Most IR theories are primarily addressing questions how best to analyse matters of international co-operation and power relative to having to respect the rights of State sovereignty. The doctrine of state sovereignty and the SYSTEM OF sovereign states is commonly referred to as...  (now read on)

Westphalian sovereignty is the principle of international law that each nation state has sovereignty over its territory and domestic affairs, to the exclusion of all external powers, on the principle of non-interference in another country's domestic affairs, and that each state (no matter how large or small) is equal in international law. The doctrine is named after the Peace of Westphalia, signed in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years' War, in which the major continental European states – the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, France, Sweden and the Dutch Republic – agreed to respect one another's territorial integrity. As European influence spread across the globe, the Westphalian principles, especially the concept of sovereign states, became central to international law and to the prevailing world order. Scholars of international relations have identified the modern, Western-originated, international system of states, multinational corporations, and organizations, as having begun at the Peace of Westphalia.

The Westphalian system is used as a shorthand by academics to describe the system of states which make up the world today.

The traditional view of the Westphalian system is that the Peace of Westphalia was an agreement to respect the principle of territorial integrity. In the Westphalian system, the national interests and goals of states (and later nation-states) were widely assumed to go beyond those of any citizen or any ruler. States became the primary institutional agents in an interstate system of relations. The Peace of Westphalia is said to have ended attempts to impose supranational authority on European states.

The Peace of Westphalia is important in modern international relations theory, and is often defined as the beginning of the international system with which the discipline deals. International-relation theorists have identified several key principles of the Peace of Westphalia, which explain the Peace's significance and its effect on the world today:

  1. The principle of the sovereignty of states and the fundamental right of political self determination
  2. The principle of legal equality between states
  3. The principle of non-intervention of one state in the internal affairs of another state

These principles are shared by the "realist" international relations paradigm today, which explains why the system of states is referred to as "The Westphalian System".

Both the idea of Westphalian sovereignty and its applicability in practice have been questioned from the mid-20th century onward from a variety of viewpoints. Much of the debate has turned on the ideas of internationalism and globalization which, in various interpretations, appear to conflict with Westphalian sovereignty.





Idea of a) Human nature of actors/agents or b) nature of the State

Writers/classic work


State (as the actor) exercise of Power; national advantage

The calculation of advantage - utilitarian; moral considerations are secondary to national security

Fixed - we are fundamentally goal (interest/advantage)-seeking

Bit optimistic - we can become the 'hegemon' = leader/dominant nation.

Drive towards absolute power

Morgenthau (Politics Among Nations, 1948);

Neo-realism (also known as 'structural realism')

a) Anarchy of states b) Structural power resources, c) capability, d) the distribution of power, e) polarity, f) national interest.

States seek a balance of the distribution of power (probably best national interest outcome) in the face of a lack of world order i.e. an anarchy of states. capability to secure your power is relative to that of other states. In the Cold war tendency to bi-polarity (US v USSR = 'balance structural balance); post-Cold War - multi-polar?

None - state survival in an anarchical world is about constant attempts at stabilising ones own position relative to the other players in an endlessly re-figuring international structure.

A bit fatalistic really - States always struggling to get by.

Drive to maintain/improve relative power position

Mearsheimer; Waltz (Man, State and War 1959); Keohane


Prevailing International order; order of rules/law; maximisation of interest for individuals as well as states by cooperation e.g. trade etc

The pursuit of an International Order - lions lying down with the lambs.

States/statesmen as co-operative peace-seekers. States as reasonable negotiators to agree upon universal rules-system.

Humans 'naturally' speak openly and trade for the sake of peaceful and mutually beneficial relations. States (should) do the same

Rather optimistic; not based on revolving distribution of power (always tending to make states as well as their citizens anxious)

Hedley Bull; Linklater; Suganami; Moravcsik


Beliefs; states of knowledge; perceptions; feelings; cultural biases

This is not a normative theory i.e. does not presume some goal/value that persons of states pursue; rather it is methodologically oriented - it suggests we attend to more micro-level features which shape decision-making and strategy.

No objective structures in play e.g. 'the state'; 'definite interests'; amount of power - these are just 'constructed' via perceptions, attitudes, culture etc

A Wendt, Constructing International Politics’ (1995) 20 (1) International Security 71–81



Marxism: takes several main forms: classical marxism; Marxist theories of Imperialism; Critical Theory (Frankfurt school)

a) Class oppression/class identity

b) Economic formation (the mode of production) is prior to state power - states (who use their political power and legitimacy) to serve (capitalist) economic interests. e.g. use their political power to get another state to trade with this or that corporation.

c) human security/justice before state security interests

d) ideology - power to get persons to accept state or economic imperatives unquestioningly even if they are exploited. (justifiable injustice!)

As used in IR marxist explanation seem not so much encourage revolution by the 'workers of the world' as explain how economic power especially in the 20th C up to today pattern the distribution of wealth and resources that tends to end up with either  colonisation & Empires (late 19th C into 20th C or more recently, globalisation.


Most marxisms underlain by ethical imperatives about exploitation of humans and their possibility of freedom if the shackles of (global) capitalism helped by state power (and the ideological spell they are under) are broken

Critical Theorists emphasise the need to engage in 'ideologie-kritik' - the analysis of how ideology works upon human consciousness as ideas that support economic and political regimes get systematically - and positively - represented through the media, at work, in school, in all kinds of facets of everyday life and so on. The point being that reinforcement of the values of say capitalism or the established social and cultural order almost unwittingly frames you and your activities on a daily basis such that, say, you accept ideas a necessarily all-powerful America (if you are an american) and this will help shape uncritical support for foreign policy

More than a bit of 'realism' at work here in that states pursue the support of economic (national) power t the expense of the working class and in imperialist form, exploit poorer weaker nations for the powerful states's benefit.

Humanism - humans are not there to be exploited; organisation of the system to advantage human flourishing and happiness

Analysis driven by an alternative vision of world order

R W Cox and T J Sinclair, Approaches to World Order(CUP Cambridge1996).

But classic writers on Imperialism are Rudolf Hilfering; Lenin, but see Brewer's work on marxist theories of Imperialism.

Critical theorists (sometimes called 'the Frankfurt school') refers to a group of sophisticated neo-marxists emergent in the late 1920s whose core thinkers were Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse. The best known Critical theorist today is Jurgen Habermas. Most of these writers did not directly address issues of International politics.





Liberalism, neo-Liberalism, and Realism: Institutions OR Power

Realists trace their intellectual roots to Thucydides and see states as the primary actors and emphasize the role of power in determining outcomes in the anarchic setting of international politics. And realists see international institutions as a relatively small and irrelevant component of international relations and in any case reducible to the twin realist verities of power and interest.


Those who studied the post-Second World War international organizations were called liberals. In part, this was because they focused on the cooperation that underlay the new post-Second World War international arrangements. Realists after all focus on conflict and minimize the prospect for, and the nature of, international cooperation. In addition, in focusing on international cooperation and new institutional arrangements, scholars were accepting the possibility of change and improvement (both classically liberal notions) in contrast to the realist emphasis on the continuous and unchanging nature of the reality of international anarchy and the omnipresent prospect of war.


Whilst Realists argued that competition was usually primarily among the elite few (a politico-economic oligarchy), the core argument that international institutions constituted mutually beneficial arrangements reflected the classically liberal argument of economists about individuals and firms engaging in mutually beneficial exchanges.


Domestic and trans-national social context in which states are embedded varies greatly over space and time. The resulting globalization-induced variation in social demands and state preferences is a fundamental cause of state behaviour in world politics. This is the central insight of liberal international relations theory.


A main realist criticism is that institutions are epiphenomenal, that they merely reflect power and interest. Institutions have no independent standing, they have no independent causal role, they constitute the same world of power politics familiar to realists. Institutions may exist, but they do not mitigate in any way the anarchy of the international system. Institutions are created by the powerful to serve their interests, and they are dissolved when power and interest shift.



Institutionalism and Constructionism/-ivism

One school is that of social constructivism, in which all social reality is constructed intersubjectively through interaction. The very units of international politics, states, are social constructions, as is the sovereign state system in which they interact. Combining a broad view of institutions with a view of social and political reality as socially constructed leads to the argument that the sovereign state system is itself an institution of international political life. In this view all international politics is subject to a set of rules that are human constructions and in which actors are subsequently socialized. Constructivism emphasizes the social and relational construction of what states are and what they want.



A second literature is in many ways similar; it is known as the English School and it emphasizes the existence of international society. Although the School recognizes an international system that involves the mere interactions of states and that is subject to power politics, it argues that typically an international society, rather than system, constitutes international reality. The definition of international society provided by the School seems delimiting: An international society exists “when a group of states, conscious of certain common interests and common values, form a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another, and share in the working of common institutions"




In the 1848 Communist Manifesto:

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world-market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country ...In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations ...The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian nations into civilisation.


The core dynamic behind this process was driven by the progressive universalization of capitalism, understood as the contradictory relation between waged workers and capitalists whose market-mediated reproduction imposed the need for expanded reproduction through competitive accumulation. This would lead to a series of social transformations in noncapitalist societies whose cumulative result was the creation of the capitalist world market. While this perspective retained the role of states as guarantors of exploitative and antagonistic class-divided societies, militarized inter-state conflicts would be gradually replaced by the consolidation and polarization of classes, leading to the intensification of class struggle on a global scale, culminating eventually in a synchronized proletarian world revolution.



Imperialism as a structuralism:

Classical Marxist theories of imperialism constitute a more systematic and sustained attempt to ground the changing geopolitical dynamics and the crisis and breakdown of world order in the changing dynamics of capitalism.


Internationally, the quest for raw materials, the search for new export markets, and the export of capital demanded the territorialization and politico-military control of colonies, leading to empire formation, the regionalization of the world market, and the formation of rival national blocs. According to Bukharin and Lenin, “super-profits” reaped from colonial exploitation were central for the integration of working classes into their “fatherlands” through the prospect of higher wages and social welfare (social imperialism). These “bribes” nurtured a metropolitan “labor aristocracy” rooted in national contexts that betrayed the causes of internationalism. The direct role of the state in the national and international promotion of “finance capital” implied the transformation of private economic competition between firms into public politico-military competition between states, encapsulated in the notion of “inter-imperial rivalry.” Intensifying inter-imperial strategic competition over the territorial redivision of the world was bound to lead to world war, increasing the chances that bourgeois power could be broken in defeated states that formed “the weakest link” in the chain of capitalist states.




Critical theory in international relations seeks to develop this project in the international context by identifying “the prospects for realising higher levels of human freedom across the world society as a whole" Specifically, a critical theory of international relations examines “the problem of community,” understood as how the members of bounded communities (states) determine the patterns of inclusion and exclusion in the international system. This project has three components, a normative inquiry into the meaning of emancipation and universalism, a historical sociological inquiry into the conditions of emancipation, and a praxeological inquiry into the means of emancipation in any given order, and in particular the present. The mere technical-rational application of means to achieve ends - a kind of science of power politics has obscure the human and ethical needs and hopes, making the interests of a power elite seem natural and inevitable in a difficult world...and the luxury of worrying about ordinary human freedom and fulfilments is treated as a non-starter...which helps preserve elite interest dominance.




Globalization and Post-structuralism

Widespread agreement among Marxists and non-Marxists on the intensifying reality of “globalization” since the late 1970s, compounded by the post-11 September US—American “unilateralist turn,” have thrown into sharp relief the inadequacy of notions of classical sovereignty and the “Westphalian system” to capture the contemporary reconfiguration between the national and the international/global. The relative decline, if not the very end, of the politically autonomous nation state has generated a proliferation of alternative but competing concepts on a scale from the internationalization of the state, via the global state, to empire and neoimperialism (for a Marxist critique of mainstream globalization theory.


A dominant tendency assumes a transition from the national—international to the global, first conceptualized as “the internationalisation of the state The shift from international trade to integrated trans-national production patterns and “finance capital” has led to a convergence of interests among transnationally oriented capitals, creating a “transnational business class” that transcends national boundaries. It simultaneously renders national states responsive to trans-national class interests as “transmission belts” coordinating and integrating interstate policies. ... Economic globalization has brought about the subordination of the nation state to international institutions, as national bourgeoisies are metamorphosing into local (national) contingents of an emergent transnational bourgeoisie, eclipsing national rivalries. “Economic globalisation has its counterpart in transnational class formation and in the emergence of a transnational state ... which has been brought into existence to function as the collective authority for a global ruling class”  This argument is further radicalized by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's notion of “empire.” “Along with the global market and global circuits of production has emerged a global order, a new logic and structure of rule—in short, a new form of sovereignty.” Drawing on Michel Foucault's desubjectified notion of power, empire is conceived as a “decentered and deterritorializing apparatus of rule” that “realize[s] ... a properly capitalist order” in which even “the United States does not ... form the center of an imperialist project



Ellen Wood suggests that globalization and the states system have entered into a mutually reinforcing relationship, since global capital accumulation requires a reliable system of states as the adequate form for protecting and policing capitalist social property relations. “The political form of globalization is not a global state but a global system of multiple states” US imperial hegemony is therefore primarily defined as economic imperialism, working through a reliable system of plural capitalist states.