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Understanding International Relations

By Divya Issarani

The world has become a global village and people from faraway lands are fortunate enough to be connected with each other. Study and job opportunities abroad help learners to explore new lands, communicate with people, collaborate with them in work or engage in trade, export and import.

Likewise, the governments have connections with other government either of friendship or animosity. Countries sharing borders and those with distinct geospatial location bond with one another. This bonding is studied under international relations, a concept which evolved due to enhancement in communication and technology and greater access to outer world.

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International Relations is the study of global interconnectedness and interdependence of history, politics, economics and law of distinct lands. It concerns with relations across borders and studies diplomacy, foreign policies, security, governance and leadership, terrorism, etc. It includes the relation of states with international organizations which in turn regulates the relations of different nations.

Anything happening in one part of the world influences the phenomena of the other end. Because of this cause and effect relationship, countries shape their bonding accordingly. With the discovery of new lands, people started living with limited resources.

English colonized these new places and exploited the means and persons. The situation went out of the hand when the nations fought in the World War. As a result, the international organization was constituted to look after peace and harmony among the powers to avoid casualties.

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Geographical Factors:

Location of a nation is strategically important to determine its relations with others. It is because of distinct geospatial location and the geographical borders that international relations exist, join or break. If a country has raw material, healthy climatic conditions, and stability; it will have a strong stance in bonding with neighbouring countries and accordingly, the nation will frame its foreign policies.

For example, India’s position is tactical, as it is surrounded by oceans, and has rivers, mountains, desert, plains, plateau and terrains which helps in transportation, agriculture and protection from incursions. Similarly, Australia, Britain and America are too surrounded by seas and oceans, which serves as a barrier from any attack, as a result of which they have prospered.

Economic Factors:

If a nation is economically well-to-do, it will be in an advantageous position with regards to relations with other nations. The economic factor depends upon per capita income of people, availability of food, shelter, job opportunities, investment and projects for the benefit of people. Today, no country can live in isolation because of which the nations develop trade relations to help each other.

For instance, the United State of America after the disintegration of the Soviet Union became a hegemon — exercised great influence on every country. There was no one to challenge its authority, neither through the military nor through technological advancement nor through trade.

Demographic Factors:

This includes the size of the population and ethnicity. The size of the population and equally, the huge and efficient industrial production determines the existence to which a nation can claim to have an independent foreign policy of its own.

Next, if a country has a diverse ethnicity, it will have to focus more on internal conflicts rather than its foreign bonds. The USA and Russia have a large territory, population and technological advancement which makes them a developed nation who can influence any foreign state. India with its diverse ethnic culture has maintained its integrity even after some mutual conflicts and has exceptionally stable relations with the outer world.

Strategic and Military Factors:

A country’s military force is considered its saviour from infiltrates of other countries. This factor is directly linked to national security and sovereignty. A powerful state has a good command over military equipment and weapons and has a robust armed force to defend itself. International relations of such a country are stable or volatile as no state will try to attack it.

For example, there was and is no one to counter USA’s military power, but at the same time, nations which were a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had endured relations with the USA.

Historical Factor:

There exist some nations in the world that previously shared territories, and were one but subsequently divided. It is all about the esteem of the homeland and respect for the motherland which empowers a nation and establishes a constant relation with a nation-state which was earlier a part of it.

For Example, Pakistan and India share one past before independence and partition. Pakistan and Bangladesh were once one nation under the governance of the former. Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka make up a part of the Indian subcontinent with similar ethnicity. These nations have stable to severe relations with each other, which are affected by their historical connectivity.

Administrative Factors:

The countries with the same form of government and way of administration are more likely to have compatible relations with each other. Instances from the past are evidence that the like-polity has long-lasting ties. Like China and Russia who have a communist form of government are good friends, countries with a democratic government and a constitution to govern them have firm relations.

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In the 21st century, in the era of advancement of technology and communication, no one can live in isolation. Even if a nation wants to prosper, it has to open its economy and make ties with the outer world. International relations promote trade among the nations as no one is self-sufficient and everyone has to import it in lieu of a commodity which the other nation wants. It enhances the travel and tourism business with which people can even go abroad to pursue their career and find job opportunities.

International relations leads towards co-operation among nations to work together against issues like terrorism, pandemic, any foreign enemy attack, climate change and other global issues, poverty, misuse of technology, and many more. They help two nations to share each other’s military resource, share nuclear secrets for protection. Bonding among nations gives rise to cultural heterogeneity and economic flow.

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Approaches to studying international relations are broadly divided into two branches, i.e., positive and normative. The positive approach studies why the chain of events and their trends exist in the world, what the world ‘is’. The normative approach concerns what type of events and conditions should exist in world politics, what the world ‘ought to be’.

Theories on international relations explain the world and have evolved with the change in time and shift in the personal context. There are traditional and non-traditional theories, which together make up a holistic discipline called international relations.

Liberalism: -

This was prevalent during and after the first World War, where nations signed treaties to establish peace and resolve any matter through discussion and debate. Liberals abhorred the idea of war. In Immanuel Kant’s eyes, the more liberal states there were in the world, the more peaceful it would become since liberal states are ruled by their citizens and citizens are rarely disposed to desire war. But this theory could not flourish due to the Second World War in 1939, and liberalism failed to retain a stronghold.

Realism: -

After the rejection of liberalism, realism took shape. The League of Nations was formed in 1920 to halt the war but failed in pursuit. The theory of realism states that the only certainty in the world is power; therefore, a powerful state, via military power (the most important and reliable form of power), will always be able to outlast its weaker competitors.

There was a social contract amongst the people of the city-state, but for the whole world, there is no international sovereign; hence, there is no universal authority to regulate nations to stop the use of force forever and war is common to establish oneself. International relations are portrayed as lawless; for example, even though the League of Nations (1920) was set up to halt world war, it could not prevent world war II that broke out in 1939 due to ambition and passion for domination of Germany led by Adolf Hitler.


Based upon Karl Marx theory, the society is divided into two classes- Bourgeoisie, business class and Proletariat, the working section, applies this to international relations and tends to argue that capitalism drives states to compete and attempt to dominate each other. After internationalization of a state, the ordinary people suffer and are alienated from development. The common interest of all working-class is avoided. Marx advocated for the abolition of the class system and overall improvement of the proletariat.


This theory focuses on inequality among nation-states. The era of colonialism was a depressing one for Asia and Africa. It was only during the Cold War era that the colonial powers withdrew and left deprived, disordered and divided states behind them. This theory emphasized on hearing voices of people from powerful nations along with weaker states to ensure that aid is extended to the needy. Scholars help in throwing light and addressing the economic, social, political problems of the deprived nations equally.

English scholars found a middle path between the two extreme theories and claimed that there are norms of expected behaviour which is shared by every nation to maintain stability and peace.

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There are some international institutions which govern the relations between nation-states and maintain peace and harmony. They ensure that there is minimum use of force to bring stability and that there is less interference in personal affairs of one nation. These organisations are as follows:

United Nations:

League of Nations, formed in 1920 after World War I by the association of all nations to promote international accord. However, it could not prevent World War II in 1939. The United Nations was a successor to the League formed in 1945, by 51 nations through signing the United Nations Charter with the main aim of facilitating co-operation among states and reducing the war-like situation.

World Bank:

Created in 1944, it works to extend loans and grants to its member countries, especially the developing ones. It works for human development, environment protection, helping the rural society, etc.

World Trade Organisation:

It was set up in 1995 to succeed the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, which specifies global trade rules to be followed by every nation. It denies the use of trade barriers and tariffs and encourages laissez-faire.

International Atomic Energy Agency:

Formed in 1957, it promotes the judicious use of nuclear energy and prevents its use for military purposes and ensures that civilian reactors are not used for fighting.

Amnesty International:

It is an NGO, functioning for the protection of human rights of people around the world and publishes reports on their violation.

There are a no. of organisations like the European Union, BRICS, ASEAN, G-20, G-7, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Asian Development Bank, International Monetary Fund, UN Human Rights Council, International Court of Justice, NATO, and the list goes on.

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India’s leadership has always played a pivotal role in framing its foreign policy and maintaining relations with the outer world. Since independence, India had been under Congress rule — first with Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Rajeev Gandhi. India, being a sovereign state, wanted freedom from any intervention or foreign pressure and hence formed a Non-Aligned Movement against the First and Second World countries during the cold war. It had to stay away from the leading powers and work for newly decolonized countries.

Nehru and India’s Defence Minister trusted China and ensured that China would never attack them. But unfortunately, India was badly defeated at the hands of China in the War of 1962. Nehru also trusted America and wanted technological assistance from America. It was only after the Americans concluded the military agreement with Pakistan and started giving it massive quantities of arms that Nehru began looking to the Soviet Union.

Under Indira Gandhi, the war with Pakistan in 1971, the liberation of Bangladesh and 90,000 soldiers of the Pakistani Army surrendered to India was one of the most important happenings in the history of Indian subcontinent and India was established as a strategic power. The 20-year military cooperation agreement with Russia in 1970 was also important to counter China, Pakistan and America.

As for Rajiv Gandhi, he made the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord with Sri Lanka over the conflict of ethnicity and sent troops to stabilize the situation between the Sri Lankan Army and Tamil people. The Indian Peace Keeping Force was deployed in Sri Lanka’s troubled north and east between 1987 and 1990 to disarm the rebel outfit. But the intervention was not liked by the Lankan government and the troops were called back.

The new leadership under Narendra Modi’s governance has a totally different policy. The stand-off with Pakistan and China has made it clear that eyeing on Indian territories is the biggest mistake any nation can do. Nepal being manipulated by China against India proved to be a blunder. Relations with America, Australia, France, Japan etc. have established India as a strong nation.

International relations will keep on developing as long as the nations and people interact.

This story has been written by Divya Issarani BA. LLB. Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur



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