Nature Of the Internatl 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.

Instruction Mode