Chapter Summary

When we think about international relations, we most often think about war. Given the horrors, tensions, and fears associated with war, this is understandable. However, given the number of countries that exist, war is rare. In fact, most of international politics concerns cooperation. Thus, a truly interesting question is, Why do wars happen? The tendency in fiction to explain wars as accidents flies in the face of reality. Wars are not accidents; they are the results of conscious, rational actions. Spurred by the horrors of World War I, scholars were motivated to focus on peace. World events ultimately put a damper on idealism, which led scholars to embrace realism as an explanation. Realism, with its presumptions that international relations can be explained in terms of strategy, rational action, and power in an anarchic environment, did not explain every war.

Scholars taking the approach of Foreign Policy Analysis challenged liberalism’s presumptions that the internal workings of governments do not matter. Political scientists have paid a lot of attention to the fact that democracies do not fight one another, although scholars do not agree about why this is. Other schools of thought have emerged to explain international relations. Among these, one focuses on the dominance of a nation, another focuses on the global economy, and yet another focuses on the global influence of the news media.

Students should learn two very important lessons from this chapter. First, there is no one simple theory that explains global interaction; international relations are complex and multifaceted. War, albeit attention grabbing, is only one part of this complex labyrinth. Second, from now on you will find it difficult to purchase a pair of sneakers without your mind wandering off to consider cores and peripheries.