Meaning, Nature and Scope of International Relations
No nation is an island. Because domestic policies are constantly affected
by developments outside, nations are compelled to (rather than sit on the
fence or out-rightly isolate themselves) enter into dialogue with target or
initiating entities or form alliance(s) for the purpose of enhancing their
status quo, or increasing their power or prestige and survival in' the
Because international relations is in transition following emerging
realities in the international system, it has become complex and even
more difficult arriving at a more universally acceptable definition of the
subject. But this is not peculiar to international relations as there are
more intense disagreements over the definition of political sciences
itself. Nevertheless scholars have persisted in their attempt to define
Trevor Taylor (1979) defines International Relations as
"a discipline, which tries to explain political activities
across state boundaries".
According to Ola, Joseph (1999),
"International relations are the study of all forms of interactions
that exist between members of separate entities or nations within
the international system".
Seymon Brown (1988) thus defines international relations as
"the investigating and study of patterns of action and “reactions among
sovereign states as represented by their governing elites.”
Some scholars see power as the key to International politics. Thus, they
define International relations as the subject that deals with those
relations among nations, which involve power status.
As Stanley Hoffman writes
“the discipline of international relations is concerned with the
factors and the activities which affect the external policies and
power of the basic units into which the world is divided.”
Thus, international relations is concerned with all the exchange transactions,
contacts, flow of information and the resulting behavioral responses
between and among separate organized societies. International relations
could encompass many different activities social, economic, religious
and so forth in so far as they have implications for international political
In the words of Karl Wolfgang Deutsch (1968),
“An introduction to the study of international relations in our
time is an introduction to the art and science of the survival of
mankind. If civilization is killed in the nearest future, it will not be
killed by famine or plague, but by foreign policy and international relations.”
The point expressed here is that we can cope with hunger and pestilence,
but we cannot deal with the power of our own weapons and our own
behavior as nation states.
It is important to note that since the end of World War 1, nation states
have possessed unprecedented instruments for national action in the
form of ideologies and weapons, and they have become even more
dangerous vehicles of international conflict, carrying the potential for its
escalation to mutual destruction and ultimate annihilation. The nation
state holds the power to control most events within its borders, but few
events beyond them.
It is thus decisively important for the student of international relations to
understand that the world of today is marked by two factors. One fact
has to do with the nature of power in the age of the atom; the other
concerns the interdependence of mankind in an age of the individual.
Nature of International Relations
International Relations, like the world community itself are in transition.
In a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world, it encompasses
much more than relations among nation states and international
organization and groups. It includes a variety of transitional
relationships at various levels, above and below the level of the nation
states. International relations are a multidisciplinary field gathering
together the international aspects of politics, economics, geography,
history, law, sociology, psychology , philosophy and cultural studies.
It is a meta-discipline.
Scope of International Relations
It is known by now that international relations encompass a myriad of
discipline. Attempts to structure and intellectualize it have often been
thematically and analytically confined to boundaries determined by data.
The core concepts of international relations are International Organization,
International Law, Foreign Policy, International Conflict, International
Economic Relations and Military Thought and Strategy.
International/Regional Security, Strategic Studies, International Political
Economy, Conflict/War and Peace Studies, Globalization, International
Moreover it covers , state sovereignty, ecological sustainability,
nuclear proliferation, nationalism, economic development, terrorism,
organized crime, human security, foreign interventionism and human rights.
These have been grounded in various schools of thought (or traditions)
notably Realism and Idealism.
International relations are thus concerned with every form of interaction
between and amongst nations. Such interactions can also occur between
corporation and social groups. Examples are interactions between member
states of the OPEC or the International Human Rights Commissions.
The moment such interactions cross a state boundary it is of interest to
the study of International Relations. International relations recognize and
respond to the fact that the foreign policy goals that nations pursue can
be a matter of permanent consequences to some or all of the others.