International Relations

The term ‘international relations’ was first used by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century, although its Latin equivalent, ‘intergentes‘, was used a century earlier by Rijehare Zouche. Both of them had used the term in the context of what later came to be known as international law. Today, nation states have become highly interdependent, and relations between them, political or economic, have developed into an essential area of knowledge.

The term ‘international relations’ (IR) may be used both for a ‘condition’ and a ‘discipline’ Quincy Wright, for example, makes such a distinction. The official relations between sovereign countries are described as international relations, though according to Wright, ‘… the word “interstate” would have been more accurate because in political science, the state came to be the term applied to such societies’. Viewed thus, international relations, as a condition, refers to the facts of international life, that is to say, the actual conduct of relations among nations through diplomacy based on foreign policy. It also includes actual areas of cooperation, conflict and war. According to Quincy Wright, IR should tell the ‘truth about the subject’, i.e., how such relations are conducted and, as a discipline, IR should treat them in a systematic and scientific manner.

Meaning Of International Relations

International relations as a subject is concerned with the relationships among the governments of various sovereign states. Many people may think that relations among nations are regulated and conducted by presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, officials of the foreign offices and diplomats. This is partially true. The scope of international relations is not merely political. Today, economic activities such as international trade, role of multinational corporations, terrorist activities and impact of environment are all embraced in the fold of relations among nations.

Most scholars agree that the term ‘international politics’ is used to describe official political relations between governments acting on behalf of their states. The term ‘international relations’ is broader. According to Stanley Hoffman, ‘The discipline of international relations is concerned with the factors and activities which affect the external policies and power of the basic units into which the world is divided.’

International Relations As A Field Of Study

As a field of study, international relations analyses a wide range of political activities. These include war, peace, diplomacy, trade relations, treaties, alliances, cultural, exchanges, participation in international organizations, etc. Each of these activities makes up distinct issue areas on which scholars and foreign policy makers focus attention.

The scope of international relations is often defined by subtitles, like ‘questions of war and peace’ as a subtitle of international security. Joshua S Goldstein wrote, ‘the movements of armies and of diplomats, the crafting of treaties and alliances, the development and deployment of military capabilities – these are the subjects that dominated the study of IR in the past… and they continue to hold central position in the field.’

Besides these, religious groups and movements working in two or more countries also act as non-state actors in the international relations. These may include large followers as the Catholic Church has, or a spread out population as sought to be represented by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.