International Relations Theory

This essay has two main parts that features the work of three leading scholars within the field of International Relations theory, Goldman, Bay and Sylvester respectively. These three, are analysed in relation to the views they forward either in book chapters, or in articles published in academic journals.

In this first part however, a discussion about what each of these thinkers believes are the shortcomings of the several competing theories that today feature within the broad field International Relations, essentially here, what each thinks stand as the major flaws they see in these contending theories.

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Part two of this essay, examines one of the other main debates that these thinkers enter into, and which continue to cause concerns for the broader International Relations theoretical community. This features the issue of determining what approach or approaches, best suits the study of International Relations, in the sense that what is predicted theoretically, can be verified through providing explanations for past real world examples and for predicting future events between nation-states on the world-stage.

Several basic assumptions are intrinsic to the study of International Relations, and despite these three thinkers preferring different theoretical perspectives to each other, and lay stress on differing aspects of these, they share in the ideas associated with the ‘nation-state’ as the main actor, or unit of analysis under investigation, that ‘anarchy’ prevails as the natural order existing between these nation-states in their relations with one another as each has sovereignty over itself and no other, and finally, each lays a claim on the ‘nature’ or humankind, which, depending on which view is taken, explains either the natural predilection for war and conquest or otherwise, the reasoning behind why such energy is put into efforts to try and eradicate, or at least, lessen as far as possible, the likelihood of future wars occurring (Sylvester 1994, 69).

Goldman here proves interesting. In her chapter entitled ‘Anarchism: what it really stands for’ (Goldman 1972, 49), which provides the reader with a defence of the political meaning of the term ‘anarchy’, she makes a point that other International Relations theorists, who might similar to her, be called, ‘Idealists’, would readily agree, that Realism, but more specifically, the Neo-Realist School, the leading ideological argument today, cannot hope to prove successful in its ultimate aim, to lessen the likelihood of war, because of the shortcomings built into how it looks and explains the ‘real world’. For realists and the system into which international relations is locked into.

Limited to making decisions set by the prevailing systematic conditions, means that state behaviour is predictable, and self-perpetuating, and it is this that ensures no change in behaviour can occur. What is required, says Goldman, is a thorough rethink, an overhaul of these existing conditions, so that the opportunity for renewal and what is called elsewhere, a world of emergent ‘natural communities’ to develop as models for future international relations.

Indeed, much scepticism is directed towards the likelihood of successfully combatting war if the historical and present-day tactics are kept to, as presented in the views of the other two theorists discussed here. As Sylvester charts, the 1930s, provided excellent evidence for this.

Though the fall might be traced to much earlier to the almost immediate collapse of the League of Nations, set up in 1919, the 1930s witnessed the capitulation of western powers in the rise of Fascism and in the face of subsequent belligerence by these ‘Fascist’ states. Sylvester, for whom, the Feminist debate, offers the most viable and advanced step forward of all the new ‘postmodern’ or non-traditional theories.

Here, it is the potential for Feminist theory to rise above the question of ‘sovereignty’, and allowing, instead, for ideas to become less concerned with keeping a perspective or perspectives of ‘rigidity’, and looking towards greater ‘subjectivity’ and by extension of this acquiring greater potential for ‘empathy’ to develop between states.

As these theorists show, there is a strong case to be made for attempting to go beyond the traditional models that dominate discussion of International Relations theory today, but while the alternative theories offered here serve to effectively critique these models, they do after all, seem to provide the better explanations for so much of what has happened in the past, in the ‘real world’.

Reference List

Goldman, Emma. 1972. Red Emma Speaks. ed. Alix Kates Shulman. New York: Random House.

Sylvester, Christine. 1994. Feminist Theory and International Relations in a Postmodern Era. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press

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