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Political Studies (1 990),XXXVIII, 502-5 16

The Pertinence of International Relations


London School of Economics and Political Science

Established as a distinct academic discipline at the end of the second world war, International Relations has above all been concerned with analysing relations between sovereign states - in the first instance, the causes of war between them and alternative forms of cooperation. Throughout its history, IR has been dominated by ‘realism’,an approach based on a juridical totalizing concept of the state. This denies the relevance of factors located within polities and societies and stresses the primacy of security issues in inter-state relations. More recent work in the field has sought to analyse the interaction of the domestic and the international and to explore the interaction of security with other, most evidently economic, factors. The relation of 1R to political science is defined by the shared concern with the ‘pertinence’ of the international; that is, how far specificpolitical and socialsystemsare, and are not, affectedand determined by factors beyond their frontiers and how these forms of international influence are changing in the contemporary world.


International Relations (IR) has had an uneasy, marginal when not residual, place in the study and teaching of the social sciences. Unduly defensive about its own methodological and disciplinary strengths, IR has, in the main, been treated as an appendix to other, more respected, subjects. National polities, economies and societieshave been the main focus of these disciplines: the ‘international’ has been an additional element, an option for students, a penultimate chapter for the scholar. The dramatic change in status of the ‘international’ in the past decade or two has only compounded this, since much of the apparent recognition of the ‘international’is itself misconceived: now that it has become fashionable to stress the pervasiveness of the ‘international’ and the decline of national specificity,this neglecteddimension has become the property of all. Banishment has given way to promiscuity. The problem of identifying the scope of International Relations has been compounded by two further problems: one is the confusion of IR with the contemporary, and not least with questions of policy; the other is the almost complete invisibility within broader social science and intellectual culture of IRI theory as such. The average reader of the TLSor the New York Review of Books, cognizant at least of the names of Rawls and Nozick, Derrida and Foucault, Keynes and Hayek, would be hard pressed to name a single theorist of IR. Neither of these approaches - denial and overstatement - does justice to a question which is common to all social scientists; namely, the interaction of national and international, internal and external. Nor does the ahistorical

0032-3217/90/03/0502-l5/%03.000 1990 Political Studies



conceit, propounded by much of the recent literature, that ‘internationalization’ is a product of increased interdependence in the post-war period. This interaction is not a new problem: ‘internationalization’ did not begin with post-war immigration, the EC and the multinational corporation. There is no national history of Britain - from Julius Caesar, St Augustine, through 1066, the Reformation, the emergence of the modern state, empire and world war, the national and international have always interacted. Equally, there can be no theory of the economy, the state, or social relations, that denies the formative, not just residual or recent, impact of the international. The place of IR within the social sciences as a whole is, therefore, given not by methodological similarity or by possible realignment with one or other of the main social sciences, but by the endurance and centrality of this question: the analysis of how domestic and international factors interact and how this interaction changes over time. The growing recognition within other social sciences of the importance of the ‘external’ is being matched by a recognition within IR of the impossibility of treating the international in isolation from domestic processes. It is here, above all, that the potential for interdisciplinary work involving IR rests and with it the possibility of a more appropriate definition of IR’s relationship to the social sciences as a whole.

Three Focuses of Enquiry

The field of analysis of International Relations comprises three interrelated issues: relations between states; ‘transnational’, that is, cross-frontier relations involving ‘non-state’actors and forces; and the international ‘system’as a whole. Defined in this way, issues of international theory and analysis have been present throughout much of classical political thought. Thucydides on the causes of war, Machiavelli and Hobbes on the nature of power, Grotius on international law, Kant and Marx on preconditions for cosmopolitanism are but some of the most obvious antecedents. These considerations were, however, part of a broader theoretical endeavour - of history, law, philosophy, political theory - and only rarely emerged as reflections upon a distinctive analytic subject-matter, the misnamed ‘international’.’ As a separate academic discipline, International Relations is but 70 years old. The study of international relations began in the aftermath of the first world war, focusing on the factors precipitating war and the means to prevent it. It was in that period that the first British chairs and departments were established - at Aberystwyth, LSE and Oxford -while in the non-academic realm the Royal Institute of International Affairs was set up to guide public policy. Contemporaneously and for similar reasons, academic departments and the Council on Foreign Relations were established in the US. The three constituent elements of IR - the inter-state, the transnational and the systemic - allow of many specializations and variant theoretical approaches. IR

The term ‘international’was coined by Bentham in1780 to denote legal ties between states and is confusing in two respects. First, relations between states are not identical to relations between nations:the idea that states ‘represent’nations is, in most cases, a fiction. Relations between nations, i.e. inter-ethnic relations, whether within or across state boundaries, are a quite separate topic. In current usage a further confusion has arisen, evident in the ‘international’ section of any newspaper:

this covers both inter-state relations as such and what can be termed the internal, domestic, affairs of other states. This latter ambiguity is one of the reasons for the widespread confusion of IR with comparative politics.

504 The Pertinence of International Relations

today comprises as sub-fields, in addition to international theory as such (that is, the theorization of these three elements), strategic studies, conflict and peace studies, foreign policy analysis, international political economy, international organization, and a group of normative issues pertaining to war, obligation, sovereignty, rights.’ To these analytically distinct sub-fields must be added the range of regional specialisms where theoretical approaches are applied to, and refract, the study of individual states and groups of states: Soviet and American foreign policy, Western Europe, British foreign policy, the international relations of the third world, and so forth, In the 1980s alone a range of new international issueshave been incorporated into the analytic compass of the subject and taught as distinct courses: sea-use and ocean politics, women and the international arena, the international relations of the third world, ecological questions, international dimensions of communication, to name but some. Today IR has a distinctive presence in the British social sciences. There are separate departments of IR in half a dozen universities and polytechnics: 14 universities and 3 polytechnics offer degree courses wholly or in part concerned with IR, and some IR is taught in a larger number of politics department^.^ With a growing public interest in matters ‘international’, student demand has risen considerably and enabled an expansion in teaching provision: for example, the LSE department, the largest in Western Europe, went from 12 to 18 permanent staff during the 1980s. This British expansion has taken place, however, very much under the shadow of its North American counterpart. The subject is dominated, to a degree even greater than political science and other cognate disciplines, by US literature and US concerns. As in other areas, this has a dual effect, broadening the range of debate and reference, and introducing alternative theoretical standpoints but, on other occasions, making the subject unnecessarily modish in its agenda, and unduly diverted by an empiricist concept of ‘scientificity’. The dominant journals - World Politics, International Organ- isation, International Studies Quarterly in the academic field, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy in the area of public policy - are produced in the US. But there is a flourishing field of UK-produced journals - Review of International Studies, Millennium, International Affairs. The US-based International Studies Association (ISA) has its counterpart in the UK professional body, the British International Studies Association (BISA) founded in 1978. In 1989 the ISA and BISA held their annual conferences jointly in London, attended by over 1,800 delegates. While IR, in its literature, idiom and concerns remains predominantly an Anglo-American discipline, it was evident at the 1989ISA/BISA conference that

* For overviews of the subject, see Margot Light and A. J. R. Groom (eds), International Relations: A Handbook of Current Theory (London, Frances Pinter, 1985); Steve Smith (ed.), International Relations: British and American Perspectives (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1985); special issue of Millennium, 16:2 (Summer 1987), re-issued in revised form as Hugh Dyer and Leon Mangasarian (eds), The Study oflnternarional Relations: The State ofthe Art (London, Macmillan, 1989). In this paper, as in other articles on IR, I owe a special debt to the work of my colleague Michael Banks, who has provided a unique overview and assessment of the subject: see, for example, his ‘The inter-paradigm debate’ in Light and Groom (eds), International Relations. A survey of British universities offering degree courses in IR in 1987found that the followingdid so: Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bradford, Keele, Kent, Lancaster, LSE, Reading, St Andrews, Southampton, Surrey, Sussex, UCW Aberystwyth, Warwick. There is also a strong department at North Staffordshire Polytechnic. About 500 university students a year graduate in IR.



there is an increasing intellectual and institutional presence in Western Europe and in some areas of the third world. This growth of an international community has led some writers, such as Kal Holsti, to warn of a growing fragmentation of the ~ubject.~Others, such as Ekkehart Krippendorff, have criticized the predominance of US literature and concerns within the field.5 Given this internationalization and the diversity within each country, it would be mistaken to treat the work produced in the UK as a bloc of national output. There are, none the less, areas in which a distinct contribution has been made by scholars working in the UK: the ‘English school’ of realists including Carr, Wight, Bull and Northedge; the work in international political economy initiated by Susan Strange; the ‘world society’ school generated by John Burton; the contributions to foreign policy analysis by James Barber, Joseph Frankel, Christopher Hill, Steve Smith and others6 To each of these we shall return later. British-based scholars have also made major contributions to fields of regional foreign policy - the USSR, China, Western Europe, the third world.

The Rise of Realism

The growth and variation in subject-matter within IR, already alluded to, parallel an evolution in theoretical approaches. In its initial phase, IR sought to distinguish itself from those disciplines out of which it had emerged: thus it was distinct from international, that is, diplomatic, history in its comparative and theoretical approach. In a development comparable to the emergence of political science from constitutional theory, it separated from international law in adopting a positivist rather than normative approach and in analysing dimensions of international interaction beyond the legal. It was distinguished from political science as such in seeking to combine the political with the economic and military and in taking as its object of analysis not the internal political system of any one country, but the international system itself, one distinguished above all by the lack of sovereign authority and the greater salience of violence within it. Its theoretical evolution has none the less involved continued interaction with, and borrowing from, these disciplines as well as a growing interaction with other social sciences, notably economics. Indeed, the development of IR, like that of all social sciences, is a product of three concentric circles of influence: change and debate within the subject itself, the influence of new ideas within other areas of social science, and the impact of developments in the world itself. Once it had overcome its early ‘protectionist’phase, IR was able more openly to learn from other areas of social science, as well as to contribute to them. The recent interest of historical sociology in the dominance of strategic and ‘war-making’ concerns within state -ormation, and of the degree to which international rather than exogenous

Kal Holsti, The Dividing Discipline (London, George Allen & Unwin, 1985). Ekkehart Krippendorff, ‘The dominance of American approaches in IR, in Hugh Dyer and Leon Mangasarian (eds), The Study of Znternational Relations (London, Macmillan, 1989). One of the difficultiesin assessingthe US contribution to IR is that it is much more diverse in approach, and inclusive of alternative theories, than the orthodox disciplinary presentation of it would suggest. See Light and Groom (eds), International Relations and Smith (ed.), International Relations. See also, Christopher Hill, ‘The study of international relations in the United Kingdom’, in Hugh Dyer and Leon Mangasarian (eds), The Study ofInternarional Relations (London, Macmillan, 1989).

506 The Pertinence of InternationalRelations

factors have shaped state development, is one pertinent example of this latter proce~s.~ If IR had a parental discipline, it was not so much history or political science as international law. In continental Europe, this pattern prevails in many departments. In its initial phase, after the first world war, IR adopted a predominantly legal approach, today erroneously presented as ‘utopianism’ or ‘idealism’. This school, of ‘peace through law’, arose in part out of Wilsonian liberalism and sought to limit or prevent war by international treaty, negotiation procedures and the growth of international organizations, notably the League of Nations. With the crises of the 1930s, ‘idealism’gave way to ‘realism’,initially in the work of E. H. Carr (whose The Twenty Years’ Crisis, was published in September 1939) and later in the work of a range of US-based writers, including Hans Morgenthau, Henry Kissinger and Kenneth Waltz. They took as their starting point states’ pursuit of power, the centrality of military strength within that power, and the enduring inevitability of conflict in a world of multiple sovereignty. While not denying entirely a role for morality, law and diplomacy, they laid greatest stress on armed might as an instrument of maintaining peace. They believed that the central mechanism for regulating conflict was the balance of power, through which undue strength of one state would be compensated for by increased strength or expanded alliances on the part of others: this was something inherent in the system but also capable of conscious promotion. In a parallel development, a group of realists on this side of the Atlantic developed what came to be known as the ‘English School’: Charles Manning, Martin Wight, Hedley Bull and Fred Northedge emphasized the degree to which the international system was ‘anarchical’; that is, without a central ruler. They

chaos but as in a certain sense a ‘society’; that is, a

saw it not as straightforward

group of states that interacted according to certain conventions. These included diplomacy, international law, the balance of power, the role of the great powers and, most controversially, war itself.*This school has continued to produce work of consistent quality, evident in the writings of Alan James, Michael Donelan, James Mayall, Adam Watson and others.’ With the growth in academic study of international relations after the second world war, realism became the dominant, if not sole, approach to the subject. It possessed a powerful and comprehensive explanation of international relations

Examples of the interaction between historical sociology and the international include John Hall, Powers and Liberties (Harmondsworth, Pelican, 1986) and Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, Vol. 1 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1988).Discussion of the implications ofthis work for IR in Fred Halliday, ‘State and society in international relations: a second agenda’. in Hugh Dyer and Leon Mangasarian (eds), The Study of International Relations (London, Macmillan, 1989) and Anthony Jarvis, ‘Societies,states and geopolitics: challenges from historical sociology’.

Review of International Studies, 15:3(July 1989).

* Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1977) is the most lucid exposition of this view. For a critique see Roy Jones, ‘The English School of international relations: a


Alan James, Sovereign Statehood (London, George Allen & Unwin, 1986) and his counter- attack against recent developments in IR, ‘The realism of Realism: the state and the study of International Relations’, Review of International Studies, I5:2 (July 1989); Michael Donelan (ed.),

The Reason of States: A Study in International Theory (London,George Allen & Unwin, 1978);James Mayall (ed.), The Community of States: A Study in International Political Theory (London, George

Allen & Unwin, 1983);Adam Watson and Hedley Bull (eds), The Expansion of International Society (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1984).

for closure’, Review oflnternational Studies, 7:I (1981).



and conflict. It accorded with the terms in which international affairs were discussed in much public debate. It had received a powerful, apparently incontrovertible, affirmation from the events of the 1930sand their consequences. At the same time, it would appear probable that the increased concern of political science in the 1930s with ‘power’ and the processes by which it is allocated, as distinct from formal constitutional procedures (Merriam, Lasswell), com- pounded this ‘power politics’ trend within the study of international relations.

Behaviouralism and its Challenge

The dominance of realism began to be challenged in the 1960s and has remained under pressure ever since. From the early 1960s onwards, behaviouralism constituted an alternative to orthodox IR as it did to other branches of the social sciences at both the methodological and conceptual levels. Thus the new ‘scientific’school of IR, almost wholly based in the US, sought to get away from the traditionalists’ use of history and orthodox political terms such as ‘state’ to a new, quantifiable, study of international processes and interactions. Karl Deutsch studied the growth of international communications; James Rosenau focused on informal interactions, ‘transnational linkages’, between societies that bypassed orthodox state-to-state relations; Morton Kaplan developed more ‘scientific’theorizations of the international systems. A wide-ranging and often acerbic debate between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘behaviouralists’ in IR took place, mirroring in substance and tone many of the themes raised in the parallel discussions within political science. Bernard Crick’s strictures on US political science found their parallel in IR. In this exchange, in which both sides rather overreached their philosophical and methodological competences, the ‘English’ school stood firmly for history and ‘judgement’ against what was seen as the vulgar and mistakenly ‘scientific’approach of American political science.” The overall attempt by the behaviouralists to supplant ‘traditional’ IR failed in two key respects. First, realism, and its later variant ‘neo-realism’, remained the dominant approach within the academic and policy-related study of international relations. Secondly, the very theoretical challenge posed by behaviouralism, to supplant the pre-scientific study of the ‘state’ and other conventional, historical concepts with a new scientifictheorization was not taken far enough, above all because it failed to provide an alternative theorization of the state itself. In the end behaviouralism became an adjunct, rather than an alternative to, the orthodox state-centred approach. None the less, out of the behaviouralist challenge and later theorizations of ‘transnational’ and systemic factors, a number of major new sub-fields developed within the discipline, three of which merit special attention: foreign policy analysis, interdependence and international political economy. Thus, if realism and neo-realism remain predominant, they no longer have an intellectual or institutional monopoly within the subject. Foreign policy analysis, the study of the factors determining foreign policy outcomes and decisions in particular, was an ambitious and in many respects successful attempt to challenge the core tenets of realism. In seeking to analyse

In This debate is resumed in Klaus Knorr and James Rosenau (eds), Contending Approaches to International Polifics (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1969). See also the debate between James Rosenau and Fred Northedge in Millennium, 15 (1986).

508 The Pertinence of International Relations

how foreign policy is made, it rejects some of the central premises of realism: that the state can be treated as a unitary actor; that it can be deemed to act rationally, to maximize power or defend a ‘national interest’; that the internal character and influences of a country can be treated as not relevant to the study of its foreign policy - this latter a favourite claim of Waltz’s in particular. Instead, foreign policy analysis examined the composition of the foreign-policy-making process - first in terms of bureaucratic and individual fragmentation and rivalry within the state itself, then in terms of the input of broader elements within the polity, including legislatures, the press, public opinion and ideology. This approach opened up the possibility of something that had been precluded by realism’s denial of the relevance of internal factors, and which brought it into fruitful interaction with work in political science, namely the comparative study of foreign-policy- making and of the ways in which different constitutional, historical and social endowments affect the formulation and implementation of foreign policy. The conclusion reached on this route, in international as much as in more domestic investigations, was that the premise of ‘rationality’ had to yield, in the face of bureaucratic infighting,unintended consequences,individual and group delusions, ‘group think’ and so forth. The presupposition that states could be treated as rational power maximizers and calculators of a national interest was shown to be an inadequate, and often diversionary, basis for analysing foreign policies. The most important challenge of foreign policy analysis was, however, to realism’s claim that states could be treated uniquely as units in an environment, without reference to their internal structures and changes therein. What foreign policy analysis sought to show was not only that its approach, incorporating domestic factors, could provide a more persuasive account of the making of foreign policy, and of its irrationalities, but also that it was necessary to identify the ways in which the domestic environments and processes of countries were affected by external factors, whether or not the state was involved in this interaction. This was evidently the case with economic processes - changes in the world price of oil had effects on countries whatever governments chose to do - and also with a range of ideological and political ones. Societies were increasingly interacting in ways that were ‘transnational’ rather than interstate and these ‘linkages’ were in turn having an impact on foreign policy. Faced with such external challenges and influences, states acted to accommodate or pre-empt, depending on circumstances. Foreign policy analysis, born out of the be- haviouralist rejection of ‘institutional’ concepts, did not develop the theory of the state itself. It therefore failed to take the opportunity which later, historical sociological, literature was to benefit from, of a comprehensive, combined, analysis of the internal and external roles of states. Yet it was foreign policy analysis’sgreat achievement to have opened this question up and made it possible to examine the internal-external relationship in a new light.”

Interdependence and its Critics

It was in this context that there emerged the distinct approach based on ‘interdependence’, a concept used to focus on how societies and states were

Christopher Hill and Margot Light, ‘Foreign policy analysis’, in Margot Light and A. J. R. Groom (eds), Inrernationaf Retarions (London, Frances Pinter, 1985).



becoming increasingly interlinked and what the consequences of this process were. The development of the literature on interdependence illustrates well the opportunities, and pitfalls, of recognizing the domestic-international con- nection: while it provides a context for examining this, it has often led to a simplification of the relationship and a facile assertion that all is now ‘interdependent’. Interdependence originated as a concept in economics, where it had a comparatively clear meaning, according to which two economies were inter- dependent when there was a rough equality of power between them and when their mutual interaction was such as to make each significantly vulnerable to actions by the other. Interconnection produced vulnerability and hence acted to restrain what others might do. In its classical form, this was the idea that increasing trade between nations would strengthen peace, an idea common prior to the first world war but often heard since. In its 1970s formulation, and especially in the work of Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye, it rested on three propositions: that the state was losing its dominant position in international relations to ‘non-state’ actors and forces, such as multinational corporations; that there was no longer a hierarchy of international issues, with military and strategic affairs, ‘high politics’, at the top and economic and welfare issues, ‘low politics’, further down; and that military power was losing its salience in international relations.” Even if the realist view of a state-centric strategy- orientated world had been true of an earlier epoch, this was no longer the case, as old barriers broke down and economic and political forces paid less and less attention to the state. Interdependence theory was criticized from a number of perspectives. Waltz argued that it was historically misconceived, since interdependence had in many respects been greater in earlier periods than in the present.I3Waltz and others saw increased interaction as a stimulant of conflict: ‘good fences make good neighbours’ they reminded us. Northedge and Bull contested the view that it was either true or desirable for states to lose control over populations, or to cede responsibility for managing international affairs: for all the talk of ‘global issues’ and the universal ‘commons’, it was states who, for better or worse, remained responsible for resolving these questions, of peace, famine, ecology. Individuals identified as much as ever with the state and looked to it to perform security, representation and welfare functions. Marxists pointed out that interdependence applied, at best, to a small group of developed western countries and that its application to north-south relations concealed asymmetries of power and wealth that the system was compounding. The idea of interdependence was also dented by the deterioration in international relations in the latter part of the 1970s and early 1980s:it appeared less evident, in both east-west and third world contexts, that military power had lost its salience; international relations seemed to be concentrated once again and in a rather traditional manner on states in general, and great powers in particular; the supercession or circumvention of the state appeared in many cases to take a malign form, rather than the benign one

Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye (eds), TransnationalRelations and WorldPolitics (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1971). ’’ Kenneth Waltz, ‘The myth of national interdependence’, in Charles Kindelberger (ed.), The International Corporation (Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 1970).

510 The Pertinence of International Relations

that liberal exponents of interdependence theory had implied - whether in situations of civil war (Lebanon, Sri Lanka), or in the growth of transnational processes that were unwelcome - terrorism, pollution and capital flight amongst them. “on-state actors’ were not all benign: in addition to Oxfam, Bandaid and Amnesty International, this category included the Mafia and the Medellin cartel.

The Return of International Political Economy

The central issue raised by interdependence concerned the role of the state and how far changes in the international system had indeed reduced, as distinct from altered, this. A similar question was raised in a traditional but very much ongoing field, that of international organization, where the growth of new supranational bodies, notably the UN and the EC, appeared to modify the sovereign powers of member states. If the initial expectation that the EC would constitute a new state, with appropriatepowers and legitimacy, was equally discarded by the late 197Os, the constraints which Community policies placed upon member states across a wide range of policies did amount to a reduction of previous areas of state independence. It was in the context of such investigations that many of those who had begun by advocating interdependence shifted to a new set of issues, those broadly comprised by the subject ‘international political economy’. This has been defined as the ‘reciprocal and dynamic relation of the pursuit of wealth and power’ and involves, as the revived term ‘political economy’ indicates, a study of the interaction of political and economic forces, without granting prior supremacy to either. As one of the leading figures in this field, Susan Strange, has argued, much discussion of international politics had proceeded without reference to economic processes and preconditions, and international economics operated without reference to the enduring and ever-assertive role of state~.’~International political economy has acted as a corrective to much of the simplistic ‘inter- nationalization’ literature common in the 1970s and 1980s. It has stressed that states, while challenged by changes in the international system, also adapt to them, seek to take advantage of them (for example, in communications), and continue to provide the indispensable political, legal and military context for the operation of economic and market forces. Despite the reduction in some forms of macroeconomic intervention, states still remain powerful economic actors in their own right - as employers, taxers, regulators, determinants of interest rates and money supply, and, not least, promoters of deficits and managers of debt. At the same time as, in criticism of economists and of those who overstate the extent of internationalization, she emphasized the role of states, Strange also, in answer to conventional theorists of realism, denied the autonomy of states and individual states’ power within the international system, by developing the concept of ‘structural power’. She criticized Marxism for focusing only on production, to the detriment of other forms of economic activity and power. At the same time, she also criticized the traditional realist view of power as ‘relational’, that is, as between two states, in favour of a concept of ‘structural’

l4 Susan Strange, ‘International economics and international relations: a case of mutual neglect’, International Aflairs, 48:2 (April 1970); and States and Markets. An Introduction to International PolifzcalEconomy (London, Pinter Publishers, 1988).


51 I

power, given by the operation of an international system. Strange argued that the activities of individual states and economies were being increasingly constrained not by an asymmetric capitalist international system but by four overlapping systemsof power. One, the security system, was the core of traditional, realist IR. The other three were the systems ofproduction, finance and knowledge, the latter including science and technology, culture and life-style.One of the most striking arguments of her States and Markets is that the growing importance of the knowledge structure forms an important constituent of continued US hegemony. The overall power of a state is a function of its position in the four structures. If it is not clear what the subjects of structural power are - states or the structures themselves - this theorization none the less represents a powerful revision of traditional views of ‘power politics’. Amongst the many issues debated within the literature on international political economy, one, the debate on hegemonic stability theory, may be illustrative of how this investigation of the states-economies relationship has proceeded. ‘Hegemonic stability theory’ originated in the work of Charles Kindelberger, who argued that a liberal international economic regime required a hegemon, a state dominant in both political and economic terms, able to ensure the public goods necessary for the system’s functioning and to promote and enforce the rules by which this system operated.’’ Britain in the nineteenth century and the US since 1945 played such a, beneficial, hegemonic role. The implication of this theory is that when a hegemonic power declines, as the US has been doing since the early 1970s, the system as a whole suffers; hence the call by several writers, notably Susan Strange and Robert Gilpin, for a reassertion of US hegemony within the international system, for the good of This theory has been challenged from a variety of standpoints, empirical and theoretical. Some historians have argued that the Britain-US analogy is invalid. Flattering as it may be to inhabitants of these islands today to believe it, Britain was never an economic hegemon in the nineteenth century. Observers of recent developments are divided as to how far US hegemony really has declined, especially in the political-military fields. More theoretically, hegemonic stability theory has been challenged by the former proponents of interdependence, most notably Keohane in his After Hegemony. In common with others, he has tried to identify the ways in which an international system can operate according to certain ‘norms’ and rules, even in the absence of a hegemon. These ‘norms’, rules or regimes comprise a set of informal, but generally accepted, expectations and understandings between states and other actors in the international community. The maintenance of economic growth by the developed countries would be one example, as would a limited obligation to provide aid to the third world. While a hegemonic power may be necessary for the initial setting up of a system and the laying down of its rules of operation, this no longer applies once the system is in operation. Hence the decline in US hegemony, the reality of which Keohane, in common with most other US writers, accepts, need not lead to disorder in the system. ‘Post-hegemonic cooperation’ is possible and indeed evident. Through a

Is Charles Kindelberger, The World in Depression, 1929-1939 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1973). l6 Susan Strange, Casino Capitalism (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1986); Robert Gilpin, The Political Economy of International Relations (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1987).

512 The Pertinence of International Relations

study of intra-OECD collaboration in the energy market, he argues that it is

‘regimes’ as a substitute for hegemonic

power. Stability need not, therefore, be hegemonic.The retreat from earlier theories of interdependence is also, however, evident: in regime theory, states are no longer being marginalized through a growing internationalization of the world economy but come to assume an important, if less antagonistic, role in managing the pro~ess.’~

possible to identify such ‘norms’ and

International Relations in the 1980s

The challenges to realism of behaviouralism, interdependence and international political economy have eroded the former’s monopoly on the subject and produced a more diverse and competitive discipline. This has in its turn encouraged a variety of other approaches to emerge, both in vindication of realism and in further rejection of it. The reaffirmation of realism, ‘neo-realism’, has engaged with the concerns of international political economy but sought to re-establish the primacy of states, and politico-military concerns, within the overall analysis. Thus Stephen Krasner in Structural Conflict ascribed the failure of third world states to gain acceptance for their New International Economic Order not to their economic weakness as such, but rather to their weakness as states and their espousal of principles that clashed with those of the dominant states in the international system.I8Robert Tucker in The Inequality of Nations stressed the continued role of great powers and military force in maintaining the international system and ascribed the poverty of third world states to endogenous political and economic factors.”The central tenets of neo-realism were, however, most clearly laid out in two major works of the late 1970s - Hedley Bull’s The Anarchical Society and Kenneth Waltz’s Theory of International Relations.2oBoth recognized, and sought to refute, the criticisms of the past two decades. Thus they stressed the primacy of states in the international system, and the subordinate power and role of ’non-state’actors. At the same time, they argued that economic processes, like other transnational activities, required states to provide the security and regulation needed for their continuation. They were sceptical of claims that interdependence was on the increase and they stressed the continued importance of the great powers in managing international relations, for better or worse. Waltz argued cogently that, despite much talk of an increasingly multipolar world, and attendant reduction in cold war tensions, a bipolar world, with two main centres of power and responsibility, was preferable to a multipolar one. He also laid out, in a set of axioms and theoretical expositions, the thesis that International Relations was concerned with conceptualizing relations between states, sovereign units, and not with the internal functioning of these units. Anything that involved such endogenous factors was ‘reductionist’. He allowed of no distinction between a theory that derived all the activities of states from

Robert Keohane, After Hegemony: Cooperationand Discord in the World Economy (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1984). Stephen Krasner, Structural Conflict (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1985). l9 Robert Tucker, The Inequality of Nations (London, Martin Robertson, 1977). 2n Bull, The Anarchical Society; Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Relations (New York, Random House, 1979).




their internal processes, one that could properly be called ‘reductionist’, and one that sought to take both exogenous and endogenous factors into account.*’ If ‘neo-realism’ responded to criticism of realism by reasserting traditional tenets, others took the analysis of IR even further away from established orthodoxy. In a radical extension of behaviourism, John Burton in his World Society and other works developed a theory of international relations based upon individual needs and the system of issue-related linkages established by such needs. The international system was, therefore, in Burton’s view, a cobweb of issue-defined interactions, within which the specific structures of military and state power played a distinct but not exclusive or predominant role. With a special emphasis upon the resolution of conflict through small-group and individual mediation, Burton’s work broke emphatically with the state-centric view of international relations by introducing not only an alternative analysis but also an alternative approach to policy. In a parallel development, the World Order Modelling Project, Richard Falk developed a theory of alternatives and oppositions to state power at the international level, based again on human needs and transnational, non-state, interactions. The growing relationship of Marxism to IR constituted another, unorthodox, development in the 1970s and 1980s. As already indicated, Marxism’s point of entry into IR was on the issue of underdevelopment and in many ways it remained confined to this area. Not only was the alternative, more classical, Marxist view on development downplayed, according to which it was in capitalism’s interest to develop the third world, but Marxist concepts with more relevance to the central concerns of IR - on the causes of war, role of classes, character of ideology - were not applied to international analysis in the same way. In arguing for the primacy of an alternative agenda - north-south relations and international structures of exploitation - Marxism left the main terrain of international relations relatively unscathed. This insulation of IR from Marxist influence, to a degree perhaps greater than in any other area of the social sciences, was of course compounded by the predominance of American writing on the subject, reflecting an intellectual climate from which Marxism was largely absent. Only in the 1980s has this situation began to change. Within the writing on international political economy, there has been an application of Marxist concepts to analyse the causes and consequences of an increasingly internation- alized market and the new forms it is taking. Within the writing on foreign policy analysis, it has become possible to examine not only how bureaucratic and constitutional factors affect policy outcomes but also how these are themselves shaped by broader historical, social and economic factors, including class factors, within the country concerned. The role of military production sectors in promoting international confrontation and alarm is one obvious, and not negligible, example of this.**

2’ For an exposition and critique of Waltz’s views see Robert Keohane, Neo-Realism andits Cri1ic.r (New York, Columbia University Press, 1986). For further critique of Keohane and Waltz, see Fred Halliday, ‘Theorising the international’, Economy and Society, I8:3 (August 1989). 22 Kaes van der Pijl, The Making of an Atlantic Ruling Class (London, Verso, 1984) and Stephen

Gills and Barry Law The Global Political Economy: Perspectives, Problems and Policies (Brighton,

Wheatsheaf, 1988).

514 The Pertinence of International Relations

The growth of a historical sociological literature around issues of international competition and state formation, itself engaging critically with Marxism, provides a particularly fruitful opportunity for new work on exogenous- endogenous relations and on the ways in which states interact with the world

system. This literature has made it possible, more than ever before, to discuss perhaps the most deeply embedded and neglected element in realism, namely the legal-territorial conception of the state which it uses. Much of the debate between realism and Marxism has revolved around the question of the state, yet it has too rarely been recognized that this involves two quite distinct conceptions of ‘state’:

the legal-territorial concept, borrowed by IR from law and traditional political science, enables one set of questions to be addressed and theorized; the alternative concept, however, derived from Marxism and Weberian sociology, in which the state is seen as an administrative-coercive entity, an apparatus within a country or society rather than that country as a whole, allows a very different set

of questions to be analysed, not least the vexed issue of how the international and

the domestic interact, and how changing relations of states to peoples are affected

by international factors, be these the role of states in warfare, or shifting international standards of what does and does not constitute legitimate government .23 An even more recent critical current to emerge within IR has been that influenced by feminism. Until the mid-l980s, IR appeared to be more indifferent to issues of gender than any other area of the social sciences, a situation compounded by widespread acceptance of the distinction between a con- ventionally ‘male’area of high politics, international security and statecraft, and

a ‘female’ one of domesticity, interpersonal relations and locality. This mutual

indifferencehas, however, given way in the face of two converging processes. One comes from the realm of policy: in a range of international policy areas, issues of

gender have come to prominence in recent years. These include questions of women in development processes, issues in international law and EC policy pertaining to women, and the varying impacts on men and women of international socioeconomic processes, among them migration and ‘structural adjustment’ policies. The widespread involvement of women in movements against war and nuclear weapons has made this another point of gender-specific intersection. In a quite different area, feminist writing has begun to engage with some of the core concepts of IR theory and to question how far a gender-neutral view of them is justified. These include the concepts of ‘national interest’, security, power and human rights. All are presented in the mainstream literature as gender-neutral concepts, yet as feminist re-examination has shown, each has implicit gender significance.Above all, feminism, in common with other theories emphasizing individual and social rights, questions the very core of conventional international relations practice, namely the supreme value of sovereignty. Since the establishment of independent states has in many countries led to a deterioration in women’s position vis-u-vis men, and assertions of sovereignty

21 Discussed in Halliday ‘State and society’. See also Michael Mastanduno, David A. Lake and G. John Ikenberry, ‘Towards a realist theory of state acton’, lnternafionalStudies Quarier/y, 33:4 (Dec. 1989).Mastanduno and his co-authors seem, however, to remain under the illusion that the external- internal linkage is something recent: they ignore the writings of historical sociologists who have charted the interaction from the first constitution of the state.



and nationalist identity have been used to deny the legitimacy of raising these issues, there is room for considerable engagement by feminism, in practice and theory, with the claims of nationalism and with its correlate, the presumed authority of the sovereign


There is much that it has not been possible to touch upon in this overview. The recent revival of normative theory in IR - as in the work of Charles Beitz, influenced by Rawls, Andrew Linklater and John Vincent - is one case in point, examining as it does the reiated issues of obligation and rights in the international ~ontext.~’A second area meriting much greater attention is that of rational choice and game theory as applied to IR, in both realist and foreign policy analysis varieties.26A third, enduring and rich, area of investigation is that of strategy, where theoretical and historical analysis, enriched as well as diverted by policy issues, continues to generate work of high Despite the failure of the ‘behavioural revolution’ to transform IR, any more than it transformed political science as a whole, there is considerable work in applying mathematical methods to international issues, a current which, if perhaps oversold in the US, receives too little attention in Britain.**In common with other areas of the social sciences, IR has recently been influenced by discourse theory and ‘post-structuralism’, with consequences yet to be a~certained.~~As already indicated, newly produced work in historical sociology has major implications for IR and in particular its analysis of ‘states’, an interaction which may help the discipline to break out of the current inter-paradigm impasse. This essay began by arguing that the relationship of IR to other social sciences can above all be defined by the joint approach which it, and other disciplines, could make to issues that were both domestic and international and where it is possible to identify how far the international did and did not play a determinant role. Three groups ofjointly relevant topic suggest themselves. The first are issues of political theory in the older, normative, sense of the term: of obligation - whether to family, state, or cosmopolitan community; of justice, its

24 For initial discussions of the relationship between feminism and IR, see the special issue of Millennium, 17:2 (Summer 1988)and the subsequent discussion in Millennium, 18:2 (Summer 1989). 2SCharlesBeitz, Political Theory and International Relations (Princeton, Princeton University

Press, 1979);Andrew Linklater, Men and Citizens in the Theory of International Relations (London,

Macmillan, 1981); John Vincent, Human Rights and International Relations (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988). ’‘ Robert Axelrod, Tile Evolution of Cooperation (New York, Basic Books, 1984); Mancur Olson,

The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growjth, Stagflation and Social Rigidities (New Haven,

Yale University Press, 1984).

27 A major new contribution to the field is Edward N. Luttwak, Strategy: rhe Logic of War and Peace (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1987). Surveys of the field can be found in A. J. R. Groom, ‘Strategy’, in Margot Light and A. J. R. Groom (eds), International Relations (London,

Frances Pinter, 1985)and Barry Buzan, An Introduction to Strategic Studies: Military Technology and

International Relations (London, Macmillan, 1987).

Relations (Cambridge, Cambridge

University Press. 1989). 29 Mark Hoffman, ‘Critical theory and the inter-paradigm debate’, in Hugh Dyer and Leon Mangasarian (eds), The Study oflnternational Relations (London, Macmillan, 1989).One, unevenly

received, attempt to

2n Michael Nicholson,





apply discourse theory to the field of international relations is James Der Derian,

On Diplomacy: A Genealogy of Estrangement (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1987).

516 The Pertinence of International Relations

implementation at the national and international levels, and its conflict with rival values, notably security; of the legitimacy of force and coercion, within and

between states; of the right to resist sovereign states. There are, secondly, a set of theoretical issues in the more contemporary, analytic sense: the analysis of power; the relation between political, economic, ideological structures; the relevance of rational choice models to social and political action, by states, institutions and individuals within them. Finally, there is the overarching issue of explaining social and political systems in the light of both domestic and international determinants. Each level has its own partial autonomy, yet, as indicated above, the insulation of the two levels of study, as with political science and IR, has done violence to explanation and analysis. As already argued, it is not possible to explain the politics of individual

states without reference to a range of international factors, historical

The ‘international’ is not something out there, an area of policy that occasionally intrudes, in the form of bombs or higher oil prices, but which can conventionally be ignored. The international predates, plays a formative role in shaping, the emergence of the state and the political system. States operate simultaneously at the domestic and international levels and seek to maximize benefits in one domain to enhance their positions in the other. The requirements of inter-state competition explain much of the development of the modern state, while the mobilization of domestic resources and the internal constraints account for much of states’ successes in this competition. Political Science and International Relations are looking at two dimensions of the same process: without undue intrusion or denial of the specificity of the other, this might suggest a stable and fruitful interrelationship.

and current.