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International Relations is a subject that has been defined to be the study of the relations between states and with other international organizations and subnational entities like bureaucracies. It has been associated with different academic disciplines including aspects like political science, history, geography, law, philosophy, economics, sociology and psychology. International relations gained recognition as a different field in the beginning of the 20th century, mainly in the West as well as in the United States while the country was growing in power and gaining influence. This subject of study has always been influenced by an array of normative influences, for example the goal of increasing international cooperation and reducing armed conflict. Research has mostly focused on the major issues such as religious and ethnic conflicts, terrorism, the emergence of sub state and nonstate entities, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and efforts to counter nuclear proliferation, and the development of international institutions.

As an academic and public policy field, international relations is seen to positive or normative considering the fact that it formulates as well as analyses the foreign policy of a given state. Hence it is not a value free science, but then again is there truly any science that could guarantee that for a fact? If the beginning was to be taken into consideration, international relations could be dated back to the time of the Greek historian Thucydides (ca. 460–395 BC).  As an interdisciplinary field of study, besides political science, the field of international relations has always drawn upon resources from different fields that would not even relate to engineering, anthropology, criminology or even gender studies.

International relations has an enlarged scope that comprehends human rights, foreign interventionism, human security, terrorism and organized crime, global finance and economic development, nationalism, nuclear proliferation, ecological sustainability, international security, state sovereignty and globalization. Theories in this particular field are analyzed on the basis of certain parameters like ontology, normativity, epistemology and methodology to name a few.

Being entirely British-centered during the origin of international relations, it was 1919 when international relations was finally recognized as a formal academic ‘discipline’ with the first professorship to go to the Woodrow Wilson Chair at Aberystwyth, University of Wales and due to an endowment by David Davies this became the first academic position dedicated to IR.

The academic value of this subject is a highly debated subject. A notion to which no reason can be seen but a counter argument must still be made to quench these doubts. As Robert Koehane has explained in his literary masterpiece ‘a study of world politics’ international relations is actually a subject of the utmost importance in today’s modern era.  He says ‘world politics is not just important to those citizen and soldiers stuck in the path of war but to the entire human race.  The constant grip of fear of the nuclear holocaust and other essential questions can be answered only by this discipline.

Not just that but questions like, will china still export to the US? How will trade relations and foreign policies be shaped and perceived? Will the US continue to invest labor in the auto industry?

The common question though faced with the discipline is its practicality in its use. Is it just an academic mumbo jumbo of theorems propositions and maxims? Do they make you a policy maker or practitioners? Maxims and propositions are very useful in situations. Although the general requirement of the international relation academics in these situations would be to understand in depth the situation in which these rules apply very well. After this extremely helpful guides can be published to solve the complexity of world politics. Even in a situation where there are a few propositions and have many guides published for them it creates a win-win situation.

To state a few examples to support this I would like to state the realist theory that explains balancing of power. If the American strategists focused on realist propositions then they could have predicted the Sino-soviet split. But they were dominated by idealist principles. A realist would have made an alliance with the weaker Chinese to help counter balance this soviet threat, which was eventually done my henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon.  One must be extremely careful though as practitioners must have a great understanding of the current situation and of the historical background in which these maxims and propositions apply. For a step in the wrong direction could be fatal as demonstrated by the appeasement theory. When it was used by the British and other surrounding nations with hitler the result was inevitable, but the same technique if was used in the north Vietnamese camps by the US the result could have been different.

It is in the end how Keynes explains it as we must not be prisoners of academic scribblers.  But one simply cannot say no to theories.  The world politics is simply too complex for an individual to perceive without clearly defined lines of observation. It understands the needs and causes for conflicts and the means and measures to ensure peace.

The theory at the center of this subject in light of relevance today would be realism and neo realism which are mostly seen as the brainchild’s of Morgenthau and Waltz. It is the theory, which is ever present in society today. Realism talks about conflict existing in the human nature where as neo realism makes state the primary actor and says war is inevitable. Neo realism especially is important to understand as it explains why decisions are taken internationally and then we can choose to criticize them as well. Change also can only be a by-product after understanding the subject at hand. Hence everyone must be a student to its maxims to benefit and create change. The assumptions that neo realism makes appeal to our general psyche as well. It says that wrongdoing is a common phenomenon in human beings. It agrees that we live in an imperfect realm.  Nevertheless it is hard to imagine that scholars are not influenced by their history, environment and life experiences. Therefore scrutiny of the subject is essential to get rid of the biases that might be present so that we can have accurate propositions and maxims. Copybook learning is therefore a misguiding factor and scrutiny is required to understand it.

The other question that could be raised is why not study the subject superficially?  It would simply be easier to memorize the theorems and propositions that scholars have already laid down. To state a common example, in Physics Newton’s law can be applied to every single situation and aspect in peoples lives. But the problem that international relations faces is that it is not a natural science. Theories, observations and propositions change during the course of history. As the theories that were relevant earlier are irrelevant now and the theories that are relevant now will probably be irrelevant later, as it is a subject that is governed by experiences and observations that would change with time. Neorealism hence is very important part of this discipline as it is the most relevant theory to explain happenings in todays world.

Now that the subject’s relevance has been justified there are numerous world events that it could help explain. To cite one would be the Kashmir tension. Kashmir is territorial battle between mainly India and Pakistan with china also playing a credible part. Neo realism could very simply explain this issue. The two states act as directed by the theory, which says war is inevitable and that internationally every thing is in a state of anarchy. The two sides like waltz points out in parsimony are fighting to improve their material gains that can be military, territory, population, administration and financial gains.  According to the theory states pursue power and it is of a material kind. The epiphenomenal reality of the situation even here is territorial gains. Where Pakistan views India as a threat that wants to expand its borders. A major factor contributing to this was the Bangladeshi liberation war of 1971.  World events have always helped postulate theories in IR and this was one such example where a more liberalized approach would have been better but it was not going to be so as the neo realist mentality of the two states was too strong. The theory also explains the failure of international organizations to fight this as it says they exist because the state wants them to and doesn’t view them as an over arching authority. Both the states now view this as relative gains and refuse to let down on their offensive strategies. This has led to the death of many valiant countrymen and instability in the nations. At such a time a policy make well-versed in international relation would suggest liberalist ideals that say social change is going to bring about peace, that its possible. In some ways this security dilemma could easily have been solved creating prosperity for both economies.  Neo realism though on the other hand which helps us understand the situation says that in order to increase capabilities there is balancing of power. There will be war as it is inevitable and the distribution of power will change. It doesn’t believe that social change is possible and says that the characteristics of the state will remain the same that is war prone.

In conclusion, this is how IR is required to understand, criticize and create change in world politics, which forms an integral part of everyone’s life and no one is devoid of its influence. The Kashmir issue helps explain this and hopefully IR could bring a viable solution in place. Therefore this subject is now at the forefront of all international events and organizations like the United Nations and NATO and it promises to be ever changing and ever lasting.

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Written By Ameya Singh

Founder - Young Bhartiya MSC International Relations London School of Economics and Political Science National water polo player National shooter

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