—in ancient China and India, among the Greek city-states of the fifth century B.C., in Renaissance Italy, and in the Western state system, which in our own day has become a world system. Because the members of this Western state system have been nation-states, the study of political relations in a system of multiple sovereignties has come to be known as inter-national relations.

However, “the state” is a mere shorthand expression for a very complex set of relationships among the individuals of which it is composed. To under-stand the relations between states, one is therefore driven to the study of human behavior and of interpersonal relations both within and between states, since there is no sharp line separating domestic from world politics. Important insights for this study can be gained from many disciplines: history, economics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, geography, and law, as well as political science.

The Western state system

The substance of international politics is conflict and its adjustment among groups of people who acknowledge no common supreme authority. While the Western state system has in the last three centuries been remarkably efficient in preserving the independence of nation-states and has been flexible enough to permit the progressive fulfillment of aspirations for national independence throughout the world, it has done so at the cost of intermittent war, including about a dozen general wars into which all, or almost all, of the great powers were eventually drawn. It is because this political process has so often involved war or the threat of war that its study has come to be thought important. Thus, however objective the treatment of the topics studied, there has been a strong normative element in their selection. The study of international relations has been developed by scholars who believe that the future is at most semidetermined and that scholarship can help men move toward a future of their own choice. In the atomic age this quest for a functional equivalent to large-scale war has been given a new urgency.

The vision of a better world, or at least one better organized than the world that floundered into the 1914-1918 war, was the inspiration of the generation of scholars in America and Britain who breathed life into the then new academic specialty. It was a vision dominated by the colossal spirit of Woodrow Wilson. Peace, he thought and preached, was within reach once the “war to end war” had been won. The essential elements in the Wilsonian program for achieving general and permanent peace included a world system of democratically organized states, international understanding, international arbitration, disarmament, national self-determination, open diplomacy, mechanisms for peaceful change, and an alliance of all against any aggressor. A complete prescription for a better world has to do more, however, than list the conditions under which peace with justice would prevail. In a world political arena in which the governments of nation-states are the leading actors and the loyalties of men are primarily to their respective nation-states, it is not “the world,” but men charged with promoting and maintaining the security and well-being of the inhabitants of particular nation-states, who make the decisions that shape the future. A second generation of scholars has put more emphasis on clarifying questions of national policy and on elaborating theoretical constructs than on making blueprints for a warless world. [SeeInternational relations.]

As the Western state system has become a world system, the necessity for the student of international relations to appreciate diversities and uniformities among states and cultures has become acute. The intensive development of studies of the non-Europeanized areas of the world after World War ii and the concurrent emphasis on compar ative politics are responses to these twin requirements. From the vast array of potentially relevant data, the international relations scholar has a staggeringly difficult task of selection and organization. From the historian, the geographer, and the area specialist particularly come the data for understanding the behavior of individual states. From the stu-dents of comparative politics, comparative social systems, and international law come the data for the discovery of behavioral regularities among classes of states and even of states in general. From the international systems theorists come the analytical models with specified “essential rules” to which concrete systems with their behavioral regularities may be compared.[SeeSystems analysis, article onInternational systems.]

Both the Western state system as a whole and the behavior of its constituent units are constantly changing. Identifying the major transformations in the system is a central task for the scholar who wishes to chart the limits of choice open to the makers of public policy with specified value preferences.

Concurrent with the transformation of a state system of European origin into a world system have been other great transformations: unprecedented roles are being played by the United States and the Soviet Union, superpowers peripheral to Europe. From its west European area of origin the appeal of nationalism has spread outward to the Afro–Asian world, and along with it demands for higher living standards and the dignity of participating in political life. Control of foreign relations in the advanced countries has become democratized; at the same time the tasks of the makers of foreign policy have become increasingly complex and difficult. While the bearers of the most advanced technology have in each era enjoyed dominant positions in the state system of that era, science and technology have suddenly emerged as important and semiindependent short-run variables in the equations of world politics. The old states of western Europe and those across the ocean that share European culture are drawing together in varying forms of association for economic and security purposes. New tasks have been posed for those responsible for military defense, especially for the policy makers in the superpowers. They must maintain a high level of peacetime defense mobilization, form peacetime alliances in which coalition military planning is extremely detailed, embark upon massive programs of foreign economic and military aid, and pursue a vigorous psychological strategy—with at least as much emphasis on deterring major war as on winning it. Ideological differences divide the most powerful groupings of states.

We shall discuss in turn the actors on the stage of world politics, the goals and claims of these actors, the bases of their power, and the methods and instrumentalities by which the power is applied in the pursuit of goals. Actors, goals, bases of influence, instrumentalities—these are all artificial constructs which have to be fitted together to produce an analytical model with some resemblance to the real world; but as long as they are recognized as abstractions useful for focusing on particular aspects of international relations, they should not mislead.

The actors

State actors

The modern nation-state began to emerge in the fifteenth century with the division of Europe into units whose monarchs recognized no superior authority.

Sovereignty. The distinguishing characteristic for international relations became sovereignty, defined by Grotius as “that power whose acts are not subject to the control of another so that they may be made void by the act of any other human will” Nevertheless, the restraints of international law can be discerned even at this period: even when they felt no moral restraint, absolute monarchs usually found it convenient to observe certain rules of conduct in their relations with each other, rules that reflected their Christian and Roman heritage.

Thus, there was a “suborganized” state system, and not pure anarchy.

In domestic affairs the divine-right king gave way in the course of time, but not everywhere at the same rate, to constitutional government. As representatives of the ruled became the rulers in the nineteenth century, their governments became more and more amenable to the influence of organized sectors of the public. This development did not reduce the role of violence in interstate politics. In fact, as the monarch’s business became the people’s business, the nation in arms could wage war with a mobilization of its energies far more intensive than any divine-right king could have imagined. Relations between states became subject to irrational outbursts of feeling directed against foreigners and foreign governments suspected of hostile intentions to both people and state.[SeeSovereignty.]

Nationality and self-determination. In the nineteenth century the sovereign-state had become a nation-state. Its inhabitants were supposed to be united by a common nationality and separated from other nation-states by this characteristic. Efforts to define nationality in terms of common language, racial heritage, customs, religion, and so forth are insufficient to explain the existing patterns of loyalty to contemporary nation-states. A sense of nationality is subjective, and people belong to the nationality to which they feel they belong, for whatever reason. However, more often than not, states seem to have come into being before the nation that might have demanded their creation was formed. This is not to depreciate the power of feelings of national solidarity, for demands for national self-determination generated most of the bitter conflicts of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The doctrine of national self-determination, according to which all people of one nationality are entitled to dwell together in order to govern themselves in a state of their own—despite any or all economic, historical, or other obstacles—proved so strong a moving force that it continues in our own day in a modified form. Yet even in Europe the doctrine proved very difficult to apply. It provided no clear basis for defining the territorial limits of a particular nationality and made no adequate provision for the people of the marches. Furthermore, it offered no way to identify the “national” will. The earlier excesses committed in the name of nationalism, the promise of rising living standards implicit in the reduction of intra-European trade barriers, and the obsolescence of European-sized states as independently defensible units in a world of superpowers have since 1945 driven the peoples of western Europe to play down nationality as a unifying force against outsiders. It is ironic to find the same slogans used in the Afro-Asian world today, where circumstances are greatly at variance with those in Europe in the nineteenth century. Lacking the cohesion of older political communities, many of these newer units are led by men who play upon their followers’ fear of outsiders.[See NATION.]

More and more, the life of the people has become identified with what the government does, even in the least socialistically inclined states. The prevalence of the welfare state suggests that individuals gain more than physical and psychological security in identifying themselves with their nation; they secure valuable material advantages as well. In the 1960s more than 125 entities are formally recognized as states. Yet hardly more than half of them exhibit the classical attributes of a viable sovereign state. While they all have a population and in most cases a clearly defined territorial base, many of them lack a “people.” The government is often not in effective control within the country, and its authority is not always recognized outside the national territory. In many of the “fledgling” states, who is to govern is not yet clearly settled; instead of law and order there are constant outbreaks of rebellion. [SeeState.]

Nonstate actors

States are not the sole significant actors in international relations. On the formal level must be added various kinds of organizations of states that governments have formed in order to increase their physical security or to achieve economic benefits (or even, in some cases, to satisfy their humanitarian impulses). There are a large number of functional international organizations and the almost universal United Nations. In addition, there are many regional “special-purpose” organizations. The institutions of the European communities can even to a minor degree act without the specific consent of each member state. Even military alliances may take the form of a regional international organization, the most highly developed being the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Groups of states, whether or not formally organized, often act together as blocs for diplomatic purposes.[SeeInternational organization, article onthe process and the institutions.]

Another form of association that can on occasion affect the course of world politics is the transnational grouping, such as the World Federation of Trade Unions and its noncommunist rival, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The thin line that can be drawn between “public” and “private” becomes even thinner as we move on to cosmopolitan religious groups, such as the Roman Catholic church, or ideological groups, such as the world-wide communist movement.

This does not mean that the state is withering away as the prime actor in international relations. Even in the most effective international organizations, the will of the individual states still dominates the decision-making process. Each individual born and raised in a Western or Westernized society has indelibly imprinted on him membership in some national grouping. No matter how cosmopolitan his outlook, he will identify himself, and others will identify him, by this imprint. This habit of identifying individuals by their national affiliation is so ingrained that a Western observer often assumes members of non-European societies will inevitably outgrow their communal or tribal loyalties and put loyalty to the nation first. There is in the Western world a strengthening of transnational bonds, but they remain less strong than the bonds of nationality. They are strong enough to support a limited amount of joint action in world affairs among states with common goals, exposed to common threats.

National decision makers

Scholars have long related individuals to the behavior of the nation-state actors by describing group attitudes—subnational, national, transnational, and supranational. A post-World War II phenomenon has been an intensified study of the behavior of decision-making elites in the various states.

Who are the most influential decision makers in international relations? They are first of all those who control the levers of power within the national governments. Some few individuals—e.g., the president of the United States, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, the chancellor of the German Federal Republic—are important because of their official positions. Other individuals—e.g., Charles de Gaulle, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Gamal Abdel Nasser—would also be named, whatever their titular position in the government.

Even the influence of such august individuals, however, depends on their positions of leadership in official or unofficial groups of political importance, whether it be the Central Committee of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, the clique of colonels in the Egyptian army, the British Trade Union Congress, the French bureaucratic elite, the committees of the United States Senate and House of Representatives, the tribal organization of Katanga, or the leading stockholders of the Belgian Union Miniere.

Political parties as such are not often important participants in the making of foreign policy, which in the noncomminist world is frequently carried on in a relatively “nonpartisan” fashion. As the di-vision between domestic and foreign policy becomes less precise, this may change. Formerly, even in the most democratically organized governments, strong pressure groups rarely directed their attention to issues of significance in foreign policy, although sometimes their activities had important foreign policy consequences. Tariffs and immigration policy in the United States, for example, were long shaped by domestic pressure groups heedless of the impact of their demands on the country’s foreign relations. Today all the traditional economic groupings—agricultural, industrial, commercial, financial, and labor—to say nothing of noneconomic organizations, such as patriotic societies and religious groups, have international as well as domestic concerns. Finally, one should note how slight is the influence of the unorganized “mass” of the people on critical foreign policy decisions. Even in times of great crisis, when they may be whipped into a fury against another people, or, as in some underdeveloped countries, mobilized into crowds for paid demonstrations against the leaders’ foes, their influence in the making of foreign policy is minimal. If “the people” have little to do with the making of foreign policy, “world public opinion” and “the conscience of mankind,” by which Woodrow Wilson set great store, have even less. However, leaders of one state may make extremely effective appeals to the leaders and “attentive publics” of states not directly involved in a given dispute; in this very different sense, “world public opinion” may be important.[See FOREIGN POLICY.]

National goals and the power base

As the scholar’s understanding of the influences playing on national governments becomes more sophisticated and he grows more aware of different types of states and state behavior, he becomes less satisfied with generalized explanations regarding the goals and demands of states. The characteristic protestations of every premier and foreign minister that his state seeks only peace and prosperity do little to illuminate the objectives of either states in general or the particular state to whom these unexceptional aspirations are at the moment being attributed. But conventional “national interest” or “power” explanations are hardly more helpful. In a crisis of national survival the national interest is clear enough, but this tells us little about what the national interest is between crises or what kind of threat to what values constitutes a crisis. Nor does the proposition that states always seek to maximize their power position teach much about either the prediction or control of state behavior. It is no doubt true that each government takes all the steps which seem appropriate to it to attain its policy objectives and in that sense is trying to maximize its power position. But power for what and at what cost? With what intensity and what constancy of purpose? And with what skill are available resources mobilized and deployed to achieve the specified purposes? “Power” is thus not seen as the overriding goal of state behavior, nor as the ultimate value of statesmen, but rather as “that which produces its intended effect” (Wright 1955, p. 559).

The foregoing propositions may not explain the behavior of states, but they do suggest that the goals of particular governments at particular times may be classified, hypotheses may be developed regarding these classifications, and patterns of common behavior may be traced.

A state’s goals may be inconsistent or in conflict with each other. There are goals that will assure two states being in conflict with each other, goals that states can share, goals that though separate are compatible, and goals that can be achieved only through interstate cooperation. The greater the number of states in the system, the more complicated and crisscrossed will these goal relationships become, and the greater the likelihood that groups of states will band together for certain common purposes.

National security

The primary goal of most governments in our own state system in recent centuries has been “security,” which always includes safeguards against immediate threats to the physical integrity of the national homeland; it often includes safeguards against indirect, long-run, and contingent threats, and against threats to a way of life as well as to territory. The comprehensiveness of the goal of security for any given state is determined by what its government would be willing, if necessary, to wage war for. Thus security, like power, turns out to be an instrumental rather than an ultimate goal. Unlike power, however, it is an instrumental goal whose satisfaction does not necessarily deny similar satisfaction to other states. [See NATIONAL SECURITY.]

The occasional “great disturbers”—like Louis xiv, Napoleon, and Hitler, whose objectives seemed to their contemporaries to go so far beyond the requirement of security as to threaten the independence of all the rest—provoked the formation of grand alliances against themselves and thus demonstrated the interest in security which the allies in each case shared.

Today this primary goal of security seems more elusive than ever before, even in an age when a large proportion of literate people believe that their survival depends upon the survival of the rest of the world. It did not take the advent of nuclear weapons to make this the most important problem to solve. Two world wars with conventional weapons had already taught many people that widespread violence could destroy for the victor as well as for the vanquished many of those values which the government had been expected to promote and protect.

This brings us to the question of means, for both in international and in domestic politics the way in which ultimate goals are pursued may turn out to be more significant than the goals themselves. Here we may visualize a continuum of means-ends relationships, at the further end of which stand such ultimate goals as freedom, welfare, and human dignity—and, if all else be denied, survival. In the context of interstate relations, “survival” means the preservation of the nation-state as the carrier and promoter of the common values that characterize its people’s way of life. The goal of survival cannot rationally be promoted by means which sacrifice the values that give the survival of a state meaning to the men who make or influence its foreign policy decisions. Thus, even in the period of overwhelming American superiority in nuclear arms, the offensive or preventive use of such weapons was among the excluded means.

Mobilized power and power potential

Power, the means of influencing the behavior of others in a specific manner, unlike money in the bank, is not available to be drawn on for any purpose. One can speak of a state’s power as adequate or inadequate only in relation to particular purposes at particular times and places against particular competitors. On the other hand, one can speak of power potential as being generally great or small. At a very low level of organization of material and human resources, potential elements of a state’s power are equally available for the achievement of a wide variety of policy objectives. How these elements will be mobilized depends on the particular policies pursued.

The rise of modern Germany from its modest Brandenburg-Prussian beginnings to a position from which it could challenge the whole European order in two twentieth-century wars is a reminder that a slender resource base may be sufficient to pose a fearful threat to opponents with incomparably greater unmobilized resources. The Chinese People’s Republic, like the Soviet Union under Stalin, has demonstrated how a ruthless sacrifice of other human values may enable a state with a resource base smaller than that of its major opponent to vault rapidly to heights of influence. Finally, the capacity of apparently weak new countries in the first stages of economic development to extract favors from both sides in a period of bipolar competition is a source of continuing wonder. Power potential and the satisfaction of particular foreign policy demands are evidently not closely related.

Although great resources do not assure great power, they are a prerequisite to it. The ships and specie of sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century Spain and the Netherlands made great-power status possible for these countries, but after the seventeenth century were not capable of keeping the countries within the circle of the great powers. In the age of coal and iron Austria-Hungary and Italy could be great powers only in name. Strategic air and missile power calls for a mobilization in peacetime of industrial and human resources in magnitudes previously unimagined. This would seem to exclude all but two of this era’s more than one hundred sovereignties from being in the first rank in that particular form of power competition.

Apart from the very special case of capacity to wage, threaten, or deter thermonuclear war against a power with a similar capability, how can one relate the capability of particular states and groups of states to implement their policy objectives to their respective power potential, i.e., to the bases of influence ultimately available to them? And what basic factors enter into the calculation of a state’s potential? Some of these factors may impose restraints that cannot be overcome. And some on examination reveal opportunities for a significant enhancement of capacity to achieve certain kinds of objectives.[See MILITARY POWER POTENTIAL.]

Historical and geographic factors belong in the first category, for history cannot be relived, and the shape of the continents and the location of mineral resources remain fixed. Under present technological conditions a country’s capacity to transcend limitations imposed by a meager energy potential appears restricted.

The population ratios between competing countries change slowly but inexorably and are hardly likely to be affected by calculations made in a foreign policy context. However, the numbers of people with particular desired military, scientific, industrial, professional, or administrative skills are subject to significant manipulation within a single decade; at least between countries of fairly advanced technology and roughly comparable populations, this may be of great political significance.

The rapid changes caused by the accelerating pace of scientific and technological advance, and particularly by its impact on military technology, open up a whole new aspect of international relations. New discoveries in science and technology promise much for the developing countries, but the fact remains that the rich countries get both absolutely and relatively richer, while the poorer ones have trouble even holding their own.

States with a large gross national product and a high per capita income are likely to be among the most powerful. Yet the significance of these indices for a state’s power position can be understood only if one also takes into account the distribution of wealth and employment, rates of taxation, voluntary saving and consumption, and the investment of what has not been immediately consumed in particular forms of enterprise. Today, education and scientific research, as well as defense industries and the armed services, are categories of public investment with middle-run and long-run significance for world politics. The various factors contributing to power potential are intertwined, and it is particularly difficult to disentangle the economic factor from the others.

Only when one pays attention to these additional factors can one explain how the Soviet Union, poor in relation to the United States in terms of both gross national product and per capita income, has come to be one of the two most powerful countries in the world. In the Chinese People’s Republic the data about gross national product and per capita income are even less adequate as explanations of its expanded influence in the Asian theater of world politics.

The material elements in a state’s power potential may or may not be effectively mobilized for promoting its claims in international politics. Less tangible factors, such as national morale and capacity to evoke help from abroad, may be of primary importance in contributing to the actual power of a state in a particular conflict situation.

Modes of state action

War and the threat of war

A state has several methods of influencing others, each of which requires a different way of mobilizing the elements that make up its power potential. The means longest and most intensively studied is, of course, the threat and use of violence. Long before Clausewitz enunciated his famous aphorism, statesmen acted as if they understood that war was an extension of politics. In the atomic age, however, a rational policy maker recoils from ordering the use of violence on a scale that may escalate into a twoway thermonuclear exchange. Thus, the attention of both men of affairs and scholars has been turned to deterrence—how to inhibit an enemy from launching a thermonuclear attack. The “delicate balance of terror” of the late 1950s and 1960s has given a fresh stimulus to research into arms races; it has also invited investigation into a variety of forms of nonnuclear warfare, including the “unconventional” warfare with which the world became familiar in southeast Asia and Algeria. This delicate balance has called for new thinking about ways of adjusting peacetime military policy to diplomatic policy and to national security policy as a whole, and of relating all of these to the requirements of domestic policy. There is an unfamiliar terrain to be studied between total war and total peace, with limited-war and cold-war intermediate bands in a spectrum of violent and nonviolent forms of political competition.[See WAR.]

All-out war has never been a rational, all-purpose instrument for securing and promoting the goals of foreign policy; for only the most urgent and precious objectives are worth the sacrifice of so much blood and treasure. In two world wars the administrative skills, patriotic sentiments, and high productivity of modern industrial states made it possible to allocate such massive resources to war that the technical possibilities of destruction and killing outran every conceivable objective except that of meeting the threat posed by other states with similar capabilities. It is still more difficult, in the era of strategic air and missile power, to conceive of unlimited war as a rational method for settling any conflict of interest between states. Only as a deterrent or as a retaliatory capability to compel an opponent to accept the settlement of conflicts at a less destructive level of competition can such military capabilities be rationally related to the objectives of foreign policy.


The capacity to wage war is often necessary to support another method used by states to influence other states: diplomacy. Its practice goes back to antiquity, although the first permanent missions maintained in foreign countries date in our state system only from the late fifteenth century. Ambassadors are sent to negotiate with other governments. Negotiation implies bargaining, a willingness to give as well as to take, and an assumption that the parties wish to conclude a mutually advantageous exchange.

Contemporary demands on diplomacy, however, pose a number of problems for Western countries. The usefulness of diplomacy is limited in relations with the communists, who, though they are not al-ways averse to bargaining, are more likely to conduct their “diplomacy” for propaganda purposes than for the purpose of reaching an agreement. Western diplomats also find difficulty in negotiating with some of the less experienced representatives of new or underdeveloped countries. The new diplomats do not always appreciate the value of long-established rules and understandings basic to successful diplomacy, including the importance of proven good faith.

“Open diplomacy,” advocated earlier in the twentieth century by some nonprofessionals, is now seen to be still another obstacle to the conduct of mutually useful negotiations; it is now understood that it is “secret alliances” rather than confidential negotiations that were the proper objects of obloquy. These problems are compounded by a new development : the increasing use of multilateral or conference diplomacy. It remains true that the diplomat must, as one participant observed, find a firm basis for agreement or disagreement, as the case may be. [SeeDiplomacy.]

Psychological and economic strategies

While diplomats deal with governments, those responsible for psychological strategy, a comparatively new instrumentality of states, work upon the attitudes of influential people behind the governments and only indirectly upon the governments themselves. Psychological strategy, the deliberate and extensive use of which dates roughly from World War I, enjoyed great success in disintegrating the military effort of the Central Powers in that war. Since World War II it has been extensively used to counter the appeal of world communism; it has also been used by the noncommunist governments in support of many other policy objectives. Subversion of hostile governments is only one of its uses. It may be employed in friendly countries to broaden the base of support for cooperative action and in uncommitted countries to gain new support for current policy objectives. Psychological strategy cannot be conducted wholly on a verbal level. Only substantive deeds consistent with the strategy can make it believable. In this respect, psychological strategy is no different from other instruments of state action; none of them can be efficiently used in isolation.[SeePsychological warfare.]

Governments have long directed their trade relations with other states into desired channels (or obstructed those relations to the desired extent by tariffs, quotas, embargoes, and other trade restrictions). They have, especially in recent decades, become skillful in manipulating their currencies. A third mode of economic action, foreign aid, is in its contemporary peacetime form relatively new. Its intensive use dates from World War II, although states with more specie than manpower to send to battle have in former times subsidized their war partners.

Using economic means for political ends, however, often conflicts with using economic means for economic ends. Embargoes, tariffs, and quotas have been used to weaken or intimidate opponents and to strengthen or attract friends at great cost to the state’s own economic welfare. Even more clear was the conflict between the prescriptions of classical economic theory relating to the specialization and efficient division of labor and efforts to make the state self-sufficient for defense purposes. Between the more advanced countries today, especially among the six nations of the European Economic Community, these conflicts are beginning to be eliminated through organized cooperation to broaden markets and increase security as a byproduct. Even here, however, old-fashioned patriotism, vested interest groups such as subsidized farmers, and efforts to enhance the political influence of one state over another prevent the selection of what would in any purely economic calculus be the most rational policy choices.[SeeEconomic warfare.]

International law and organization

International law and international organization may provide effective modes of action for promoting those values which states share and can pursue together. International law is not meant to be a “maid of all work” but a fine instrument for adjusting certain types of interstate conflict. It cannot aid in settling the major ideological conflicts of the twentieth century. Many of the non-Western countries that were formerly colonies view some of its precepts as more appropriate for supporting the interests of their former masters than those of the new states. Nevertheless, techniques of international legal analysis, especially among friendly states of western European civilization, yield mutually satisfactory solutions to a wide variety of interstate disputes. Even between states unfriendly toward each other, international legal standards may regulate state behavior because failure to conform to such standards would mean the loss of advantages gained from having others do the same.[SeeInternational law.]

International organizations have become instruments of state policy only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At the time of the Congress of Vienna, 1815, provision was already made for multilateral regulation of European international waterways, but the creation of formal international organizations for the cooperative performance of specific functions dates generally from the mid-nineteenth century. In the 1960s the United States belongs to over four hundred international organizations. Most of these are special-purpose organizations. Some of the most important are affiliated with the United Nations (as many of them had been with the League of Nations), e.g., the Universal Postal Union, the World Health Organization. The League of Nations and the United Nations, however, were organized with broader aims in mind; they were to provide for pacific settlement of disputes and for what came to be called collective security. Intended to be world-wide in membership, by 1967 the United Nations contained over 120 members and had become particularly useful for the smaller, newer states, who were more able to compete on equal terms in this forum than through normal channels of diplomacy or on the field of battle. The superpowers have seldom over-looked any opportunity to use the United Nations to score propaganda points against each other. The United Nations is unsuited in its present form, and probably no suitable form could be devised, for settling serious conflicts between the major powers. [SeeInternational organization.]

The juridical equality inherent in the concept of the existing multiple-sovereignty system is, however, very imperfectly reflected in the real world of international politics, Thus, in an imperial relationship the metropolitan power exercises close control over colonies, which ordinarily lack juridical status in the system; or a solar power may exercise a looser control over its satellites, who do retain their juridical status of sovereignty. Only the remnants of the colonial relationship survive in the noncommunist world; the satellite relationship, however, remains important, particularly in the Soviet bloc. While colonies have everywhere been throwing off the shackles of empire, there remains in some cases a very amorphous relationship, typified by the (British) Commonwealth of Nations and more recently by the French Community. The Commonwealth is a form of equal association between the former mother country and the former colonies. It is a voluntary association at the end point in a peaceful process of devolution. Some other associations, such as NATO and the European Communities, register piecemeal efforts at integration. Fusion and fission among states are taking place simultaneously but at different rates in different places with respect to different activities.

Power relations, peace, and stability

Independent sovereign states or groups of associated states, however equal their legal status, have widely varying political and military capabilities, as indeed is implied by the continuing use of such terms as “great powers,” “the superpowers,” “the first-ranking powers,” “the major states,” etc. Yet the system of interstate relations and the identity of its members demonstrate an impressive continuity. Once born, sovereign states have rarely in recent centuries lost their identity through war or conquest. To understand why the small and weak survive in a world of great powers and, latterly, superpowers, one must consider the set of power relations that has characterized our “suborganized” Western state system.

Balance of power

The balance of power may be thought of as inherent in any political process: the world political process at any moment registers the equilibrium established by the amount and direction of pressure that each participant is applying. It may be thought of as a policy pursued by a leading participant to make that equilibrium stable. Finally, one may think of it as an institution in our Western state system: given the norm and the expectation that no one state is to become so powerful as to be capable of overturning the system, states have tended to build armaments and to form alliances to meet a clearly identified threat before some point of no return has been passed. Furthermore, great states have been unwilling to see other great states become greater by absorbing small states that lay between them.

In its classical form the stability of the balance of power rested upon several powers and the willingness of at least some of them to intervene or even to change sides to prevent any of the others from gaining hegemony. The reduction in number of first-ranking states, the ideological struggle that legitimizes and intensifies the all but inevitable competition between the “big two,” and a military technology that compels the first-ranking states to remain in an advanced state of readiness to fight each other make the quest for stability in our time unremitting and burdensome. The lively competition between the two sides in a bipolar world for the good will of the peoples and governments of the nonaligned states and the ingenuity exhibited by each side in bringing pressure to bear upon the other without quite provoking general war are evidence that even under the adverse conditions of the 1960s the balancing process still operates to give some measure of stability to the existing world order.[SeeBalance of power.]

Meanwhile, the Chinese People’s Republic is developing as a serious rival to the Soviet Union in the communist bloc, while the economic revival of western Europe and the economic integration of the “Europe of the Six” are leading some observers to forecast that a system of three or even four superpowers might ultimately emerge. Yet none can challenge the United States and the Soviet Union for pre-eminence in the field of strategic air and missile power, and it is by no means clear that development in either Europe or China of this kind of destructive power on a scale commensurate with the available resources of either will contribute to the stability of the system or to the security of its members.

Universal and regional security systems

Universal and regional security arrangements have been variously viewed as substitutes for and refinements of the balance of power. Although a universal system of collective security fulfilling the hopes raised by the signing of the United Nations charter has not been realized, regional security systems have been established. In a universal system a potential “aggressor” would be deterred by the prospect of cooperative action of all the others in coming to the defense of the state that had been attacked and would be checked by the mobilization of preponderant power against the aggression. Among the reasons why such a promise could not be fulfilled are that no government would be willing to commit itself beforehand to action against an unspecified aggressor, no matter how threatening it might be; that no collective force could be established in advance of aggression to enforce a United Nations decision against an aggressor; and that the potential aggressor might well have allies that would make action against it far from a “police action,” i.e., far from one-sided. Juridically, enforcement action against a great-power aggressor might not be war; but politically and militarily, it would be war. All of these problems were illustrated in the case of the June 1950 attack on South Korea, the United Nations response to which is the closest thing to collective security the world has yet seen. [SeeCollective security.]

Regional security arrangements have been predicated on the existence of an identifiable potential aggressor who is not a party to the arrangement. The guarantee which each member gives that an attack upon one will be regarded as an attack upon all appears more reliable, since the signatory states by their formal commitment have given specific advance indication of the contingencies which they regard as directly threatening. Unlike most traditional alliance partners, participants in post-World War II regional arrangements have found it possible to build up a joint defense force in advance of a possible war. They have been able to cooperate in the making of strategic plans that are intended as much to deter as to defeat aggression. In NATO, coalition military planning and command arrangements and the peacetime deployment of forces in accordance with the plans are very far advanced. Organization is what especially distinguishes these regional security arrangements from previous alliances.[SeeAlliances.]

“World government” is not a pattern of relationships that can be realistically discussed. If such a development were to take place, it would not eliminate the political process, but the leading actors in the world political process would no longer be “states.” However, the assumption that violence would disappear even under such a regime is highly questionable.

The study of international politics

At the beginning of the twentieth century international law and diplomatic history provided accepted tools for the analysis of international politics. In rough chronological order of emergence, we may identify the following additional approaches to the study: international government, with special reference to the League of Nations; various kinds of “devil” theories—with munitions makers, capitalists, and imperialists variously cast as the “devils”; geopolitics; the “realist” school, stressing the “power drives” of men and states; psychological approaches, emphasizing tensions as causes of war; the behavior of decision-making elites and the shaping of their perspectives; the study of national security policy, with particular attention to military aspects; game and bargaining theories; systems theory and the analysis of transformations in concrete systems; and conflict resolution. Some of these approaches, such as the “devil” theories, are dated and leave no visible mark on contemporary thinking about international relations; but in general the effect of this succession of new approaches has been cumulative.

There is as yet no overarching theory of international politics, and there are few signs that such a theory will emerge in the foreseeable future. Those who are striving to find explanations for phenomena in this field are experimenting in so many different directions that no clear pattern of future development is yet discernible.

Theoretical speculation about international relations is largely confined to the United States, as the bibliography suggests. The names of E. H. Carr and Charles A. W. Manning in England and Raymond Aron in France are nevertheless evidence that there is no American monopoly of theory. The long separation between theories of domestic politics and the study of international relations may be ending, for the “web of politics” comprehends both the civil order and the relatively anarchic international society.

Normative theories generally can be left to the political philosopher for study and “grand design” theories to the political activist. Nevertheless, even for the “empirical-scientific” theorist, the choice of subject for data collecting and theorizing cannot be separated from the investigator’s value preferences. In the second half of the twentieth century, conflict between the “free world” and that of the communists, the problems posed by the underdeveloped countries, and the questions raised by current interest in the building of an Atlantic (or a European) community have absorbed the attention of many scholars—especially those in America and Britain who may believe that the direction in which world political affairs move can in some measure be a matter of conscious choice.

The student of international politics may be able to show that certain goals currently sought are not attainable, or only attainable at too great a cost, while other goals may turn out on analysis to be more easily realized than earlier imagined. Thus, the scholar can increase the efficiency of the decision maker’s calculus, helping him both in the selection of economical means and in the clarification of competing goals.

William T. R. Fox and Annette Baker Fox

[See alsoForeign policy; Peace; War].


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Bozeman, Adda B. 1960Politics and Culture in International History. Princeton Univ. Press.

Carr, Edward H. (1939) 1962 The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919-1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations. 2d ed. New York: St. Martins.

Claude, Inis L. JR. (1962) 1964Power and International Relations. New York: Random House. CORBETT, PERCY E. 1951Law and Society in the Relations of States. New York: Harcourt.

Dunn, Frederick S. 1951 Warand the Minds of Men. New York: Harper.

Emerson, Rupert 1960From Empire to Nation: The Rise to Self-assertion of Asian and African Peoples.Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. → A paper-back edition was published in 1962 by Beacon.

Fox, William T. R. (editor) 1959Theoretical Aspects of International Relations. Univ. of Notre Dame Press.

Herz, John H. 1959 International Politics in the Atomic Age. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1962.

Kinsley, Francis H. 1963 Power and the Pursuit of Peace: Theory and Practice in the History of Relations Between States. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Hoffmann, Stanley (editor) 1960Contemporary Theory in International Relations. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Kaplan, Morton A. 1957System and Process in International Politics. New York: Wiley.

Knorr, Klaus E.; and VERBA, SIDNEY (editors) 1961 The International System: Theoretical Essays. Princeton Univ. Press.

Lasswell, Harold D. 1935 World Politics and Personal Insecurity. New York and London: McGraw-Hill. → A paperback edition was published in 1965 by the Free Press.

Liska, George 1957International Equilibrium: A Theoretical Essay on the Politics and Organization of Security. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. MANNING, CHARLES A. W. 1962The Nature of International Society. New York: Wiley.

Morgenthau, Hans J. (1948)1966Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. 4th ed., rev. New York: Knopf.

Renouvin, Pierre E. G.; and DUROSELLE, JEAN-BAPTISTE 1964 Introduction a la histoire des relations Internationales. Paris: Colin.

Rosecrance, Richard N. 1963 Action and Reaction in World Politics: International Systems in Perspective. Boston: Little.

Russett, Bruce M. 1965 Trends in World Politics. New York: Macmillan.

Russett, Bruce M. et al. 1964 World Handbook of Political and Social Indicators. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. → Hayward R. Alker, Jr., Karl W. Deutsch, and Harold D. Lasswell are co-authors.

Sprout, Harold H.; and SPROUT, MARGARET 1962Foundations of International Politics. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

Sprout, Harold; and SPROUT, MARGARET 1965 The Ecological Perspective on Human Affairs, With Special Reference to International Politics. Princeton Univ. Press.

Spykman, Nicholas J. 1942 America’s Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power. New York: Harcourt.

Waltz, Kenneth N. 1959 Man, the State and War: A Theoretical Analysis. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. WOLFERS, ARNOLD 1962Discord and Collaboration: Essays on International Politics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Wright, Quincy 1955 The Study of International Relations. New York: Appleton.

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