International relations is the study of power and authority among nations. In a broad sense there have been “international relations” as long as there have been more or less independent societies encountering each other under conditions of anarchy (i.e., in the absence of a recognized legal/political authority to arbitrate disputes). But in its more precise meaning international relations (IR) concerns just what the words suggest: relations between or among sovereign nations or territorial states. And these are usually regarded as an outcome of Europe’s Peace of Westphalia in 1648. As an academic discipline, however, international relations dates only from the aftermath of World War I, following the breakdown of Europe’s balance of power system. Having by now surmounted its humble beginnings, IR has attained a prestigious place in the halls of academia and the practical world of diplomacy and global governance. One of the most attractive aspects of the study of international politics is its unique and authentic way of presenting fundamental political issues. In a world of anarchy with no central world government, questions of life and death are confronted in a brutally honest manner. The rhetorical flourishes of domestic presidential campaigns give way to the cold logic of the international balance of power, in which, as the Greek historian Thucydides of Athens commented, “the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must.”
The study of international relations has evolved during the past few decades as political circumstances have changed. The Cold War is over and—some would say—we now inhabit a multipolar world in which no one power, not even the United States, can dictate to others. Furthermore, overt colonialism is a relic of the past; hence, the world now counts far more nation-states than ever before, many of them poor and desperate for economic development. Among other things, their poverty has generated waves of migrants desperate to reach the more developed world where they can find work and a better life. Meanwhile, a number of important nation-states have voluntarily surrendered portions of their sovereignty to trans-national institutions such as the European Union. Some observers of the international scene, often called liberal internationalists, believe that old-style IR (“realism”), with its emphasis on power-balancing and geostrategic advantage, is outmoded. They believe that war should be and will be consigned to the dustbin of history, like torture and slavery. Realists have presented compelling counterarguments while refining their own approach.
In our course we will survey and debate the respective positions of realism and liberal internationalism. But we will also confront another crucial change in the nature of international politics: the onset of globalization and the relative decline of the nation-state as the focus of civic loyalty and problem-solving. Many of the countries we will visit could break apart eventually, as their component regions and ethnic groups try to claim greater autonomy (Italy, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, Peru). Alternatively, some could transfer so much power and competence to trans-national institutions such as the EU, that they will be, at most, semi-sovereign in the international arena. In short, the nation-state is being challenged from below and above as it strains to accommodate its citizens’ demands for linguistic, religious, and ethnic recognition, while trying to meet the fiscal, budgetary, and political demands of higher-order associations. How will the relative decline of the nation-state affect the study of International Relations? That will be an additional topic we shall consider this semester.
Field WorkCountry: Morocco
Day: 5 - Friday, 14 October
- Learn how the Moroccan monarchy has brought about a limited “opening” to democracy and parliamentary government
- See how the government has managed the tensions between Arab and ethnic Berber (Amazigh) citizens
- Evaluate Morocco’s progress toward economic development and its role in the migration crisis besetting Europe