According to Aneek Chatterjee, a world renowned author, a subject can be called an academic discipline if it has a systematic body of theory, appropriate methodology, and a distinct subject matter. The study of International Relations deals with the various theories of International Relations such as Realism and Liberalism which help to understand global happenings. It also concerns itself with the various paradigms and methodologies such as positivism and post-positivism, that help in studying social phenomena. Furthermore, International Relations has a distinct subject matter that has evolved with the ages without losing its value or meaning. All these factors concurrently prove the worth of International Relations as an academic discipline. But to understand its journey towards that position, we will have to take a jaunt through the past.
Although the study of International Relations is a relatively new field, they themselves have been practiced in one form or another for millennia. During the earlier ages, due to various factors with distance being the most important, International Relations were not global but were confined to a regional level. Earliest credible reports of such can be seen in the remains of the Ancient civilization of Sumer in 3500 B.C. Evidence has also been unearthed that other ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans had their own methods of foreign relations.
With the Peace of Westphalia and the emergence of the nation state system, International Relations gained more significance. The new states were aware and protective of their independence and sovereignty but were also paradoxically knowledgeable of their dependence upon other nations. Successful foreign policies allowed those states to exist in that duality. The advent of the Industrial age and the tremendous advancement in the fields of communications along with birth of new and modern means of transport converted the field of International Relations from a regional or even a continental affair to a global one.
But the dawn of International Relations as a subject can truly be accredited to World War 1. As a consequence of the war, the world saw atrocities unheard of, in all of mankind’s history. It saw the death of millions, torture of non-combatants and the development and use of truly vile weapons. At its end, people of the world rose up with the desire for such an event to never occur again. This desire proved to be the driving force for the development of International Relations as a subject.
In the aftermath of World War 1, The Department of International Politics, the first of its kind in the world, was founded at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth in 1919 with the inaugural holder of the Woodrow Wilson Chair of International Politics being Alfred Zimmern. Around that time, the first book related to the study of International Relations was also published by Grant, Greenwood and Urquhart. Book publication regarding the subject snowballed from there; with Walsh printing “The History and Nature of International Relations” in 1922 and Professor Buell writing his take on International Relations in the following year. In 1926, the release of an International Relations curriculum by Professor Moon also played its part in firmly establishing it as a genuine field of study. In addition, the role of the League of Nations as one of the first organizations based on and working for peaceful relations cannot be denied. Its mere existence as well as its various sponsoring programmes were undeniably beneficial for the growth of the academic field.
The occurrence of World War 2 again emphasized the need for equitable and fair relations between countries. It taught the world the need to understand the people of the world and to tailor their international as well as some aspects of their domestic policies in accordance. The proliferation of nuclear technology in that era also turned the study of International Relations from an academic curiosity to an important bulwark against an existential threat to humanity as a whole. The fact that the only thing stopping humanity from being extinguished was relatively peaceful relations between nations, created the need for International Relations specialists. The following creation of international bodies such as UNO and its affiliated institutions as well as others such as organizations such as IMF, WTO and HRC also played a critical role in the subject’s development.
The evolution of International Relations can be divided in different phases. The first of which was the pre-WW1 era where International Relations was taught if at all as a part of history rather than politics or as a stand-alone subject as was its right. After WW1, more emphasis was given to International Relations but only where it pertained to the present discounting the past all-together. This phase also saw the scholars shift towards creating a moralistic society through the development of legal institutions with great importance being granted to the League of Nations. This also was wrong as the focus here was not towards understanding foreign relations which resulted in WWII.
The third phase saw the progression of international politics and creation of a proper system as people had become disillusioned with governments and institutions. Different scientific studies were undertaken to find more about the nature of state and how they relate to other states as well as its own citizens. This period also saw the steady development of various theories pertaining to the study of International Relations, the chief among them Realism and Marxism. The fourth stage saw the introduction of new factors in the world of global politics such as a growing shift to end colonialism, creation of multi-national corporations and rise of nuclear technology. All these points led to further enhancement of international politics and relations. The fifth phase saw the changing of International Relations research paradigms from nations to organizations as well as the start of the Cold War and the mad race for influence that ensued between the US and USSR. The sixth phase in the study of International Relations concerns itself with the dismemberment of the USSR and all the factors that had a cause in it as well as the creation of a uni polar world with the US as the only major super power. The seventh phase deals with the post 9-11 world where International Relations and foreign policy as a whole completely changed.
Despite International Relations being a key factor of mankind’s interaction with each other since the dawn of our species, it has only been a field of study since the early twentieth century. In that time, it has evolved from its humble beginnings into a multi-faceted field with study and research opportunities aplenty, concerning itself not only with relations between various nations but also with multiple organizations. It helps govern not only foreign policy but socio-economic and culture-ideological policies also. In spite of its growth, the field is still young and has the potential to pass through several more developmental phases.