Unit 6: International Politics
This unit traces the emergence of a world system of states from the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), which first standardized the conditions for peace among states, through the colonial period and into contemporary globalization. We will see that global governance has its roots both in the economic interests of states and a general aversion to war. For instance, you will learn how economic interests led European powers to expand their political control over – and ultimately establish formal colonies in – Africa, the Americas, and Asia. European powers used their colonies both to extract raw materials for the industrial revolution in Europe and the United States and to export excess segments of their own populations. From an economic perspective, European colonization was exchanging excess Europeans for raw materials like lumber, steel, tea, and crops. This pattern of exchange has led to complex political dynamics across state borders, the implications of which continue to be felt today.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 20 hours.
Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:
- explain the impact of the Peace of Westphalia on the contemporary international system;
- compare and contrast the realist, liberalism, and constructivism theories of international relations;
- analyze the features of key intergovernmental organizations, including the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO;
- assess the value of diplomacy in international cooperation;
- explain the origins and influence of international law;
- discuss the nature, conduct, and purpose of war;
- illustrate the defining features of terrorism;
- analyze the debate over the "clash of civilizations" and "democratic peace" theories in international politics; and
- explain the doctrine and international practice of human rights.
6.1: The International System
In Unit 6, we will explore international politics. Before you begin, refer back to the very first article in the course and re-read the section on international relations. International relations is the study of relationships between countries and international organizations. Most international relations courses will begin with a discussion of the Peace of Westphalia, which is regarded by some scholars as marking the beginning of the international system we have today. The "Westphalian System" refers to the fact that the international system is composed of sovereign nation-states. As you will discover, state sovereignty is a key feature of the international system.
Because states are sovereign, no overarching "world" authority exists. Consequently, the international system can be characterized as "anarchic". This section describes some of the ways states interact, such as by international law, diplomacy, and war. We will explore each of these forms of interaction through the lenses of cooperation and conflict.
This section compares and contrasts the various theories of international relations. These theories provide a framework for understanding how states interact with each other in the international system and can be used to help explain situations and actions. Realism, idealism, and constructivism are the three most prominent theories in international relations. Which do you find most convincing?
6.2: International Cooperation
6.2.1: International Institutions and Actors
One possibility for state cooperation involves participation in international organizations. The United Nations is an intergovernmental organization, which means that all of its members are the states themselves. Nearly all states are members of the United Nations, which makes it particularly noteworthy in the international system. What are the current roles of the United Nations, and how does it potentially contribute to a cooperative international system?
This section expands on the discussion of the mission and roles of the United Nations, and also introduces a few other international organizations, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the European Union, and ASEAN. Familiarize yourself with the general purpose of each of these organizations. This article also discusses non-governmental organizations and multinational corporations, both of which have significant influence in the international system.
This section describes collective security and collective defense, which are other avenues for cooperation among states in the international system. How would realists and idealists explain the formation of collective security or defense organizations?
Watch each of these ten short videos. The videos should cycle automatically within the playlist. You can navigate the playlist on the right had side of the screen. Each video is comprised of a short interview with a U.S. foreign diplomat describing his or her work and perspective on diplomacy.
As you read this report, study the definition of "public diplomacy" beneath in the section on current public diplomacy programs. How does this definition compare to the definition you just wrote? According to this definition of public diplomacy, diplomacy involves a wide range of activities, and this article offers practical examples of diplomacy in action. How powerful do you think diplomacy is in creating a cooperative international system?
6.2.3: Treaties and International Law
This article describes the development of international law. If you recall, the international system is characterized by "anarchy", which means that no overarching government or authority exists. How does international law work in an anarchic system? What were some of the major events in the development of the body of international law?
This section specifically describes the sources of international law, which include treaties and conventions, court decisions, and resolutions and decisions of international organizations. Pay particular attention to the definition and explanation of treaties, as this is an important tool of international cooperation.
6.3: International Conflict and Security
6.3.1: National Security and Thomas Hobbes
This article presents a philosophical perspective on the existence of governments within the international system. Compare the views of Locke and Hobbes. Think back to the theories of international relations you read previously. Do you see any connections between Locke's views, Hobbes' views, and the perspectives of realism and liberalism?
Like the previous article, this compares the philosophical viewpoints of Locke and Hobbes. In this instance, however, they are examined through the lens of national security and the "war on terror". While the liberal perspective of international relations posits that states prefer to cooperate when given the chance, realists are more inclined to believe that conflict is unavoidable. We've looked at various aspects of conflict in the international system. How can the perspectives of Locke and Hobbes explain and direct our understanding of conflict in the international system?
6.3.2: War and Terrorism
This section describes war as "an organized, armed, and often prolonged conflict that is carried out between states, nations, or other parties". Because of the potential for chaos, suffering, and destruction, war is a critical concept in the study of international relations. Pay close attention to the different types of war described in this section.
This section defines peace as "a state of harmony characterized by the lack of violent conflict or war". To understand war in the international system, we also need to understand what peace looks like. As you read this section, consider your own definition of peace.
The development of nuclear weapons changed the dynamics of war permanently. Winston Churchill once said that "peace is the sturdy child of nuclear terror". Some argue that when two states have nuclear weapons, war is no longer a rational foreign policy option for those states, as the level of destruction would mean the costs will exceed the benefits. As you read, consider how nuclear weapons have changed the security environment and influenced the balance of power in the international system.
The realist perspective on international relations argues that war is inevitable. Indeed, even with all of our modern advances in science, culture, and education, war and conflict still occur. The Just War Theory was developed as an attempt to codify the ethics of war. Do you think it is important to discuss and consider the morality of war? Do you agree with Just War Theory's criteria? Do you think war can ever be considered "just"?
This section defines terrorism. Terrorism refers to violent acts committed for a religious, political, or ideological goal in which the targets are noncombatants. Why do terrorists specifically target noncombatants?
6.3.3: Huntington's Clash of Civilizations
Samuel Huntington's controversial "clash of civilizations" theory posits that people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world. His theory has fallen under the stern critique of various academic writers. Since this article is short, read it twice. The first time, identify and consider the main points of Huntington's argument. Then, when you read a second time, identify and consider the authors' critiques of Huntington's argument. Refer back to Unit 1, where we explored political science as a "science". How do the critiques found in this article reflect the principles of "scientific" social science research?
This article also explores Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" and discusses his argument in light of recently gathered data regarding online interactions among regions. Do you think the data provided in this article supports Huntington's claims? Why or why not?
6.3.4: Democratic Peace Theory
According to the democratic peace theory, a pattern exists in international relations: democratic states are unlikely to go to war with one another. While many scholars argue that the democratic peace theory is an observable, statistically-identifiable trend, this article critiques the theory and argues that societal attitudes and perceptions of democratic countries greatly influence the acceptance of this theory. Do you agree?
6.4: Humanitarian Issues in International Relations
6.4.1: Human Rights
Human rights "protect individuals from government action that would threaten or harm certain freedoms thought to be fundamental". This article explains the basis for international human rights law, which includes non-binding declarations like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, treaties, monitoring organizations, and individual experts.
This article critiques the concept of human rights in the international system. Why does this article argue that the concept of human rights is no longer relevant in the international system? Do you agree?
6.4.2: Humanitarian Aid and Intervention
When atrocities are being committed or suffering is occurring within a state, sometimes other, more powerful states feel a responsibility or obligation to intervene. This intervention can take the form of humanitarian intervention or foreign aid. After reading this section, you should be able to define and explain both of these terms.
Unit 6 Assessment
Take this assessment to see how well you understood this unit.
- This assessment does not count towards your grade. It is just for practice!
- You will see the correct answers when you submit your answers. Use this to help you study for the final exam!
- You can take this assessment as many times as you want, whenever you want.