International Relations (IR) is the study of relationships between countries. The
author in this reading goes into detail on the origins of IR and how they fit into our
society today. Key topics that are talked about are state sovereignty, state system, the
security dilemma, hegemony, balance of power.
IR can affect many things from wars to the economy, as was seen with WWII and
The Great Depression. The main reason we study IR is the fact that the entire population
of the world is living independent states. Together these states form a global system.
States are independent of each other, but that does not mean that they do not rely on each
other. Most states find a way to co-exist simply because of international markets, which
effects the wealth and welfare of their citizens. When states are isolated and cut off by
the state system, the people usually suffer as a result, ie Burma, North Korea, Iraq. IR
conventionally dates back to the early modern era (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) in
Europe, sovereign states were initially established. Most states are friendly and peace
loving, but a few states may be hostile. This usually leads to the age old problem of
national security. Most states have a military, this allows the states to co-exist without
intimidation from another. Unarmed states are very rare and many states enter into
alliances with other states to increase their national security.
Three other basic values states are usually expected to uphold are freedom, order
and justice. Freedom is expected by the people because of the sacrifices they have to
make to their country such as paying taxes and military service. In return the people
expect a free country. States have a common interest in establishing and maintaining
international order so that they can co-exist and interact on a basis of stability. States are
also expected to uphold international law.
There have been moments in modern history that have shown us how the basic
values of IR can effect our lives. One such case is the oil shock during the 1970s when it
became clear that North American motorist rely heavily on overseas oil suppliers and that
conflict in these countries can effect the price at the pumps in ours. The IR state system
is not without its flaws, countless men, woman, and children in third world countries
suffer from no education to hungry. For this reason the state systems credibility to
provide the very basics for its people is put into question. Some even say the
international system tolerates human suffering and that the system should be changed so
everyone can flourish. This has lead to discussions on alternative IR theories.
Like anything the state system has its advantages and disadvantages. The state
system is not something that has to exist, in fact like many social organizations it can
come or go during a certain time in history. Even thou the state system didn’t come into
effect until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe, there were formal
agreements between ancient political communities which date back as far as 500-100 BC.
This is known as the state system of Hellas and unlike the state systems of today that are
based on international law, freedom etc. That system was based on a shared language
and a common religion more than anything else. From 500-1500 was Christendom which
was more like an empire than a state system. States existed, but they were not
independent and there were no clearly defined territories or borders. During this time
war was often feudal and local and was fought between rival groups of knights whose
leaders had a quarrel. The political change from medieval to modern basically involved
consolidating the provisions of these values within the single framework of one unified
and independent social organization. One of the...
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