What is International Relations?

Article by Peter Morales

Article by Peter Morales

At its core, the Political Science sub-group of International Relations deals with the relationships that exist between the various countries of the world. In addition to countries, International Relations also examines the roles played by other non-state actors, such as inter-governmental organizations (e.g. the United Nations, European Union, World Trade Organization), nongovernmental organizations (any voluntary nonstate, nonprofit, nonreligious, and nonmilitary association), international nongovernmental organizations (Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, The Red Cross, World Wildlife Fund, any number of global religious organizations), and multinational corporations (also known as international corporations, considered a driving force behind globalization). International Relations may sometimes be referred to as “International Studies” although the two terms are not exactly interchangeable (International Studies doesn’t cover the same scope of actors and topics that are covered by International Relations).

As a result of globalization and the increasing interconnectedness that exists between countries, awareness and knowledge of events and issues involving foreign countries is perhaps more important than ever before. At no other point in history have we been so immediately and personally impacted by events that occur overseas, be it the outbreak of war, the toppling of a government, a flagrant display of human rights abuses, an economic collapse, an environmental crisis, or any number of incidents with far-reaching implications. The world is a much smaller place than the one our parents and grandparents grew up in, and the days of events being contained in a regional or local bubble have long since faded. It’s absolutely vital for those working in International Relations to whether issues such as a history of ethnic divisions, economic sanctions, or scarcity of resources have an impact on how one country carries out its policies towards another. Having a solid background in International Relations will enable you to have an understanding of the complex issues that affect how states and other actors interact with each other and what the consequences of those interactions will be.

As with any of the five main sub-groups of Political Science, there are a wide range of issues, topics and phenomena that falls into the realm in International Relations. For a student wishing to explore this particular field, the course options are as follows:

  • -Theory & Practice of International Relations
  • Global Political Issues
  • Globalization
  • Global Politics of Energy
  • Diplomacy
  • International Law
  • International Organizations
  • International Political Economy
  • Human Rights Policy
  • Global Drug Policy
  • International Public Policy
  • Immigration Policy
  • Causes of War
  • Politics of International Terrorism
  • Global Environmental Politics
  • International Environmental Law
  • Coercion in International Politics
  • Politics of International Trade Policy
  • Theories of International Ethics
  • Strategic Weapons & Arms Control
  • The Intelligence Community
  • International Security Policy
  • Space Law
  • Military Space Policy
  • Contemporary Revolution & Political Violence
  • Culture & World Politics
  • Rich & Poor Nations in the International System

Of course, this list is by no means comprehensive and represents only a small sample of course options. Depending on which classes are taken, the scope of the material can become even more narrow and specialized. One could take a myriad of class based on, or pertaining to American foreign policy alone (U.S. in World Affairs, The Making of U.S. Foreign Policy, American National Security Policy, any number of courses detailing America’s involvement in foreign wars or America’s relationship with various countries and/or regions of the world). There are also courses that focus exclusively on the contemporary politics of the world’s regions (Africa, Latin America, Asia, Eurozone nations).

With respect to career options for students who wish to pursue a degree in International Relations, an education in this area doesn’t necessarily prime one for entry into a specific field of work, but is instead meant to provide a base of knowledge and skills that can be applied to a variety of occupations. In the private sector, knowledge of the political, economic, and regulatory climates in which international businesses and banking communities operate is especially useful for students who want to work for those types of companies overseas. For those who are interested in a public sector career, an internship with the American Foreign Service Association or the U.S. State Department would be an excellent way of gaining some real-world experience. The Peace Corps is another option for recent college graduates who desire some actual overseas work experience and technical training, and who wish provide assistance to what will likely be an impoverished or developing community. There are also educational career options to keep in mind, as degree holders can begin working part-time in colleges as tutors or adjunct instructors. For a full-time position (professor, program coordinator) a Master’s or a PhD required.

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