Fall 2016 - 60630 - PA387G - The Nature of the International System | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin

Fall 2016 - 60630 - PA387G - The Nature of the International System

What forces and factors drive international relations?  What are the dangers and opportunities in world politics?  Who/what are the most important institutions and actors in the global landscape?  How have the answers to these questions changed over time?  How has the international system evolved into its current, 21st century form, and what might the future look like?  What are the insights and limitations of international relations theory, and how can aspiring policymakers best use theory without being trapped by its limitations?  These are just a few of the core questions that will animate this course.

The Nature of the International System will introduce students to a rigorous analysis of international affairs, teaching them how to identify the factors that shape the actions of state and non-state actors, that motivate public policies and private decisions, and to examine the instruments used in the conduct of international relations from a perspective of both theory and practice. 

This course will also emphasize two particular sub-themes: history and policy.  As a historian, I will focus on tracing how the present global system emerged and evolved over time, in order to provide a richer background and context to our discussions of current and future international relations.   As a course at a policy school, we will devote special attention to the implications that this material on world politics might have for the practice of policy-making.  We will also devote regular class time to discussions of current events, especially insofar as they related to class themes.  Additionally, many of the concepts in this course will complement and anticipate the content of its subsequent companion course, Policy-Making in a Global Age.

This course has a heavy – perhaps heavier than usual – reading load.  Students are strongly encouraged to take the weekly reading assignments seriously (this means do the reading!), in part because a substantial portion of your grade depends on class participation.  More importantly, these books have been selected because of their enduring value; they are books that, 5 or 10 or 15 years from now, you will (hopefully) be thankful to have read.  Given that many of you will likely become policy professionals, the time to build your intellectual capital is now, as time and opportunity for further reading will be severely limited when you enter or return to the workforce.

Required Readings

All of these books can be purchased at the University Co-op, but it is often less expensive to order them online.

  • Daniel W. Drezner, Theories of International Politics and Zombies
  • Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order
  • John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History
  • John Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order
  • Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000
  • David Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are so Rich and Some Are so Poor
  • William McNeill, The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000
  • David Milne, Worldmakers: The Art and Science of American Diplomacy
  • James Sheehan, Where Have All the Soldiers Gone? The Transformation of Modern Europe
  • Monica Duffy Toft, Daniel Philpott, and Timothy Samuel Shah, God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics

Other required readings are listed under each week’s section, and are available as noted either on the web or on our course site on Canvas.

Grading and Assignments:

Class participation (including weekly responses): 30%

Paper One: 25%

Paper Two: 45%

There will be no in-class exams.

Students are expected to be present and on-time for each class session.  Missed classes or multiple late arrivals will hurt your class participation grade.

1)  Weekly comment on readings on a Canvas discussion board of 250-400 words each.  These are due posted on Canvas each week on Monday morning by 10:00 am (except for Week One when no comment is due).  These will not receive letter grades, but will count towards your class participation grade.  These comments should offer your thoughts on the course readings for the week.  Comments can address which readings you agreed or disagreed with and why, or what further questions the readings might have raised in your mind, or suggest particular angles you would like to discuss the next day in class, or perhaps can relate the readings to a contemporary policy issue. Note: These comments should not merely summarize the readings.

2) Paper One Due on Friday October 21 at 5:00 pm

Students will be assigned by me to groups of three.  Each group will mentally place itself in the year 1900 and pick one major nation-state or empire from that era.  The group’s assignment will be to design a strategy for its chosen nation/empire to secure and improve its position in the world based on the circumstances of the time and your own determination of what should matter to your nation (i.e. you are not expected to assume a realist, zero-sum model of national interests, though you are welcome to).  The group will then write a 15-page (double-spaced) paper describing this strategy, taking into account the class readings and concepts thus far on the evolving nature of the international system.  Each paper should have three sections covering, respectively, the economic, diplomatic, and military dimensions of the strategy.  Each member of the group should take the lead on writing one section of the paper (i.e. each section approximately 5 pages, double-spaced) and should identify which section he/she wrote.  While each section may have its own particular features, the 15-page paper should also hold together as a coherent document and consistent strategy.  Students are encouraged to research outside sources as necessary for additional background information, and are also strongly encouraged to demonstrate knowledge of the course readings. 

As a group exercise, this project is designed to improve your collaborative skills, which will be essential for your future careers.  However, each student will receive an individual grade determined by the quality of his/her particular written contribution to the paper. 

3) FINAL PAPER: Due Wednesday December 7 at 5:00 pm

“Present at the Creation,” Take Two: Taking into account the themes and readings from the class on the nature of the international system, each student will write a 10-12 page (double-spaced) paper designing a new global multilateral organization to be established in the year 2017.  The paper should describe how membership in the organization will be determined (e.g. nation-states?  NGOs? Multinational corporations?), how power and decision-making will be allocated, what issues the organization will focus on, and what functions it will carry out.  Papers will be evaluated based on criteria including the creativity and feasibility of the proposed organization, engagement with concepts from the course, and to what extent they demonstrate familiarity with the course readings.



SRH 3.314/355