• International relations is relations among nations. International Relations theory starts with the emergence of nation states. Nation states were formally recognized for the first time in ‘Treaty of Westphalia 1648’. This treaty ended 30 years war in Europe. Treaty of Westphalia led to the recognition of nation states.
    • Nation state is a specific form of sovereign state (a political entity on a territory) that is guided by a nation (feeling of oneness), has defined borders, and which derives its legitimacy from successfully serving all its citizens.
  • Before nation state, Europe was under the system of Roman Empire, a confederation. This form of political life was replaced by nation states. Nation states represent
    • Centralized authority.
    • Fixed territory.
    • Sovereignty.
  • (Territorial integrity and sovereignty can be used interchangeably. They are considered to be the sacrosanct principles in international politics. The fundamental national interest.)

Nature of the discipline of international relations

  • It is righty called as ‘American Social Science’. It was started by American scholars, is dominated by American scholars, and revolves around US Foreign Policy. Even the theories are written with the perspective to maintain US hegemony.
  • The first chair of international politics was established at University of Wales 1919, known as Woodrow Wilson chair. 1919 denotes the end of 1st WW. 1st WW could be ended only with the intervention of USA. After war, the then US president Woodrow Wilson suggested certain ideas. For the purpose of establishment of ‘new world order’. New world order denotes the existence of old world order. Old world order means Westphalian world order.
  • Up till 1st WW, international politics was hardly international. It was essentially ‘Politics among European nations’. Because USA was following the policy of isolationism aka Munro Doctrine and rest of the world was colony.

Nature of politics among European nations.

  • European states were consistently in the state of war. The fear of war and the need to protect the territories, led European states to go for ‘balancing’. Balancing can be done in two ways. Internal (increasing its own power e.g. by acquisition of arms) and external balancing (by forming alliances.). Thus, the first fundamental rule of international politics was ‘balance of power’.
  • Balance of power promotes arms race, alliances, which may lead to the local wars turning into world wars. Hence Woodrow Wilson proposed certain ideas in his speech known as ’14 points speech’. Among the major ideas were
    1. Establishment of League of Nations.
    2. Replacing balance of power with the idea of ‘collective security’.
    3. Maintain free trade.
    4. Freedom of navigation on high seas.
    5. Promotion of democracy.
    6. Recognition of people’s right to self determination.
  • Above principles are the core principles of US foreign policy. The most capitalist nation in the world. These principles were pronounced as the principles that can establish the new world order. These principles are based on the philosophy of capitalism, aimed at building US hegemony.
  • Hence the first school of international politics is the school of liberalism. It was described that the objective of these theories is to establish peace on enduring basis. Thus the objective of the discipline of international politics was made the achievement of peace. We can call these theories as peace theories.

Phases of international politics

1st Phase: From 1648 till 1st WW 1919. Westphalian world order

  • With the establishment of Westphalian world order (with commencement of Westphalian treaty), sovereignty of a nation became utmost important which led to territorial integrity and non-interference in the domestic affairs.
  • The period witnessed mainly politics among European nations (thus international politics was essentially the regional politics) because the USA was following isolationist policy (Monroe doctrine) and the rest of the world was a colony.
    • The Monroe Doctrine is a foreign policy statement made by former US President James Monroe on December 02, 1823. President Monroe made three important points to the European powers in his address
      • First, the Western hemisphere is no longer an open area for influence or colonization by any external power.
      • Second, the US has no desire to interfere in the internal affairs of the European nations and, therefore, Europe should keep away from the internal affairs of the Western hemisphere nations.
      • Lastly, America would consider any attempt by European powers to control newly independent nations of the Western hemisphere as a hostile act against the US.
  • Politics in Europe was shaped by the policies of great powers. Hence it is rightly said that international politics is great power politics.
  • European politics can rightly be described by the Billiard Ball model given by Arnold Wolfers and is based on Westphalian world order.

Billiard Ball model:

  1. There were 4-5 great powers, but no superpower, constantly colliding with each other.
  2. Universal actors are also absent. i.e. world government or international actors.
  3. Hence it was a situation of anarchy. Each country will have to depend on itself for its own survival. (For sovereignty and territorial integrity).
  4. The only way of survival is ‘Power.’(This leads to the development of the notion that international politics is a continuous struggle for power.) Hence, nations will go for internal and external balancing to maintain the balance of power. (Balance of power, in international relations is the posture and policy of a nation or group of nations protecting itself against another nation or group of nations by not letting any nation gain ‘preponderance of power.’)
  5. Nations will consistently collide with each other like the freestanding balls with hard shells in a game of billiards. Hence, the model also shows that there are no permanent friends and enemies.

Example: The balance was disrupted by Napoleon which threatened the sovereignty of all states. Hence, all states together defeated him in the battle of Waterloo 1815.

2nd Phase: Interwar period (1919-1939)

  • Attempts were made to change the manner in which politics is conducted among states. The period led to the establishment of theories to study international politics. Woodrow Wilson, the former president of the USA was one of the scholars of this period.
  • Woodrow Wilson suggested a new form of world order different from Westphalian world order, and proposed a ‘Liberal world order.’
  • The notion of balance of power is now replaced by the concept of ‘Collective security.’ Hence, the first step towards that was the formation of the ‘League of nation.’
  • The League of Nations remained ineffective largely because of non-participation of the US in the league (due to its internal politics) and at the same time in 1917, Communist revolution took place in the USSR, which frightened the capitalist world and that led to UK and France neglecting fascist rise (Fascism to curb the communism).
  • Hence they overlooked expansionist actions by Italy, Germany and Japan. They allowed the League of Nations and collective security to collapse. Hence the vision of new world order given by Woodrow Wilson proved short lived, the old style of politics 1) Protectionism, 2) Arms race 3) Alliances and counter-alliances started giving rise to 2nd WW. And that led to the formation of a ‘realist school.’ This led to the first great debate in international politics i.e. the debate between realists and liberals.
  • Liberal World order:
    • Woodrow Willson proposed ‘Fourteen points speech’ in US congress whose ultimate aim was to establish ‘peace’ in international politics. According to him, ‘Security dilemma’ and ‘Protectionist policies’ of nations are the main reasons for instability and anarchy.
    • He proposed a ‘World government’ (League of nations) to bring ‘collective security.’ Also proposed ‘Free trade policy’ to tackle the protectionism by nations.

Rise of realist school of international politics

  • Realist school is based on the fundamental concepts of Westphalian world order. For realists ‘Power’ is the most important notion for the security of a nation.
  • E H Carr, the famous realist historian and the author of ‘Twenty Years Crisis’ argued that Woodrow Wilson’s ideas were ‘utopian’. Power will never loose its importance and hence, international politics realism is ‘Timeless wisdom.’
  • The realist school thus emerged as the dominant school in international politics.

3rd Phase: Cold War

  • After the end of WW2, we see the beginning of the cold war. World got divided into two ideologies. Western world led by the USA called for world order based on ‘liberal principle’ and ‘Market economies’. The USSR challenged this idea on the basis of ‘closed’ and ‘state owned economies.’ This led to ‘Bipolar world order.’
  • How was the Cold War world order different from the Westphalian world order?
    • Unlike major powers of Westphalian world order, here emerged two extraordinary powers, having power more than all other states. Other states lost sovereignty in a real sense. sovereignty of the states became just a formality.
    • Collapse of the traditional balance of power politics giving rise to “Deterrence”, deterrence of nuclear power.
  • International politics became ‘international’ in a true sense. Westphalian world order was multipolar, cold war world order was bipolar.
  • This period also witnessed short time lived ‘Detente period’
  • ‘Détente period’ (1969-1979)
    • Between the late 1960s and the late 1970s, there was a thawing of the ongoing Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. It began with vast improvements in bilateral relations during the 1970s.
    • Reasons for detente period:
      • The ongoing nuclear arms race was incredibly expensive
      • Both nations faced domestic economic difficulties as a result of the diversion of resources to military research.
      • The United States faced an increasingly difficult war in Vietnam, and improved relations with the Soviet Union were thought to be helpful in limiting future conflicts.
    • The following are the instances when detente manifested itself:
      • A clear sign that a détente was emerging was found in the signing of the Nuclear Arms Proliferation treaty in 1968.
      • In 1971, Communist China was allowed to become a member of UN
      • In 1972, the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT)
      • In 1975, the Helsinki Agreement in which the USA, Canada and European countries accepted the European frontiers which were created after the Second World War.
    • The cracks had begun again between the two countries in late 1970s. The United States and the Soviet Union had different visions of what détente meant and what its pursuit would entail. By the time the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the spirit of cooperation had been replaced with renewed competition and only restarted when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union.

Fourth Phase: End of Cold War and Collapse of USSR

  • The collapse of the Berlin Wall led to the end of the Cold War in 1989. The then US president H.W. Bush declared the new world order. Majority of the countries joined liberal world order.
  • The new world order denoted the global world order which led to formation of ‘Proliferation of actors’ and growth of ‘non-state actors’. Global world order denotes interdependence. International politics moved away from state centric geopolitics to geo-centric economics. Hence, in all, ‘Neo-liberalism’ started rising.
  • Period witnessed the birth of Thatcherism.


  • Margaret Thatcher’s policies as prime minister of Britain brought substantial changes in public life, and were collectively called Thatcherism.
  • Thatcherism represents a belief in free markets and a small state.
  • Rather than planning and regulating business and people’s lives, the government’s job is to get out of the way. It should be restricted to the bare essentials: defense of the realm and the currency. Everything else should be left to individuals, to exercise their own choices and take responsibility for their own lives.
  • According to Baylis and Steve Smith, the world looks like a multiplex. As territories are becoming irrelevant, domestic and international politics are becoming interdependent or overlapping. Billiards ball model is now replaced by the ‘Cobweb model’. (Complex interdependence).
  • Cobweb Model: given by John Burton
    • It says, World order is no more state centric as multiple actors have now come into existence.
    • State isn’t the only gateway for international relations. Societies are now interacting with each other through multiple ways. (MNC’s, NGO’s, Trading groups, Educational institutes)
    • Hence, there is a shift towards global politics. This has led to a drastic increase in interdependence.
‘Cobweb model
  • Present Scenario
    • Since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, we are witnessing the decline of liberal world order, and countries are returning to the old style like, State-centric geopolitics, rise of protectionism, Russia’s attack on crimea, BREXIT, regionalism (Example, QUAD), America first policy, Atmanirbhar Bharat, and the two years of pandemic have ‘highlighted the faults in current world order’ (PM Modi in NAM summit 2021).

“Covid 19 has written the death note of liberal world order.”- C Raja Mohan

  • The very recent event i.e. war between Ukraine and Russia, the failure of NATO, UN and other international bodies to restrict the war, failure of USA as hegemon to stop the war, and rising military expenditure of countries like China, according to many scholars is the ‘last nail in the coffin’ for Liberal world order.
  • There are many approaches to the study of international relations. Every approach of international relations treats International History as the laboratory from which meaningful conclusions could be drawn. Two of the main schools of the traditional approach are Realism and Idealism and in later times other schools like Marxists and Neo-realism also emerged.
  • Joseph Nye explains the present world order as ‘3D Chess Board’.
  • World is unipolar in militaristic sense.
  • World is multipolar in economic sense.
  • There is no pole rather diffusion of socio-cultural power among numerous organizations, groups etc.
Billiards ball model
Cobweb model
State centric
Society centric
Only one channel of communication. i.e. through state Multiple channels of communication. It is primarily the impact of information technology. (society?)
States are like hard shells.
States have become porous. i.e. their surveillance capacity has declined.

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Very helpful for upsc aspirants