Nature Of the International System

This course, a requirement for all students pursuing the Master of Global Policy Studies degree, introduces the systematic analysis of international affairs. Its aim is to provide students with some theories and frameworks to approach foreign policy problems methodically. We will explore the main characteristics of the structures that define the international arena, investigate the most important actors that play a role in global politics and reflect on some major current challenges facing the international system today.

The first section of the course will concentrate on structure. We will consider various approaches to defining what the international system is and how it operates. By the end of the first five weeks of the course, students should be able to articulate the main assumptions and logic of several international relations theories, including varieties of realism, liberalism, constructivism, Marxism and critical approaches. Furthermore, they should be able to apply these models of the international system to concrete foreign policy problems.

The second section will focus on agency. We will take a more in-depth look at the actors that influence the international system and attempt to answer some questions about the roles they play. What makes states such special animals in world politics? How and why do global and regional institutions and organizations matter? What effect can sub-national groups, NGOs or even individuals have on international relations?

We will end with a few sessions that broaden our discussion of international relations beyond the course’s security-dominated themes, debating some of the major contemporary challenges to international relations, including forces of economic globalization, dilemmas in global development and risks of global climate change. 


All readings will be posted to the course’s Canvas site, except the following book, which you should purchase online. Note that you will need to have acquired and read this book by the first day of class!

Daniel W. Drezner: “Theories of International Politics and Zombies,” Princeton University Press, 2011.

Requirements and Expectations

Grading will be based upon class participation (20%), an in-class oral presentation (10%), a mid-term exam (20%), an annotated portfolio of sources on an international event (15%), a policy memo (15%), and an essay on the Presidential election (10%), which serves as the basis for a final oral exam (10%).

Instruction Mode