The Contemporary International System The structure of the contemporary international system involves many different factors that influence how the world operates today. The international system is defined as the study of the interactions among the various actors that participate in international politics, including states, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, sub-national entities, and individuals. The study of international relations aims to evaluate how countries interact within the political and social international system.
Factors such as, technological change, shifts of national power and various changes in the environment influence today’s system and how we live on a day-to-day basis. History is another factor that must be recognized in the shaping of the world system. Events that occurred in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have a great impact today, as we are able to make future projections based on historical trends. The operation and structure of the international system involves various social and political factors that shape the world we live in today.
The shaping of the contemporary system was achieved through the concept of globalization. This idea is often referred to as the “shrinkage of the world” and has been made possible through the advancement in modern technology. Globalization is the process by which regional economies, societies, and cultures have become integrated through an international network of political ideas. Today, a nation’s technological capability is the main indicator of its power. Technology directly affects a nation’s economic growth though innovation.
This growth then allows that country to produce military weapons for protection and could potentially throw off the balance of power between states. Technology and innovation can also determine a nation’s trade capacity, which can limit the amount a country can import and export. A nation with great trade capabilities will experience international financial flows into their country, thus stimulating economic growth. Technology provides a framework for both the relative and absolute power between states and greatly impacts the structure of the international system.
For example, if we evaluate the correlation of power and technology throughout history, we see that the United States and Germany experienced dramatic changes in their global position following the second industrial revolution, just as Great Britain had following the first industrial revolution. These powers have since failed to maintain their place at the forefront of technological innovation, and have faded from the international scene. Countries like Japan have been very technologically advanced for the last 50 years and have moved to the forefront of the international scene.
The global scene that was once dominated by the United States, may have a new power due to Japan’s vast technological and innovative capabilities. Businesses have also globalized, as they are now able to interact with companies overseas with the click of a button. Since travel has become “easy” businesses are now able to meet face to face with their international partners on a regular basis. There are proper customs that people must follow when engaging in foreign business practices. For example, the exchange of business cards is a formal practice in countries like China and Japan.
Foreign business associates may see it as a sign of disrespect if one is not educated on the proper customs of that country. The structure and operation of the international system is also influenced by the behaviors of the actors within that system. For centuries, the idea of the “state” was centered upon the idea of inclusion and exclusion. This idea became the centerpiece of national politics for centuries and is a major reason for conflicts within the system. After the French Revolution these states were formed on the three ideologies of realism, liberalism, and idealism.
Karen Mingst and Jack Snyder define these ideologies and explain the assumptions behind the weaknesses that lead to misguided policies. Realism instills an appreciation of the role of power but warns that states will suffer if they overreach. The cooperation among states is a way to maximize each individual state’s security and often calls for “backing” during times of conflict. World War II resembles a realist idea as each state was drawn to fight to maximize its own security. Liberalism identifies the potential for democracies, but also notes that democracies can lead to tyrannies and the threat of a violent collapse.
This arose after World War I in response to the inability to control and limit war within the international system. Lastly, Idealism stresses that a state’s values must reinforce any stable political order but recognizes that there is also a potential for conflict. Together these three perspectives form the core of the contemporary international system. In order to fully understand the contemporary international system, we must first understand the historical trends in the state and international system.
International Relations can be traced back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 where the modern state system was developed. This instituted the concept of sovereignty, which is defined as absolute and perpetual power invested in a commonwealth. This power does not exist in an individual, but in a state. In this, the leaders are limited by divine law and are “subject to the laws of God and nature. ” This belief is still held today and believers attribute the legitimacy of the state to the consent of the people. After all, the “people” are the fundamental the source of all political power.
In conclusion, the contemporary international system was shaped on the basis of globalization, the behaviors of the actors within the international system, and the evaluation of historical patterns. The world is constantly changing and evolving toward a more connected population. The widespread use of social media and continued advances in technology allow the population to connect with each other as if they were sitting in the same room. As we move toward this new era, we must identify these historical patterns in order to further improve our future international relations.
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