The study of international relations has grown throughout time in importance. The developing trend of increasing interaction between different nations across the world compels one to have a strong understanding of international relations. As nations proceed to sustain their interests in interacting with one another, studying international relations becomes more compelling. This study explains the key benefits of international relations as an essential field of study. For one to have a complete understanding of the continuously globalizing status quo, one should have ideas on the kind of benefits studying international relations confer.
International relations concerns most about the nature of the globalized status quo, in which different nations interact with one another to pursue their interests without any potential conflict. Two key areas emphasize the study of international relations – the need to understand it as a field of study and the need to apply it in policymaking.
Understanding International Relations
It is beneficial to gain a wide understanding of international relations, especially with the phenomenon of globalization in full swing. It is hard to ignore the fact that nations constantly involve themselves in various modes of interaction so that they could collectively pursue their interests. Knowing how the globalized world works requires the perusal of established theoretical perspectives that enables one to understand international relations – realism, liberalism and constructivism (Walt, 1998).
Realism. Increased interconnectivity between various actors in a multiparty setting entails one to become highly concerned with the way others work. The same is highly manifested in the realm of international relations through realism, which closes in on the premise that nations remain keen on meeting self-interests in the midst of the globalized world. While standing on pessimistic grounds, realism focuses on the possibility that nations cooperate with one another only as a matter of pursuing their own goals in the most uncompromising manner possible. Aggression, however, is a key strategic component of other nations that wish to strengthen their stand towards a particular political position. The realist paradigm features the fact of anxiety among nations on the possibility of warfare breaking out while resolving that through holding talks with one another on a periodic basis. Security prevails as the most important factor under realism, since nations mulling over the possibility of warfare always seek to protect themselves from any outside threat. Understanding international relations through the lens of realism could thus help in terms of determining possible outcomes and tension between several nations on particular issues given its focus on threatening possibilities. To this end, cooperation (or lack thereof) stands as just among the possible means of every nation for the sake of preserving their interests (Doyle, 1997; Walt, 1998).
Liberalism. One could conceive the globalized world optimistically as one that features genuine cooperation between nations. Different from the pessimist perspective that realism holds, liberalism notes the importance of sustaining interests shared by nations across the globe, in view of the economic realities characterized by globalization. With the assumption that nations hold different interests, liberal thinking in international relations promotes the importance of security against the adverse effects of competition between different states. Nations could not avoid engaging in competition due to their varied international interests that may overlap one another. Thus, it is important for nations to create efforts to ensure peaceful and stable relation with one another. Negotiations stand at the forefront of liberal thinking in international relations, emphasizing that there are available resolutions for nations entrenched in interest-driven conflict. The realist idea of lenience towards possible warfare does not hold primacy in liberalism, which instead focuses on resolving interactions than preventing armed trouble. Cooperation, in this case, stands as the key measure of international relations notwithstanding individual reservations each nation possesses (Doyle and Ikenberry, 1997; Walt, 1998).
Constructivism. Every actor within an environment featuring interactions derives influence from the factors that shape their identity. The same applies to international relations, wherein constructivist applications tend to discuss the interests of nations based on their identities. At the same time, constructivism recognizes that nations fluidly change their identities and interests as time goes by, and that such change has significant effects on international relations. In that sense, history and sociology explain the construction of aspects pertaining to international relations. Changes in society throughout history help explain present outcomes within the realm of international relations. The self-interested nature of nations under realism and cooperation under liberalism are both constructs of society under constructivism. Verily, constructivism focuses on possible changes in the realm of international relations, heralding neither realism nor liberalism as standards (Doyle, 1997; Walt, 1998).
Application in Policymaking
Given the status quo, international relations stand as a key feature of policymaking. Policies could not push through without policymakers understanding the basic tenets characterizing globalization that induces nations to interact with one another. Key economic policies, for example, may involve or overlap the interests of other nations, particularly on trade. When a particular nation known for exporting materials essential for other nations issues a policy affecting it, then there is a great probability that nations would lobby for or against such a policy. International forums organized by supranational, bilateral or multilateral entities such as the United Nations (UN) could greatly influence policymakers as well, in that those may provide possible policy frameworks on particular topics of international concern such as climate change, drug and human trafficking. When a nation does not abide by those international concerns, it faces the possibility of backlash from the international community, which could make it rethink its decisions. Under the realist perspective, it is best to position a particular national policy on the well-being of the implementing nation, not necessarily on international pressure unless the matter involves an international problem. The liberal perspective works in favor of international cooperation especially on concerns that transcend national boundaries, although such should not undermine the sovereignty of nations in deciding for its domestic affairs. The constructivist approach also plays a significant role for policymakers, in that they could compare the implications of past policies in relation to creating new ones under the globalized status quo. Using the foregoing theoretical perspectives on international relations could guide policymakers on the right direction towards creating the right policies in the midst of nations constantly communicating with one another on their domestic and international interests. Ignoring the importance of international relations in policymaking would be tantamount to lack of competency on the part of policymakers, given that the globalized world provides for pressures on adjusting certain domestic concerns for the benefit of the international community (Doyle, 1997; Walt, 1998).
Studying international relations imparts the importance of studying the globalized status quo, especially on how such influences the behavior of policymakers. Owing to the importance of studying international relations is the prominence of three theoretical perspectives – realism, liberalism and constructivism, all of which attempt to explain the tug-of-war between domestic interests and the benefit of the international community. Realism asserts the self-interested nature of nations, liberalism emphasizes on cooperation between nations while constructivism explains that social forces throughout history shape international relations and changes therein. Without those three theoretical perspectives in mind, policymakers would find it difficult to incorporate international relations into their policymaking efforts – another aspect in which studying said discipline finds significant importance.
For policymaking to become more effective in the face of the status quo, studying international relations should become a high priority for policymakers. Currently, it is not enough anymore to focus on domestic matters for policymaking to become truly effective. With the existence of an active international community manifested through international organizations between multiple nations, policymakers should take note that their policies could somehow entrench those of other nations. Policymaking should proceed in line with rules agreed upon by different nations in their official international capacities, and policymakers could do so only if they have ample knowledge on international relations.
With the importance of studying international relations firmly established through the foregoing, the following recommendations should at least emanate from efforts to propagate the discipline. Awareness on the roles of international organizations must find a deep impression on policymakers through academic research endeavors. Various phenomena could attest to the positive and negative effects of interactions between nations, and thus policymakers should exercise better care in their efforts to make policies. Another recommendation that could push through the interest of studying international relations is the expansion of knowledge on the constructivist perspective – one that stands as perhaps the most open-minded approach to the discipline. Engaging the role of society in shaping international relations could widen the horizons of the discipline towards expanding its relevance to further heights.
Doyle, M. (1997). Ways of war and peace. New York City, NY: Norton.
Doyle, M., and Ikenberry, G. (Eds.). (1997). New thinking in international relations theory. Boulder, CO: Westview.
Walt, S. (1998). International Relations: One world, many theories. Foreign Policy, 110(Spring), 29-32, 34-46.