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About this book

The fifth edition of this bestselling textbook offers a comprehensive and engaging introduction to International relations and has been fully updated to cover the dramatic changes in recent world politics. Written in the author’s unique and engaging style, the text explores everything from foreign policy and security to global governance and the global economy, to show how the theories and concepts Brown outlines are the only way to make sense of contemporary issues and events.

Table of Contents

1. Defining International Relations

Abstract
This book is an introduction to the discipline of International Relations;‘International Relations’ (with initial capitals – here frequently shortened to IR) is the study of ‘international relations’ (lower case). The use of upper and lower case in this way has become conventional and will be employed throughout this book. But what are ‘international relations’? A survey of the field suggests that a number of different definitions are employed. For some, international relations means the diplomatic–strategic relations of states, and the characteristic focus of IR is on issues of war and peace, conflict and cooperation. Others see international relations as being about cross-border transactions of all kinds, political, economic and social, and IR is as likely to study trade negotiations or the operation of non-state institutions such as Amnesty International as it is conventional peace talks or the workings of the United Nations. Again, and with increasing frequency in the twenty-first century, some focus on globalization – studying, for example, world communication, transport and financial systems, global business corporations and the putative emergence of a global society. These conceptions obviously bear some family resemblances, nevertheless, each has quite distinct features. Which definition we adopt will have real consequences for the rest of our study, and thus will be more than simply a matter of convenience.
Chris Brown

2. The Development of International Relations Theory in the Twentieth Century

Abstract
Wherever different territorially based political orders coexist in the same social world, some form of international relations is to be found, even though the term itself was not coined until the end of the eighteenth century (Bentham [1789] 1960: 426). The academic study of International Relations, on the other hand, existed only in embryo before the First World War. In the second half of the nineteenth century, when the social sciences as we know them today began to be differentiated, when ‘economics’ emerged out of political economy as an allegedly scientific field of study, and when ‘sociology’ and ‘politics’ and ‘social theory’ came to be seen as addressing different agendas – a position that would have surprised Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith or Immanuel Kant – ‘International Relations’ remained unidentified as a discrete focus for study. Instead, what we nowadays think of as International Relations was for the most part seen as simply one facet of a number of other disciplines (history, international law, economics, political theory), although, as Brian Schmidt (1998) has demonstrated, political scientists addressed the field rather more systematically than had previously been thought to be the case.
Chris Brown

3. International Relations Theory Today

Abstract
This chapter is intended to provide an overview of contemporary IR theory, ranging from structural realism and liberal institutionalism, through constructivism and other post-positivist approaches, including the English School, gender theory and postcolonialism to contemporary eclecticism and the so-called ‘end of IR theory’. A great deal of ground will be covered in relatively few words, and so this chapter is best seen as an exercise in sign-posting; the aim will be not to give a full account of each approach but to show how these approaches relate to each other and to point interested students towards the relevant literature. Many of the issues raised below will be followed up in greater detail in later chapters; the aim here is to convey a sense of how these issues relate to each other and to the wider project of developing theory in IR.
Chris Brown

4. Agency, Structure and the State

Abstract
In Chapter 3, we noted the shift in focus in mainstream IR theory, from studying states as actors to examining the environment or structure in which states act – an ‘international system’, or perhaps an ‘international society’. In this chapter, the relationship between actors and their environment, and the nature of the key actors in IR will be examined. To do so, we need to recap one of the oldest and most intractable debates in social science: the agent–structure problem. The debate centres not on the detail of who or what it is that acts in international politics – states, individuals, firms, international institutions and so on – but on whether ‘agency’ (the actions of actors, or their capacity to act) or ‘structure’ (the broad constraints within which actors act, such as international anarchy or society, global capitalism, or international law) is the key determinant of our social world. The argument here can sometimes seem rather abstract, but there are important real-world issues at stake and it is worth persevering; in any event, much recent work in this area does focus on the study of particular cases rather than rehashing old epistemological or ontological controversies. After setting out the agent–structure problem in slightly more detail, we shall focus on agency and the most important agent in IR – the state, exploring the making of foreign policy and the relationship between this particular agent and the international system. Further discussion of the structure of the international system is to be found in Chapters 5 and 6.
Chris Brown

5. Power and Security

Abstract
From a foreign policy perspective, states attempt to change their environment in accordance with aims and objectives they have set for themselves. From a structural perspective, states attempt to adapt to their environment, making the best of the cards the system has dealt them. Either way, states are agents; they act in the world. How? What is the nature of diplomacy or ‘statecraft’ – a slightly old-world term that has recently been given a new lease of life? The best discussion of this topic is still that of David Baldwin (1985: 13), who produces a four-way taxonomy of the techniques of statecraft that provides a useful starting point for this discussion. He defines propaganda as ‘influence attempts relying primarily on the deliberate manipulation of verbal symbols’; diplomacy refers to ‘influence attempts relying primarily on negotiation’; economic statecraft covers ‘influence attempts relying on resources which have a reasonable semblance of a market price in terms of money’; and military statecraft refers to ‘influence attempts relying primarily on violence, weapons, or force’. The rest of this chapter examines the questions raised (or in some cases, avoided) by Baldwin’s classification.
Chris Brown

6. The Balance of Power and War

Abstract
The state-centric view of the world, especially in its realist variant, paints a picture of great insecurity and fear. Concerned for their own security, possibly desiring to dominate others, states are obliged to keep a watchful eye open for ways of enhancing their own power and reducing that of others. Unrestrained and unprotected by any international government, states must look after their own security, even though they cannot but be aware that their attempts to do so may induce insecurity in others. Thus, the scene seems set for a wretched world, in which the idea of an international ‘order’ would be preposterous. Yet, there is a degree of order in the world; international relations may be anarchic in the formal sense of lacking government, but they are not anarchic in the sense of being lawless and disorderly, or at least not entirely so. How can this be?
Chris Brown

7. Global Governance

Abstract
Anarchy is basic to state-centric International Relations because sovereignty is basic to state-centric International Relations. As Hinsley (1966) and others have demonstrated, ‘sovereignty’ emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as a double-headed notion. On the one hand, rulers were sovereign insofar as they accepted no internal, ‘domestic’ equals; while on the other, they were sovereign insofar as they accepted no external, ‘international’ superiors. This notion gained normative acceptance in the second half of the seventeenth century – conventionally, following the 1648 Peace of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years’ War – and remains the base on which the structures of anarchy are constructed. The extent to which the norms of Westphalia have governed international practice is debatable; the Westphalian notion of sovereignty may indeed, as Krasner (1999) suggests, be a matter of ‘organized hypocrisy’, given the extent to which rulers have actually always intervened in each other’s affairs, but, at least in principle, the claim to be a sovereign entails acknowledgement of the sovereignty of others (Kratochwil 1995).
Chris Brown

8. The Global Economy

Abstract
One of the defining characteristics of state-centric international relations has been to draw a clear distinction between ‘domestic’ and ‘international’ politics. When the volume of transactions that crossed state boundaries grew ever larger in the 1960s and 70s, a subsidiary distinction became common, between ‘high politics’ – the traditional interstate agenda of war and peace – and ‘low politics’ – the projection of essentially domestic concerns onto the international agenda. The assumption of realist, especially structural realist, thinking was that whatever ‘global governance’ might emerge, it would be in this latter sphere rather than the former, and the essentially anarchic nature of ‘high’ politics would remain unchanged. In one sense, this assumption has turned out to be accurate. As established in Chapter 7, attempts to introduce collective management of security problems have not been markedly successful, and the great increase in the number of international institutions has come about because of other kinds of needs, other kinds of problems. Where, however, the realist position falls is at the outset, in the distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’ politics – a distinction that collapses in the face of the ‘high political’ importance of what was once seen as the characteristically ‘low political’ activity of international economic relations. The world economy and attempts to manage and regulate it are now at the heart of international relations in a way that would have been difficult to believe a century ago and very surprising even as recently as the 1970s.
Chris Brown

9. Globalization

Abstract
There are few topics in contemporary international relations that attract more nonsense than the notion of globalization. Much of this nonsense comes from the pen of theorists of ‘hyperglobalization’, many of whom work in business schools and write for a particular class of high-flying business executives (Held et al. 1999). Only such a person, for example, could write of the emergence of a ‘borderless world’ (Ohmae 1990). The world may seem borderless to people who turn left when they board an airliner, but one would not want to have to explain, much less defend, the notion to the millions of refugees, displaced persons and asylum seekers who find themselves shunted from one holding facility to another while their fate is determined. In fact, since 9/11, new security arrangements have meant that even top business executives are mildly inconvenienced when they cross borders, although passengers to the UK who land in private jets at Northolt Airport still have an easier time of it than the rest of us who use nearby Heathrow. This ‘globaloney’ is extremely irritating, but almost equally misleading is the characteristic professional deformation of the IR scholar, which is to deny that anything ever changes, or indeed could change this side of the apocalypse. It may well be that certain things about human beings do not change and so, say, Thucydides or Hobbes are still useful guides to the darker side of social life, but it would be truly extraordinary if the momentous changes in the way ordinary people live worldwide did not have at least some impact on international relations and the theories that are developed to understand these relations. The task, then, is to keep a cool head; that is, to acknowledge change but also to recognize continuity and all the time remember that this is an unequal and divided world – things that seem important to the rich and powerful are unlikely to be read in the same way by the poor and weak, and any account of globalization that does not place this fact continually before us will be radically deficient.
Chris Brown

10. The International Politics of Identity

Abstract
Chapters 10 and 11 offer a somewhat different approach to International Relations theory from the previous nine. The emphasis will remain on theory, on developing a conceptual understanding of the subject, but the context will no longer be quite so dependent on the development of the discourse itself as in the earlier chapters. From now on, the driving force will come from events in the world rather than academia; arguably, this has always been the case with IR theory, but here the relationship between theory and practice is much clearer. The agendas of Chapters 10 and 11 are set by international politics since the 1980s and especially in the twenty-first century, and will be readily recognizable by practitioners as well as scholars, and by informed members of the public as well as students of the social sciences.
Chris Brown

11. The Individual and International Relations

Abstract
In the early chapters of this book, the working assumption was that international relations meant relations between states and that, accordingly, the academic discipline of International Relations was, necessarily, state-centric. Individuals feature in the story told in these chapters, but only as office holders who represent and direct the state; agency rests with the state even if it is actually exercised by flesh and blood human beings, and often the language of state-centric IR employs metonyms that eliminate the human. Thus, we often speak of, say, ‘Washington’ responding to an initiative from ‘Moscow’ as a kind of shorthand reflecting the fact that the actual individuals who make up the government in Washington are, in principle at least, giving substance to the national interest of the USA; it is the latter that matters and so the government officials concerned can be written out of the story. In later chapters, state-centricity was modified somewhat; from the perspective of global political economy and globalization, collectivities other than the state come to the fore, and the groups that are relevant to identity politics obviously need not be national; still, even when addressing these topics, the working assumption is that IR is about the interaction of groups, and the individuals who make up these groups are of limited interest. This assumption has implications for the study of IR that are not often recognized; in effect, even though interstate relations gives way to intersocietal, interethnic or interreligious relations, the working assumption that the fate of individuals is determined by their membership of collectivities remains in place, even if the nature of the relevant collectivity is now in question.
Chris Brown

12. International (Dis)Order Today

Abstract
As was established at the outset, Understanding International Relations sets out to introduce the academic discipline of International Relations, and is certainly not intended as a guide to current affairs. On the other hand, it would be unfortunate if the kinds of theoretical debates presented in the book were to be understood as having no impact on the way the world is; we are entitled to ask of any social science that it illuminates the real-world subject matter it purports to theorize, and International Relations is no exception to this rule. In recent years, IR theory – in both its conventional, ‘neo-positivist’ guise as well as in explicitly post-positivist work – has become increasingly abstract, but the intention is, or at least should be, to be ‘action-coordinating’ rather than simply ‘world-disclosing’, to use Stephen White’s distinction (White 1991; Brown 2016). Accordingly, in this final chapter, as with previous editions of this book, the aim is to try to give an account of where we are now in terms of the current world order and identify, albeit tentatively, some trends that it can be expected will come to fruition in the years ahead; in other words, to present a kind of ‘state of the world address’ but as seen by an academic not a politician.
Chris Brown
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