Nature of International Relations

Nature of International Relations. Political science is concerned with the internal organization and functions of the state and the relations of states to one another. The activities that affect states’ relations may be carried on either by private citizens and corporations or by the authorized public agents or governments of states. In the former case, the state’s interest is indirect, and it may or may not regulate the actions or safeguard the interests of citizens in their extraterritorial activities. A state may restrict or prohibit immigration and emigration. It may demand passports from aliens traveling or residing in its territory.

It may even make political capital of its missionaries or investors’ work and establish Spheres of influence in undeveloped regions. The foreign commercial activities of its individuals are of special interest to the state. Because they influenced national wealth and property and frequently led to colonization and international rivalries, states have, from earliest times, by restrictions on foreigners, by granting monopolies, by subsidies and tariffs, exercised some authority over the movements of international trade. In many cases, however, the international activities of individuals are considered of little international Significance. They are not interfered with as long as they keep within the law of the state concerned. Science, art, literature, and other civilization phases are diffused over the earth, regardless of political boundaries. International associations of various kinds are formed without interference from the governments of any state.

A greater number of international problems have resulted from direct relations among states by their respective governments. These relations have been either peaceful or hostile. In the first case, they result in diplomacy in the second case in war. The former includes the development or the principles of international law, the formation of consular and diplomatic service, the negotiation of treaties, the holding of international conferences, and the establishment of commissions or courts or the regulation of international interests and the settling of international disputes. The latter includes the long series of armed conflicts between states, which have been of great importance in their development and in determining their font and organization is a result of both warlike and peaceful international relations, various forms of union among states, falling short of the establishment of new states, have been formed. Alliances, leagues, and confederations, more or less permanent and organized, have been created in this process.

Influences on International Relations.

The nature of international relations is determined and modified by numerous factors. Some of these are relatively permanent and can be controlled or changed by human effort only to a limited degree. Others may be created or destroyed by deliberate human action. The relative importance of the various factors varies in different periods of history and different parts of the earth. Among the most important of these influences are the following:

1. Geographic factors.

These include the natural barriers caused by mountains, deserts, rivers, and the sea, which divide the earth’s surface into natural geographic units and place obstacles to intercourse among the peoples thus separated. States usually desire the protection of natural frontiers when possible. The international problems of an island state or a state with well-defined natural frontiers are quite different from those of a state that is easy to access and surrounded by strong neighbors.

Navigable rivers, such as the Danube, which flow through several states, maybe a source of conflict and may demand special treaty arrangements or even international control. The development of sea navigation led to long disputes as to jurisdiction over maritime areas. The recent progress in aerial navigation raises difficult questions connected with control over the air spaces above a state.

Geographic factors also include the distribution of the natural resources of the earth, particularly of those key commodities that are especially desired or essential to the period’s economic life. Changes in the relative importance of such commodities may be decisive in the rise and fall of states. The value of coal and iron in the Industrial Revolution of a century ago and the importance of oil in the modern world are examples of states’ advantages that possess these valuable materials.

Other examples would include the monopoly value of Chile’s nitrates, the cotton of the United States, and the rubber of British and Dutch interests. Competition for the resources of the earth has frequently been among the causes of war.

2. Population factors.

These include the number of people living in a given area, their relation to the means of subsistence and the resources available, the rate of growth of population, and the opportunities that exist for making provision for a growing population or the distribution of the surplus population in other parts of the earth. Questions of colonization and immigration are important in international relations, and the imperialistic policies of certain states result in part from a growing and vigorous population. Racial differences in the earth’s population also affect international relations through feelings of racial superiority or racial prejudice.

3. Psychological factors.

These include certain traits of human nature, such as pride, fear, pugnacity, selfishness, and ambition. These may be Stimulated by education and propaganda. As a result, there may be developed strong feelings of patriotic nationalism and ambitious schemes of imperialism. On the other hand, emphasis on the altruistic sentiments and the unity of humanity and its interests may lead to a cosmopolitan and international perspective. The spirit of nationalism is critical in present international relations. The principle of the self-determination of nations has led to revolts for national independence. The desire for national unification leads to attempts to annex territory occupied by people of similar nationality or assimilate people of diverse nationality. This latter process sometimes results in the persecution of minority groups and leads to difficulties with the states with which these minority groups are-nationally affiliated.

4. Historical factors.

The relations among states are influenced largely by their history and the traditions handed down from generation to generation. As a result of past wars, states may View other states as their hereditary enemies long after all causes of controversy have disappeared. As a result of past aid, states may cherish friendship sentiments for other states, even though their later policies may be decidedly less friendly. The attitude of American public Opinion toward England and France for a century following the American Revolution illustrates these facts, and their historical background intensifies the unfriendly relations today between France and Germany. Historical attitudes are difficult to change; if the memory of the past could be wiped out, the international relations of states, in many cases, would be much improved.

5. Religious factors.

Differences in religious belief and religious practices and Observances have frequently been causes of international difficulty. The relation of Catholic to Protestant in the centuries following the Reformation, the relation of Christian to Mohammedan from the time of the Crusades to the present, and the relation of Hindu to Mohammedan in India are examples. Likewise, missionary efforts to extend certain religions have had important international consequences, especially about the more advanced and powerful peoples with backward and weak. The intrusion of missionaries may cause resentment against the foreigner in the countries they are sent to, as has happened in China. The protection of missionaries and their property has frequently led to the extension of their home states’ authority over the area opened up by their activities, as in the case of large parts of Africa.

6. Cultural factors.

Differences in the degree of intelligence and civilization among different peoples of the earth create international complications. Even differences in customs, manners, and ethical standards cause international misunderstandings. Peoples with high standards of living desire protection from the cheap labor of less advanced peoples. Peoples with stable institutions dislike the disorder, violence, and revolution that frequently exist among less developed peoples and may affect their citizens’ life or property. If the backward peoples possess fertile areas or resources which they do not use or develop, there is a constant temptation for the more advanced people to seize their territory, secure control of their resources, or exploit their labor.

7. Economic factors.

In the modern world, international relations are concerned to a large extent with the promotion of the state’s economic interests or certain classes within the state. The desire to secure a sufficient food supply, especially in those states whose population is large and growing and whose industrial development has congregated a large part of their population in cities, is a prime factor in international policy. The present situation in England and Japan illustrates this fact. Industrial states are also concerned with the wring of raw materials and markets for their finished goods. This concern frequently leads to the acquisition of colonial dependencies or of spheres of influence in undeveloped regions. To protect their home industry and as a phase of their commercial rivalry, states erect tariff barriers against their competitors or exclude competitive products coming from other states. States with surplus capital desire opportunity for profitable investment abroad, especially in the earth’s undeveloped parts. This results in dollar diplomacy and frequently leads to intervention or the extension of political control to protect such investments. It also leads to international competition among the wealthy states who are rivals in this process. The problems of international debts and international reparations are further examples of the importance of economic interests in present-day international affairs.

8. Mechanical factors.

International relations are affected by scientific discoveries and by mechanical inventions. Among the most important of these are improvements in the means of transportation and communication. The ability of man to overcome natural obstacles by tunnels and bridges, to diminish the importance of distance by rapid and cheap transportation of persons and goods by land, sea, and air and by rapid communication through the postal service, the telegraph, the telephone, and the radio, tends toward international unification. Improvements in communication also increase the opportunity for propaganda and the influence of public opinion. Propaganda may be used for national as well as international purposes.

The draining of swamps, the irrigation of deserts, and improvements in agricultural methods and machinery may increase the food supply and relieve the population’s pressure upon subsistence, with important results in international relations. The increasing use of labor-saving devices and machine production causes an enormous dislocation of the laboring population. It may cause wealth and prosperity in some states, unemployment, and poverty in others. Such changing conditions are sure to be reflected in the international relations of states.

Mechanical inventions and scientific discoveries applied to the art of warfare on land and sea and in the air may revolutionize its methods. They may strengthen some states and weaken others. For example, the island position of Great Britain is less valuable as a defense since the invention of the submarine, and the airplane and the massive fortifications of the European states are little protection against the dropping of bombs or poison gas from the air.

9. Military factors.

The influence exerted by states in modern international relations depends largely on their strength, actual or potential, as armed powers. This depends to some extent upon the numbers of their people, but to a much greater extent upon their national wealth, their industrial development and ability to produce or purchase the munitions of war, and the nature of their system of military organization and training. In early times, land power was most important. Later, control of the sea was often decisive at present; control of the air seems essential.

Competition in armaments has been an important factor in international relations, has fostered international suspicion and jealousy, and has been a cause of war. Extensive armaments are an economic burden and affect national and international finance. They also influence a people’s military spirit and create a class interested in using the organization created for purposes of war. Those interested in peace always lay stress on the value of disarmament or of limitation of armaments.

10. Governmental factors.

Many writers believe that a state’s attitude in international affairs will be influenced by its form of government or by the interests of the state that controls the government. It is often argued that despotic states tend to be militaristic and aggressive and that democratic states tend to be peaceful and conciliatory in their international policy. Monarchic states have indeed waged wars or dynastic purposes. The people’s mass had no interest, that ambitious rulers have desired conquest for their personal aggrandizement, that the ruling class has sometimes favored a foreign war to distract the people at home from attempts at internal reform. That business interests have drawn their country into war for their financial profit.

On the other hand, democratic states are more likely to be influenced by waves of popular emotion and skillfully conducted propaganda. They may be led into a useless war which the cooler judgment of a small ruling no group could avoid. The view that democracies are inherently peaceful would be more accurate if the people were knowledgeable and were always cognizant of their best interests and of the methods by which public opinion is influenced.

The governmental factor in international relations is also involved in the methods by which diplomatic relations among states are carried on and the attempts to create a world organization’s machinery. While the men who operate these systems, and the spirit and motives that direct their action, are more important than the devices used, improvements in the form and process of the governmental organization may be of great importance.

It will be noticed that the influences that affect international affairs are, in many cases, closely interrelated. Geographic, population, and economic factors cannot be clearly distinguished. Historical, psychological, and religious factors all rest on man’s opinions and beliefs. Mechanical improvements and armaments go hand in hand since many new inventions are useful for purposes of war.

Some of the factors in international relations are especially important in their tendency to divide peoples and create international rivalries and hostilities.  Geographic barriers, the spirit of nationalistic self-interest, racial differences, and economic competition are among those that divide peoples into separate units with interests different from those of other units. The areas of unity created by such factors, however, do not always coincide.

Other factors may serve both to divide and to unite peoples, with little reference to political boundaries. Religious differences may divide peoples, but the worldwide extent of some of the great religions creates a spirit of world unity. Economic factors sometimes intensify international rivalry and competition simultaneously, and the tendency to organize commerce and finance on a world-wide scale creates international interests that oppose those of the separate states.

Other factors, such as improvements in transportation and communication, the growth of intelligence, and improved international organization methods, contribute mainly to forming an international mind and world unity spirit. The foregoing brief outline of some of the influences that affect international relations shows the complicated nature of its basic elements as a background to any successful attempt at improvement.

Conduct of International Relations.

The diplomatic relations of states are ordinarily conducted under the authority of a national government department known as the foreign office. This department controls the diplomatic service and usually the consular service, though the latter may be shared with the department of commerce or some other central government department. The foreign office organizes the administrative divisions and bureaus at the national capital or business conduct arising in the course of foreign relations.

It recruits, classifies, instructs, and controls the foreign service members sent abroad to represent the state, though such officials must be acceptable to the state to which they are sent. The diplomatic service is classified into several ranks, chief of those of ambassador (with which are classed the nuncios and legates of the Pope), envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary, ministers resident, and charges airfares. Also, special diplomatic representatives are called attaches, agents, secretaries, counselors, clerks, and the like.

Formerly the rank of diplomatic representatives had an important bearing upon their legal powers and political importance. At present, it is of importance chiefly in matters of ceremony and precedence. States exchange diplomatic representatives of the same rank.

The great powers send diplomats of the highest rank and representatives of lower rank to small nations. The latter, however, frequently exchange diplomats of the highest rank with each other. The present tendency is to avoid discrimination among states as far as possible, even in ceremony matters. The custom of arranging nations in alphabetical order for roll call, seating, or signatures is based on the theory of the equality of states.

In signing treaties and documents, the device of the alternate is used. Each power retains the copy on which it appears at the  Usually called the ministry of foreign affairs, or ministry of foreign relations, in the United States called the Department of State. Head of the list, the various copies being signed by each power once in the first position, once in the second, etc.

When the modern state system arose, the Latin language was used for international purposes. In the seventeenth century, the French language was generally adopted for diplomatic purposes, and it still retains a certain preeminence in international affairs. At present, however, the tendency is for nations to use the language with which they are most familiar, and English, Spanish, and German are widely used.

Since diplomatic representatives were first considered the personal representatives of the sovereign of the state sending them, they were granted certain special privileges and immensities by the state to which they were sent. It was considered improper for any state to force its law upon a foreign state or its agent. While the theory that a diplomat represents the person of the sovereign is no longer held, the desirability of certain immensities for diplomatic agents is generally recognized as necessary to the diplomatic system’s effective operation.

These immensities are defined by international law and are incorporated into each state’s national law, with a view to their application in its courts. They include the privilege of personal inviolability and independence of action and freedom from arrest for civil and criminal acts. The former right of diplomats to extend asylum to fugitives from justice who took refuge in their grounds and buildings has now been generally abolished or curtailed.

A diplomatic representative’s work consists ordinarily in the conduct of negotiations concerning questions at issue between the state that he represents and the state to which he is accredited. Such negotiations may be conducted orally in conversations with the foreign secretary of the state to which he is sent or by exchanging diplomatic notes in writing. For permanence and stability purposes, important issues and principles are incorporated into formal written agreements or treaties.

Ordinarily, treaties are negotiated by the regular diplomatic representatives, though special authorization and instructions are usually necessary from their home governments. To which the treaties must be sent for final approval. Treaties of special importance, such as treaties of peace or general national agreements, are usually negotiated by special commie-sinners appointed for the purpose. Such representatives are given temporary diplomatic rank.

The process of treaty-making consists of the negotiations, during which the proposals are discussed, and a tentative agreement is reached, the drafting of the agreement in a manner satisfactory to all parties concerned, the signing of the document by the accredited agents, and the reference of the treaty to the home government for final approval. This requires ratification by the head of the state, and in many states now includes approval by a representative body.

Whether this latter step is necessary depends upon the constitutional law of each state. Representative bodies, such as the United States Senate, are frequently criticized for failure to ratify treaties submitted to them. If the executive department, which negotiates the treaty, and the legislative body, to which it is submitted for approval, hold different views on national policy, it is evident that the government’s mechanism is defective, since both cannot represent the real wishes of the people. Where the executive and legislative branches are not coordinated and harmonious, it is wise, when possible, for the executive to ensure the cooperation of the legislative body to avoid international misunderstandings.

Sometimes international disputes cannot be settled by diplomatic negotiation. Such disputes may be referred to third parties for settlement by agreement of the parties to the dispute. Sometimes such agreement is furthered by the “good offices,” or “mediation,” of other states interested in the question at issue or in the preservation of peace. Good offices consist of urging the disputing states to renew their discussion and offering a meeting place or agreeing to act as a go-between in the receiving and transmitting of proposals and counter-proposals concerning the question at issue.

In mediation, the third party goes into the dispute’s nature and attempts to find a solution. This involves more intimate relations since the third party must enter into the discussions of the disputing states. Obviously, the state offering mediation must possess the confidence of both the states involved and must be free from suspicion of self-interest. In the Hague conventions of 1899 and 1907, the signatory powers agreed to have general recourse to the good office and mediation of friendly powers in future disputes of a serious character.

Another method of dealing with disputes as a preliminary to arbitration is commissions of inquiry to get at the facts and allow time for passions to cool and for the investigation to be made into the merits of the case.

Arbitration is a method of settling international disputes by judges chosen by the parties concerned. It follows judicial methods and aims to settle the dispute impartially by referencing some standard based on international law rules, or on principles of philosophic justice, or a compromise if both parties have just claims.

Sometimes the arbitration results from a special agreement, on the part of the states concerned, to submit a particular dispute to this settlement method. Sometimes states agree by treaty in advance to submit to arbitration disputes that may arise in the future. States usually refuse to submit to arbitration questions of vital interest or those that affect their national honor or national independence.

The growth of international arbitration and the recognized value of this method of a legal settlement of international disputes led the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907 to provide a broad and stable international basis for this procedure. The result was the Hague Court’s creation, a permanent panel of arbiters who are available for those states who agree to utilize this system.

Until 1920, the Hague Court constituted the highest development of international arbitration. The creation of the Permanent Court of International Justice at the end of the First World War marked a further step in the judicial settlement.

A method of conducting international relations that is rapidly growing in favor and usefulness is international conferences. These are composed of representatives of several states who meet to settle international differences by discussion and mutual agreement.

International conferences were first held to terminate the war. At present, they are frequently held in the time of peace to discuss questions ranging over the whole field of international relations, especially political subjects, legal problems, and questions of economics and finance.

For the final decision of any question, the rule of unanimous consent prevails, and decisions reached on this basis are frequently incorporated into treaties binding on the states that accept them. By this process, many rules of international law have been created in recent years. The value of such conferences in influencing international public opinion is significant.


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SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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