Approaches To The Study Of International Politics

Approaches To The Study Of International Politics

List And Explain The Major Approaches To The Study Of International Politics.


International politics is the way in which sovereign states interact with each other. There are many approaches to the study of international politics and the major ones can be traced to traditional approaches. These different approaches are shaped by the academic traditions and cultures of countries where they are practiced and of scholars considered as main proponents of the various approaches.

Approaches To The Study Of International Politics

1. Realism
2. Idealism
3. Behavioral approach
4. Game Theory
5. System Theory
6. Liberalism


Taking inspiration from Kautilya and Machiavelli, the leading twentieth century realists George Kennan and Hans Morgenthau argued that the struggle for power is the central point of all international relations. Individuals believe that others are always trying to attack and destroy them, and therefore, they must be continuously ready to kill others in order to protect themselves. This basic; human instinct guides the States as well. Thus, the realists argue that rivalry and strife among the nations in some form or the other are always present. Just as self:- interest guides the individual’s behavior, similarly national interest also guides the foreign policy of nation-states. Continued conflict is the reality of international relations and realists attribute this to the struggle for power. Thus, national interest, as defined in terms of power, is the only reality of international relations. The realists do not attach much significance to means, for them national interest is the end, and it must be promoted at all costs. Hans . Morgenthu’s influential book “Politics among Nations” (1972) carried the torch of realism far and wide. For the realists, distribution of powers among states is all that is there to explain in IR. Given a particular distribution of power, the realists claim that, it is possible to explain both the characteristics of the system and the – behavior of the individual states.


The idealists firmly believe that the essential goodness of human nature will eventually prevail and that a new world order would emerge which would be marked by the absence of war, inequality and tyranny. This new world order would be brought about by the use of reason, education and science. Idealism presents a picture of future international relations free from power politics, violence and immorality. Idealism argues that an international organization commanding respect of nation-states would pave the way for a world free of conflicts and war. Thus, the crucial point on which the realists and idealists sharply differ is the problem of power. St. Simon, Aldous Huxley, Mahatma Gandhi and Woodrow Wilson are among the prominent idealists. Morality is vital for them as they aim at international peace and cooperation.



claimed by their western adherents to be scientific because they are based on quantitative calculations. They made us More aware of the complex nature of conflicts and provided many valuable insights into decision r making. The ultimate objective of the behaviorist scholars is to develop a general theory of international relations.


A system is defined as a set of elements interacting with each other. Another important feature of the system is that it has a boundary which separates it from the environment, the latter however, influences the system in its operations.
Among others, Prof. Morton Kaplan is considered the most influential in the systems theorizing of international politics. He presented a number of real and hypothetical models of global political organisation. His six well known models are:
1. Balance of power system
2. Loose bipolar system
3. Tight bipolar system
4. Universal actor system
5. Hierarchical system and
6. Unit veto system

1. The Balance of Power System : This system prevailed in Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In this system some powerful states seek to maintain equilibrium of power individually or in alliance. Usually there is a ‘balancer’ – a state which assists anyone who is likely to become weaker than others so that balance is not disturbed.

2. The Loose Bipolar System : This was the situation during the days of cold war politics. Despite bipolar division of the global power scene, some countries refused to align with either block. They hang loose in an otherwisc stratified global order. Examples : Non-aligned countries (NAM).

3. The Tight Bipolar System : Think of a situation where the international actors like NAM countries are forced to align with either block, the result is -one of the tight bipolar system.

4. The Universal Actor System : In this system, an international organisation or actor commanding universal allegiance becomes the center of power. Whether big or small, all states will accept the superiority of a universal actor like the United Nations. Thus, without giving up their sovereignty, nation-states will strengthen the United Nations and generally abide by its decisions. This may eventually pave the way for a world government.


5. The Hierarchical International System : In this system one country will become so powerful that all other states will be virtually dictated to by that one Supreme Power. This situation may be described as a ‘Unipolar World Model’. The U.N. may still exist, but there will be no true non-aligned country and even the U.N. will not have enough power.

6. The Unit Veto System : Morton Kaplan’s Unit Veto System in international context resembles the ‘state of nature’ as defined by Thomas Hobbes. Each state will be the enemy of every other state, because almost all the countries will possess nuclear weapons. Thus, all the international actors will be capable of using nuclear weapons against their enemies.

These six models were later supplemented by Kaplan himself by some other models.


Game theory attempts to provide models for studying world politics, especially in highly competitive situations when outcomes of the actions are difficult to anticipate. This has led scholars to create the game theory for a more scientific study of the calculation of probabilities in an uncertain situation. Game theory was created almost in one shot with the publication of Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (Princeton, 1994) by the mathematician John von Neumann and the economist Oskar Morgenstern. Karl Deutsch and Martin Shubik are among influential theorists who followed them. Though the economists were the first to adapt it to their purpose in recent years it has been applied to many other fields with suitable


The major approaches to the study of intentional politics explained above are used in school or better studied to help student of international relations understand the various ways the international system/world/politics works. Ranging from realism to idealism, game theory, system theory and behavioral approach, all explained better way of understanding international politics and how it operates.


1. Hans Morgenthus – Politics Among Nations
2. Dr. Sultan Khan – A Study Of International Relations
3. Richard C. Snyder – Decision-Making As An Approach To the Study Of International Politics
4. Palmer Perkins – Intentional Relations (Third Editions)

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