Meaning and Nature of International Politics:
The study of international politics as a subject began to appear within the academic environment at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was in 1919 that the first chair of international politics was founded at the University of Wales by distinguished historians, Professors Alfred Zimmern and C. K. Webster. Perhaps this is the reason that down to World War I this subject was taught by scholars trained in history and international law. But nowhere was there a systematic study of correct foreign affairs. As Grayson Kirk has rightly pointed out, “These initial efforts were little more than unsystematic, and often superficial attempts to discuss a wide variety of current problems which differed greatly in the level of their importance”.
After World War I, when the League of Nations was established, the study of international politics took a new turn. The scholars who specialized in the field began to study the subject through international law and organization. But as Prof. Hans Morgenthau has aptly observed that during this period, the main concern was “not with understanding the nature of international relations, but with developing legal institutions and organizational devices which would supersede the type of international relations then existing”.
After World War II, international studies opened new subjects and explored old topics from new perspectives. The vigorous research in the field has developed new scientific theories in international politics. As a matter of fact, now we are no longer concerned with the institutionalization of international politics through law and organization. Rather, we are concerned with the theoretical investigation of international politics for the main purpose of understanding the field. It is here imperative to define international politics and to analyse the distinction between international relations and international politics. A discussion about these aspects will certainly help us to understand the nature of various approaches to the study of international politics.
International politics has been defined in a number of ways. Writers differ greatly in the definition of the subject. It seems quite natural because, to quote Stanley Hoffman, “how could one agree once and for all upon the definition of a field whose scope is in constant flux, indeed a field whose fluctuation is one of its principal characteristics”. As such international politics cannot be defined in any generally acceptable way. However, various definitions given by different writers are discussed as under-
Prof. Charles Schleicher defines international politics as “the relations among states”. Quincy Wright defines international relations as “relations between groups of major importance in the life of the world at any period of history”. According to Prof. Hans Morgenthau, “International Politics is a struggle for power among nations”. Norman Vadelford and George A. Lincoln, define international politics as the interaction of state policies within the changing pattern of power relationships. However, a good working definition of international politics is given by Harold and Margaret Sprout. They define international politics as “those aspects of interactions and relations of independent political communities in which some element of opposition, resistance or conflict of purpose or interest is present”.
International Politics is also used as synonymous with international affairs, world affairs, world politics and international relations. A discussion of the nature should include the distinction between these terms.
However before, discussing the distinction between these terms, it is worthwhile, for an understanding of the nature of International Politics, to discuss the connotation of the term “politics”. Everything in politics, whether domestic or international, flows from the fact that people have needs and wants. To satisfy all these needs and wants, people come into contact with each other. These contacts lead to the formation of groups. These groups follow certain policies and do certain actions to satisfy their needs and wants. Politics arises from the very existence of groups and the disagreements among them for the system under which their needs and wants can be fulfilled. Quincy Wright defines politics as “the art of influencing, manipulating, or controlling major groups so as to advance the purposes of some against the position of others”. As such politics include three things: the existence of groups, disagreement between groups, and the efforts of some to control the actions of others. Politics then is a phenomenon of group disagreement and group action. Politics, however, cannot exist in a state of complete disagreement. Harmony between groups is necessary. The purpose of one group trying to control the actions of other group or groups in its favour is to alter this type of relationship in its own favour. The ability to control the policies and actions of other groups is, generally speaking, called power. As such politics involves power.
Politics in relationships between nations is international politics. In International Politics, groups are nations and their needs and wants are called interests, and disagreements among groups are called conflicts. The element of power remains the same. International Politics, thus, includes interest or national interest, conflict and power. The conflict has greater significance in International Politics because if it is not there, national interest and power have no function. In this sense, international politics can be described as the relations among independent political communities in which some element of conflict of interest is present. However, not every nation is hostile to each other. Nations whose interests are harmonious are likely to have some sort of co-operation. As such International Politics involves both cooperation and conflict. But conflict occupies a greater imp[ortance in International Politics because cooperation itself is the result of the conflict.
International Politics should not be confused with other wrong expressions such as world politics, world affairs, international affairs and international relations. Now we shall discuss all these terms.
“International Politics” is sometimes loosely used by some people as “World Politics”. But “World Politics” is not “International Politics”. Because “World Politics” is only possible when we are able to secure a world state. When a world state comes into being, we will have institutions analogous to those in national politics. As such international politics should be distinguished from world politics, for the former is the phenomenon of the present and the latter of the future.
As international politics should not be confused with world politics, so world politics should not be confused with “world affairs” which is a very general expression covering any and every matter of interest in the world such as political, economic, or cultural. World affairs, as such, provide data for our understanding and are not the components of a political process itself.
In general, the same thing can be said about international affairs which is also a general expression and include many matters of interest in international society. Both the terms “world politics” and “world affairs” are plural expressions that are used to denote only the numerical sum of a total of interests in the world.
“International Relations” is another important term synonymous with “International Politics” and can be discussed as under:
International Relations and International Politics- There is a broad confusion in the distinction between international relations and international politics. Actually, these terms are often used interchangeably by scholars of the subject. Even the top-ranking scholars such as Hans Morgenthau, Kenneth Thompson and many others used international relations as a synonym for international politics. As a matter of fact, this subject is in its infancy and, therefore, scholars have not yet settled the question of whether the subject should be called international relations or international politics.
International relations, however, has a wider connotation than international politics. International relations, in fact, embraces all sorts of relations among peoples and groups and in the world society. These relations may be political or not political, social or cultural, economic or legal, official or non-official. These relations may also include all sorts of international transactions such as commerce and finance, international sports events, economic and ceremonial visits by high ranking officials of the state, technical services and many other activities.
As such international relations is used in a very wide sense. International Politics, on the other hand, is used in a rather narrow sense. It is concerned only with those interstate relations which involve some conflict of purpose or interest. If the conflict of purpose or interest is resolved, to quote E. H. Carr, “the issue ceases to be political and becomes a matter of administrative routine”. E. H. Carr rightly opines that when states cooperate with one another to maintain postal or transport services or to prevent the spread of epidemics or suppress the traffic in drugs, these activities are described as non-political or technical. But as soon as an issue arises which involves, or is thought to involve, the power of one state in relation to another, the matter at once becomes political. Thus it is justified to conclude that international politics includes only those aspects of international relations in which some conflict of purpose or interest is involved.