The term used to refer to a branch of Political Science which focuses on the study of these interactions. As an academic discipline, international relations encompasses a wide range of academic fields, ranging from history to environmental studies, and there are a number of areas of specific specialty, for academics who are interested in them. The concept of international relations on some level is probably quite old, given that humans have been establishing governments and communicating with each other for thousands of years. [ FREE BOOK ON IR (https://eastwestknowledge.com/evolution-of-international-society/)]

IR as a field of study covers the factors and processes that affect the interactions among states and non-state actors across national boundaries.

  • IR refers to the collective interactions of the international community, which includes individual nations and states, inter-governmental organizations such as the United Nations, non-governmental organizations like Doctors Without Borders, multinational corporations like Coca Cola and so forth.
  • IR is not just a field of academic study, we all participate in and contribute to International Relations on a daily basis.
  •  Every time we watch the news, vote in an election, buy or boycott goods from the supermarket, recycle our wine bottles, we are participating in International Relations.

 The decisions we make in our daily lives have an effect, however small, on the world in which we live.


  • Till date, unfortunately, no universally accepted definition of international relations have been coined because of its continuous changing nature.

However, Goldstein and Pevehouse in his book “International Relations” write, “The field of international relations concerns the relationships among the world’s government. But these relationships cannot be understood in isolation. They are closely connected with other actors (such as intergovernmental org., multinational corporations, and individuals); with other social structures (including economics, culture, and domestic politics); and with geographical and historical influences. These elements together power the central trends in IR today-globalization.”


The discipline of international relations deals with the war, military alliance, diplomacy, trade, cooperation & peace. People always confuse themselves among the terms ‘International Relations’, ‘International Politics’ and ‘Global Politics’. Sometimes, these term used interchangeably.

  • According to Hans Morgenthau – “the core of IR is international politics”. However, he says, International Relations is much wider in scope than International Politics. Politics among nations is ‘struggle for power’ whereas international relations includes political, economic and cultural relations among nations.
  • IR and international politics also differ in their aim. The ultimate aim of IR is the establishment of ‘International peace’ through cooperation & agreement among different nations promoting mutual interests. In comparison to it, International politics is ‘struggle for power’ through conflicts, wars, political maneuvers among different nations.


  • Trevor Taylor (1979) defines International Relations as “a discipline, which tries to explain political activities across state boundaries”.
  • According to Ola, Joseph (1999), “International relations are the study of all forms of interactions that exist between members of separate entities or nations within the international system”.
  • Seymon Brown (1988) thus defines international relations as “the investigating and study of patterns of action and “reactions among sovereign states as represented by their governing elites.”
  • Jeremy Bentham was the first person to use the word ‘international’, in later 18th century, with regard to defining the relations between nation-states.
  • From broader view, IR may refer to all interactions between members of separate societies whether government sponsored or not.
  • Study of IR includes analysis of foreign policies or political process between nations and also focus on international trade and civil society interactions. The way in which two or more nations interact with and regard each other, especially in the context of political, economic and cultural relationships is called IR.
  • Some scholars see power as the key to International politics. Thus, they define International relations as the subject that deals with those relations among nations, which involve power status.
  • As Stanley Hoffman writes “the discipline of IR is concerned with the factors and the activities which affect the external policies and power of the basic units into which the world is divided.”

Thus, IR is concerned with all the exchange transactions, contacts, flow of information and the resulting behavioral responses between and among separate organized society


There are many factors which affects nature of IR such as evolution of new nations,   technological development, nuclear research, rise of multipolar world, emergence of new order, non-state organizations, global problems, so and so forth.

Following points explaining the nature of international relations.

  • NO SINGLE DEFINITION. IR has no single definition. Unfortunately, till date, no universally accepted definition of international relations have been coined because of its continuous changing nature.
  • OPERATES IN ANARCHICAL SYSTEM. IR operates in an anarchical system. There is no single organization to regulate relations among states. Michael Nicholson writes “international relation is study of aspects of anarchy, though an anarchy which is not necessarily chaotic.
  • INTER-DISCIPLINARY SUBJECT. IR is inter-disciplinary subject. In 1998, UNESCO mentioned international relations as a sub-field of political science because scholars of international relations analyze political relations, economic relations, social relations and cultural relations, etc. politically .
  • CONCERNS WITH GLOBAL ISSUES. IR deals with key issues which concerns public global interest. Goldstein and Pevehouse in his book, “International Relations” write, IR revolves around one key problem: how to balance interest of international states with the global interest?

For example – every country has an interest in stopping global warming, a goal that can be achieved only by many countries acting together. Yet each country also has an individual interest in burning fossil fuels to keep its economy going.


Many people agree that IR truly began to emerge around the 15th century, when people started exploring the world and interacting with other governments and cultures.  Organizations like the Dutch East India company were among the first multinational corporations, for example, while representatives of various European governments met with foreign governments to establish trade agreements and to discuss issues of mutual concern.


Historical starting point of modern IR—Treaty of Westphalia, 1648. Established the principle of sovereignty as the foundation for relations among states.

Up to the late 19th century—limited focus on the study of IR in academic institutions and scholarly literature

 Most political theorists dealt with IR as a side-kick of domestic politics, or as an appendix of other disciplines. Practice of principal aspects of IR (war, diplomacy,, international trade) was widespread, but the scientific study of these matters was disconnected and relied on different disciplinary aspects and methodologies.

Two important historical processes provided a strong impetus to the study of IR as an academic discipline separate from other disciplines.

  • Imperialism in the late 19th century and early 20th century—helped globalize the international economy and solidified the connection between economics and politics.
  • World War I brought home an awareness of the destructiveness of war, and its social, economic, and political implications. It also highlighted the potential globalization of militarized conflict among states.


IR has a significant impact on our lives. Our daily lives are increasingly international in their focus, improvements in communications and transport technology mean we are constantly coming into contact with people, places, products, opportunities and ideas from other countries.


Fozia Hafeez

MPhil. International Relations

Visiting lecturer at public state university

E-Teacher Alumni & Mentor, RELO (Regional English Language Organization, US Embassy Islamabad) Boot Camp Ambassador.

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