Introduction to International Relations


   Typically, there is one LD debate resolution each debate season that focuses on some aspect of international relations o Resolved: The United States is justified in using private military firms abroad to pursue its military objectives. o Resolved: Economic sanctions ought not be used to achieve foreign policy objectives. o Resolved: The United States ought to submit to the jurisdiction of an international court designed to prosecute crimes against humanity. The likelihood that you will rely upon the terminology in an actual debate round is slim, given the relative unfamiliarity of the typical local judge with these issues. However, acquiring a basic understanding of international relations theory is essential for properly understanding the relevant topic literature, making intelligent arguments about and articulating intelligent responses to issues such as globalization, hard and soft power and nuclear proliferation, and for, if need be, using the terms in a debate round or calling out an opponent for misusing or misapplying a particular term or concept. International relations theory, fundamentally, seeks to answer the question “Why do states behave the way they do in the international system?” o The trick for international relations theory, and for any theory for that matter, is to o find universal patterns of state activity and universal rules that explains how ANY state behaves. Given that international relations theory is a social science, we cannot conduct actual experiments (i.e. invading a country to test a theory of how states react to foreign intervention), but rather we can use historical data, for instance, to assess the validity of our hypotheses

Levels of Analysis

 One of the key questions in international relations is “how do you examine state behavior?” This is known as the “level of analysis problem.” There are four general levels of analysis through which state behavior can be examined. o

System level analysis

: examines state behavior by looking at the international system. The international system is the cause and state behavior is the effect. Change in the international system will cause change in state behavior. The key o variable here is the POWER OF THE STATE WITHIN THE SYSTEM. Some states are powerful, some aren’t. So, the actions of the powerful states influence, according to this theory, the actions of weaker states (e.g. the central cause of all state behavior in the Cold War was the fact that the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were the two powerful states in a bipolar system).

State level analysis

: examines the foreign policy behavior of states in terms of state characteristics. E.g. democratic peace theory. Some argue that the foreign policy behavior of every state is a cultural characteristic, defined by the historical

o o legacy of the state, its religious and social traditions, or the economic and geographic nature of the state itself.

Organizational level analysis

: examines the ways in which organizations within a state function to influence foreign policy behavior. States don’t make decisions. Organizations bargain with each other to create a foreign policy that is a compromise between competing organizations.

Individual level analysis

: focuses on people. People make decisions within nation-states and therefore people make foreign policy. We might look at the roles of different leaders. This level of analysis also includes cognitive theories— theories that explain foreign policy by looking at the way leaders perceive the world. E.g. Are there aspects of George W. Bush’s character and belief systems that have defined the U.S.’s response to the 9/11 attacks?

Theories of State Behavior

   Each of the following is a specific theory that tries to explain the way states behave

Classical realism

o o State-level theory All states seek power; they seek to increase their power and decrease the power of o their enemies; everything they do is in the name of amassing power People are greedy, insecure, and aggressive, so the states they govern will have o those same characteristics This does not necessarily mean war; there can be peace, but a DURABLE peace is based upon a STABLE BALANCE OF POWER. If you don’t think you can win a war, you generally don’t start one.  The U.S. and the Soviet Union, though enemies, did not go to war because they were roughly equal in power


o System-level theory o o An offshoot of classical realism It argues what classical realism argues, but sees the cause of all the power o struggles not as a function of the nature of states, but as a function of the nature of the international system States are alone; the international area is anarchic; there is no world government; there is no “international 9-1-1”; states do what they can get away with to gain power and they do what they must to protect themselves o If some other state is more powerful than yours, you have no way to protect yourself but to defend yourself or attack your rival first o This theory dominates scholarly thinking today

Neo-classical realism

    o o o o o Hybrid between system- and state-level analysis Can be viewed as a revival of classical realism It accepts all of the above about power rivalries, but it suggests that state characteristics play a large role in the behavior of states States don’t just seek power and don’t just fear other powerful states; there are REASONS that states seek power and reasons that states fear other states E.g. The differences in ideology between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. (capitalism vs. communism, for instance) was a factor in the US-USSR rivalry that exacerbated the tendency for two powerful states to form rivalries (thus, the Cold War was not solely or perhaps even primarily ignited because each states was power-hungry and fearful of similarly powerful states, or because of the anarchic nature of the international arena)


o State-level theory o o o Adds VALUES into the equation; often called idealism There is a lot of cooperation in the world, not just rivalry States try to build a more just world order; they often do so because they have learned that in many instances cooperation is a better strategy than conflict o o States try to create enforceable international law States are progressive forces for social justice


o A system-level version of liberalism o Focuses on the ways in which institutions can influence the behavior of states by spreading values or creating rule-based behavior o E.g. Focusing on the roles of the United Nations or the World Trade Organization in shaping the foreign policy behavior of states

Cognitive theories

o Could be state-, organization-, or individual-level of analysis o Examine the role of psychological processes—perception, misperception, belief systems—on the foreign policy behavior of states o E.g. Psychological dynamics of a state decision maker; shared perceptions of an organization; shared belief systems of a nation o E.g. The Cold War was the product of the negative images the US and USSR political leaders had of each other and of the inability of either state to reshape the perceptions of the other.


o o o State-level analysis Examines state behavior in the context of state characteristics All states are unique and have a set of defining political, cultural, economic, social, or religious characteristics that influence its foreign policy

o o States have identities and those identities define their behavior in the international system E.g. The Cold War is a product of the clash of U.S.’ and Russia’s differing foreign policy characters, and the end of the Cold War may be a function of changes in the Russian identity.