Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: international relations from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(1880) : a branch of political science concerned with relations between nations and primarily with foreign policies

Summary Article: international relations
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

study of the relations among states and other political and economic units in the international system. Particular areas of study within the field of international relations include diplomacy and diplomatic history, international law, international organizations, international finance and economics, and communications, among others. In addition, increased attention has been paid in recent years to developing a more scientific understanding of the international system as a whole. Aspects of international relations have been studied as early as the time of the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. As a separate and definable discipline, however, it dates from the early 20th cent., when the first organized efforts were made to find alternatives to wars in nation-state international behavior. Two schools of thought quickly developed. One looks to strengthened international law and international organizations to preserve peace; the other emphasizes that nations will always use their power to achieve goals and sees the key to peace in a balance of power among competing states. With increased importance attached to a theoretical understanding of the whole international system, there has been a growing use of concepts and modes of analysis developed in the natural sciences in an attempt to improve the verifiability and applicability of theories. In many of the leading U.S. universities there are both research institutes and schools of international relations. See diplomatic service; United Nations; European Union.

  • See Aron, R. , Peace and War (tr. 1967);.
  • Morgenthau, H. J. , Politics among Nations (5th ed. rev. 1978);.
  • F. S. Northedge; M. J. Grieve, A Hundred Years of International Relations (1971);.
  • R. W. Mansbach; J. A. Vasquez, In Search of Theory (1981);.
  • F. S. Pearson; J. M. Rochester, International Relations (2d ed. 1988).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles

Full text Article International relations
Routledge International Handbooks: Routledge Companion to Sports History

I would like to thank Roy Hay and Bill Murray for useful comments on an early draft of this chapter; the rest of the Victorian chapter of the...

The Macquarie Encyclopedia of Australian Events

1788 Jan International Relations Two French ships under the command of Count de la Perouse visited Botany Bay soon after...

Full text Article International Relations
Encyclopedia of Global Studies

It is important to distinguish between international relations , the relationships among states in international politics, and International...

See more from Credo