International Relations can refer to interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the world system drawing from economics, politics, anthropology and public policy. Originally a subfield of political science, international relations is primarily concerned with how nation-states, supra-national institutions, and NGOs interact. This exciting discipline seeks to analyze phenomena such as global poverty, wars, international conflict, development, migration, globalization and political economy.
International Relations main units of analysis are states and non-state actors such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, and various NGOs. Researchers design methodology around their research question, and choose the level of analysis appropriate when operationalizing variables. These units of analysis are hierarchical in nature from the international system, to the state or organization, down to the individual.
Classic International Relations theories contend that actors exist in a state of anarchy, but diverge in their understanding of how these actors deal with the anarchic world system. Realism asserts that states seek to build their own power in relation to others.
Within Realism Theory, states exercise hard power, such as military force, when attempting to protect or increase their own power. Morality is second to this garnering of power. Within Realism theory, supra-national institutions and NGOs have only the power given to them by states. Realism theory has been critiqued on its inability to fully explain why states work together within organizations such as the European Union.
Liberalism views interactions in the world system differently, although this theory also asserts a state of anarchy. As globalization has increased the complexity of the world system, hard power options are often the last resort. It is within the best interest of states to work together to achieve common goals, protecting their own power. Liberalism contends that economic means of influence outweigh the heavy consequences of taking military action against another state. A good example of this is the use of economic sanctions when attempting to influence a state.
International relations is an increasingly complex subfield of political science, which is evolving to become highly interdisciplinary. Globalization is increasing the interconnected nature of the world, which is giving scholars new questions to answer regarding the interactions between states, organizations and the world system. Globalization is also challenging previously convincing theoretical positions within the subfield, opening a space for evolution of our understanding of the intricacies of these interactions.