Complete information on the different stages in the Development of International Relations


It is through inter-State relations that the States seek to realise their interest. This leads more often to the break-out of war.

Naturally, the attention of some people was drawn to the question as to why States behave in a way that leads to conflict and war. It was realized that States in themselves are not in a position to eradicate war unless due attention is paid to the realm outside State sovereignty.

And, this realization led to the study of inter­national relations. A new world-order without wars could be built only through a proper study of international relations. Academic study of international relations began with the publication of Paul Reinsch’s book ‘World Politics’ (1900) and ‘Carnegie, Endowment of Peace’ (19l0).


The discipline of international relations thus began with the sacred purpose of preservation of peace and avoidance of wars. Efforts were directed at acquiring systematic knowledge of the behaviour of States in international relations so that the areas of conflict could be located and ways to resolve conflict could be found out.

Still, peace could not be realised. It was for the realisation of this purpose peace that constant thinking was focused on the application of new approaches.

Thus, introduction of various approaches for the attainment of the value of peace led to the rapid development of the field of study.

International relations, according to Kenneth Thompson, has under­gone four stages of development since World War I. This development was surveyed by Thompson in late fifties.


These approaches as depicted by him, are essentially classical nature. In the sixties, there developed what is termed as the scientific approach. But at present international relations is passing through the sixth stage of development.

The sixth stage represents reconciliation between the classical and scientific approach. It lays stress upon the study of substantive issues of inter­national relations.

Descriptive—Historical Approach (First Stage):

The first stage of development lasted up to the end of the First World War. It was dominate by diplomatic historians. In this phase of development, emphasis was laid on diplomatic history.


The present phenomenon in international relations was explained with the help of what had happened in the past. In this stage, international relations were presented only on a descriptive and chronological (date-wise) manner without reference to how various events and situations fitted into the general pattern of international behaviour.

It was after the War that the first chair of International Relations was founded at the University of Wales in 1919. But it is interest­ing to note that the first two occupants of the chair were two eminent historians—Sir Alfred Zimmern and C.K. Webster.

The diplomatic historians generally avoided the study of current events and avoided reaching any universal principles from their descriptive study of facts.

Thus, their study only provided help in gaining the knowledge of facts and not a key to the understanding of either the present or the future of international relations.


Hence it was not much useful in developing a general perspective or theory of international relations. Moreover, it did not provide a total picture of international relations.

Current Events Approach (Second Stage):

The outbreak of the First World War focused attention on the inadequacy of diplomatic history approach. Two distinct and new approaches were put forward during the inter-war period (1920-1939). Both of them developed simulta­neously. One of them was the Current Event approach.

Scholars of this approach advocated that a proper study of current events would provide necessary understanding of the causes of conflicts started among States.


So, during the second stage, which may be taken as having after the end of the First World War, the scholars in the field of inter­national relations emphasized the study of current events.

The concerned themselves with the interpretation of the immediate significance of current developments and problems. They began to interpret the immediate importance of current developments and problems.

This approach to the study of international relations was, in fact, an attempt to achieve what’ had been ignored by diplomatic historians. But even this approach lacked an integral view of international relations.

It stressed only the study of the present without much reference to the past. No attempt was made to relate the post-war political problems with comparable problems of the past.

Thus, the current events approach corrected a failing of the approach of diplo­matic history without retaining its useful aspects. The result was that no well-conceived theoretical or methodological foundation could emerge by which the significance of current events could be understood in the context of the totality of history and the future of international conduct.

If the first stage was defective in laying stress upon history and ignoring the current events, the second stage was equally defective in laying stress on current events while ignoring the historical aspect.

Institutional, Normative or Idealist Approach (Third Stage):

Simultaneously with the second stage of the development of the study of international relations, emerged the third stage.

Both the second and third stages began after the First World War and continued to exist throughout the inter-war years and even after. The approach adopted during the third stage stressed on the institutionalization of international relations through law and organization.

This stress was inspired by the belief that interna­tional community would be able to create institutions by which all inter­national problems would be automatically solved.

Attempts were, therefore, made to search goals and values towards which international community should progress as also to create institutions through which those goals and values could be realized.

This approach to the study of international relations was given special emphasis because of the establish­ment of the League of Nations. One of the important consequences of this!

approach was that it infused in the students of international relations an element of emotional and visionary reformism, so much so that the concern of scholars became the creation of an ideal international society.

There was a tendency during the inter-war period to hold that a peaceful world was possible only through law and international institutions. It was increasingly felt that the traditional techniques of international relations, like balance of power, were no longer relevant.

As Hans Morgenthau has rightly observed, the main concern during this period 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”.

In other words, the inter-war period saw the concentration of research and academic interest in the field of international law and organization. However, it is difficult to accept the soundness of this approach in view of the hard realities of international life during the period intervening the two World Wars.

With such a narrow focus as on law and organization, the study of international relations could not proceed along with the dynamics of international relationships. Moreover, the challenge thrown to the League of Nations by Hitler, Mussolini etc. brought the end of this approach.

This approach is known as institutional because it laid stress on institutions such as international organization. It is also known as organizational approach. It is normative also in the sense that it fixed peace as the norm to be achieved.

It is idealist in so far as it aimed at the creation of an ideal world where there will be no war. Rather, a peaceful and just world-order would come into being. The prominent scholars of this approach were Alfred Zimmern, S.H. Bailey, Philip Novel Baker etc.

All of them directed their efforts at the institutionalization of international relations on the basis of law and organization. They were of the opinion that the ideal of peace could be translated into reality if sincere efforts are made.

Theoretical Approach (Fourth Stage):

The above discussion would show that the three main corner-stones of international relations from the establishment of a Chair of International Politics at the University of Wales in 1919 to the beginning of the Second World War had been diplomatic history, international law and organization, and political reform.

But the deterioration of international situation ending in the outbreak of the Second World War threw a challenge to all the approaches of the inter-war period and necessitated search of a new approach to the study of international relations.

After the end of the Second World War, therefore, a new tendency came to the forefront. With that began the fourth phase of the development of the study of international relations.

The fourth stage is the realist stage. The advocates of approach discarded utopianism of peaceful world order as was amply shown by the Second World War. E.H. Carr in his book ‘Twenty Years, Crisis’ advocated realistic analysis on the basis of the concept of power.

Within a decade, many books were published laying emphasis on realist approach. These books included ‘Power Relations’ (1941) by George Schwargenberger. ‘Power Polities’ (1945) by Martin, ‘Christianity, Diplomacy and War’ (1953) by Hubert Butterfields, ‘American Strategies in World Polities’ (1942) by Nicholas Spykeman.

The children of Light and “fie Children of Darkness’ by Reinhold Niehbus. ‘Politics Among Nations’ (1948) by Hans J. Morgenthau ‘American Diplomacy’ (1952) by George Kennan.

The Realist approach devotes itself to investigate as to what are the elemental facts of activity of States. What are the driving forces which lie at the back of foreign policy of all States? It is agreed by all that power as a concept is the most satisfactory analysis of international relations. ,

So, in this stage, emphasis shifted from international law and organization to forces and influences which shape and condition the be­haviour of States. No longer do we concern ourselves only with what has been the course of diplomatic history or with the form and structure of international organization.

Instead, our main concern now is threefold : motivating factors of foreign policies everywhere, techniques of the conduct of foreign policies, and mode of resolution of international conflicts.

While during the inter-war years the League of Nations had been at the centre of international studies, now world politics is the setting in which international relations are studied.

Even the functions and purposes of the United Nations are now studied in a political rather than in a constitutional context.

Under the realist influence, the United Nations is seen as “Political organization designed not as substitute of power politics but as appropriate mechanism within which the direct national rivalries are compromised through normal processes”.

Scientific Approach. (Fifth Stage):

Behavioral Revolution in Political Science changed the traditional or classical approaches and methods. Behavioral Revolution had its effect upon international poli­tics also.

So, in the late fifties, the scholars began working in the sphere of international relations also on the basis of the tools and techniques developed in other disciplines- It was under the impact of behavioral revolution that a need for building op theories and models which can explain with a considerable degree of accuracy the patterns of behaviour of political units and systems, was felt.

Naturally, scholars in international relations also developed tools and techniques for a scientific analysis Prominent among these are the Systems Theory of Mortan Kaplan, Equilibrium Theory of George Liska, Decision-making theory of Snyder and Frankel, Theory of Games of Osker Morgenstern, Bargaining Theory of Thomas C. Schelling, and the Theory of Communication of Karl Deutsch.

These are some of the most important theories. Otherwise, to say in the words of Abdul Saeed, “Today the prominent students of international relations are all theorists (and) there are as many theories as is the number of theorists”.

The salient feature of scientific approach is the urge for sophistication of analytical tools and methods. This led to borrowings from other disciplines making international politics as inter-disciplinary.

Moreover, the advocates of scientific approach hail from different disciplines including natural and biological sciences. For example, Thomas Schelling and Kenneth Boulding came from Economics, Herman Kahn from Physics, Anatol Roppopost from Biology and Albert Wholstter from Mathematics.

Substantive Issues of International Politics:

The sixth or the contemporary stage through which international relations is passing today, presents an effort at modernizing the classical and scientific approaches. It emphasizes the urgency for the study of substantive issue of international relations.

The advocates of the scientific approaches gave undue importance to the sophistication of methods and tools of analysis In fact, they ignored the real subject of study.

Naturally the traditionalist pointed out that the substance of politics is being totally ignored i favour of methodological concern resulting in losing sight of to achievement of peace and eradication of areas of conflict and disagreement.

Consequently, there developed a scientific traditionalist debate helping to bring back the relevant issues of politics among nations. Currently, emphasis is, therefore, put not only on sophistication in methods and tools of study but also on relevant and current problems o international relations.


In this way, we find that there has been a change in the nature and scope of international relations over the years. Palmer and Perkins refer to it as “the world-community in transition”.

In the realist stage, the focus of study changed from relations to the attainment of national power. With the coming of scientific revolution, the content of international relations started growing in different directions.

So, during the course of the last two decades, progress towards systematization of the subject of study has grown very much. Emphasis in study changed from State to actual processes and environment.

Now, inter­national relation is studied at national, regional, and world level. Notice is taken not only of the working of the United Nations but also of the EEC, NATO, COMECON, ASEAN etc. In this way, the scope of inter­national relations has widened to a considerable extent.

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