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Essay, Paragraph or Speech on “Theories of International Relations” Complete Essay, Speech for Class 10, Class 12 and Graduation and other classes.

Theories of International Relations

International relations theory attempts to provide a conceptual model upon which international relations can be analyzed. Each theory is reductive and essentialist to different degrees, relying on different sets of assumptions respectively. As Ole Holsti describes them, international relations theories act as a pair of coloured sunglasses, allowing the wearer to see only the salient events relevant to the theory. An adherent of realism may completely disregard an event that a constructionist might pounce upon as crucial, and vice versa.

The number and character of the assumptions made by an international relations theory also determine its usefulness. Realism, a parsimonious and very essentialist theory is useful in accounting for historical actions (for instance why did X invade Y) but limited in both explaining systemic change (such as the end of the Cold War) and predicting future events. Liberalism, which examines a very wide number of conditions, is less useful in making predictions, but can be very insightful in analyzing past events. Traditional theories may have little to say about the behavior of former colonies, but post-colonial theory may have greater insight into that specific area, where it fails in other situations.

International relations theories can be divided into “positivist/rationalist” theories which focus on a principally state-level analysis, and “post-positivist/ reflectivity” ones which incorporate expanded meanings of security, ranging from class, to gender, to postcolonial security. Many often conflicting ways of thinking exist in IR theory, including Constructivism, Institutionalism, Marxism, Neo-Gramscianism, and others. However, two positivist schools of thought are most prevalent: Realism and Liberalism; though increasingly, Constructivism is becoming mainstream and post positivist theories are increasingly popular, particularly outside the United States.


Realism makes several key assumptions. It assumes that nation-states are unitary, geographically-based actors in an anarchic international system with no authority above capable of regulating interactions between states as no true authoritative world government exists. Secondly, it assumes that sovereign states, rather than IGOs, NGOs or MNCs, are the primary actors in international affairs. Thus, states, as the highest order, are in competition with one another. As such, a state acts as a rational autonomous actor in pursuit of its own self-interest with a primary goal to maintain and ensure its own security—and thus its sovereignty and survival. Realism holds that in pursuit of their interests, states will attempt to amass resources, and that relations between states are determined by their relative levels of power. That level of power is in turn determined by the state’s military and economic capabilities.

Some realists (offensive realists) believe that states are inherently aggressive, that territorial expansion is constrained only by opposing powers, while others (defensive realists) believe that states are obsessed with the security and continuation of the state’s existence. The offensive view can lead to a security dilemma where increasing one’s own security can bring along greater instability as the opponent(s) builds up its own arms, making security a zero-sum game where only relative gains can be made.


The precursor to liberal IR theory was “idealism”; however, this term was applied in a critical manner by those who saw themselves as ‘realists’, for instance E. H. Carr. Idealism in international relations usually refers to the school of thought personified in American diplomatic history by Woodrow Wilson, such that it is sometimes referred to as “Wilsonianism.” Idealism holds that a state should make its internal political philosophy the goal of its foreign policy. For example, an idealist might believe that ending poverty at home should be coupled with tackling poverty abroad. Wilson’s idealism was a precursor to liberal international relations theory, which would arise amongst the “institution-builders” after World War II.

Liberalism holds that state preferences, rather than state capabilities, are the primary determinant of state behavior. Unlike realism where the state is seen as a unitary actor, liberalism allows for plurality in state actions. Thus, preferences will vary from state to state, depending on factors such as culture, economic system or government type. Liberalism also holds that interaction between states is not limited to the political/security (“high politics”), but also economic/cultural (“low politics”) whether through commercial firms, organizations or individuals. Thus, instead of an anarchic international system, there are plenty of opportunities for cooperation and broader notions of power, such as cultural capital (for example, the influence of films leading to the popularity of the country’s culture and creating a market for its exports worldwide). Another assumption is that absolute gains can be made through co-operation and interdependence – thus peace can be achieved.

Democratic peace theory

The democratic peace theory argues that democracies have never (or almost never) made war on one another and have few lesser conflicts between each other. This is seen as contradicting especially the realist theories and this empirical claim is now one of the great disputes in political science. Numerous explanations have been proposed for the democratic peace. It has also been argued, as in the book Never at War, that democracies conduct diplomacy in general very differently from nondemocracies. Realists disagree with Liberals over the theory, often citing structural reasons for the peace, as opposed to the state’s government.


Institutionalism in international relations holds that the international- system is not—in practice—anarchic, but that it has an implicit or explicit structure which determines how states will act within the system.

Institutions are rules that determine the decision-making process. In the international arena, institution has been used interchangeably with ‘regime’, which has been defined by Krasner as a set of explicit or implicit.”principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around which actors expectations converge in a given issue-area.”

Institutionalist scholars hold a wide array of beliefs stemming from the central proposition that institutions “matter” in answering the question, what explains a particular outcome? There are four reasons for this:

They structure choices, they provide incentives, they distribute power and they define identities and roles.

English School

The ‘English School’ of international relations theory, also known as International Society, Liberal Realism, Rationalism or the British institutionalists; maintains that there is a ‘society of states’ at the international level, despite the condition of ‘anarchy’ (literally the lack of a ruler or world state).

A great deal of the work of the English School concerns the examination of traditions of past international theory, casting it, as Martin Wight did in his 1950s-era lectures at the London School of Economics, into three divisions: 1. Realist or Hobbesian (after Thomas Hobbes), 2. Rationalist (or Grotian, after Hugo Grotius), 3. Revolutionist (or Kantian, after Immanuel Kant).

In broad terms, the English School itself has supported the rationalist or Grotian tradition, seeking a middle way (or via media) between the ‘power politics’ of realism and the ‘utopianism’ of revolutionism.

Critical theories

Many schools of thought in international relations have criticized the status-quo – both from other positivist positions as well as post positivist positions. The former include Marxist and Neo-Marxist approaches and Neo-Gramscianism. The latter include postmodernist, postcolonial and feminist approaches, which differ from both realism and liberalism in their epistemological and ontological premise.

Marxist theory

Marxist and Neo-Marxist international relations theories are positivist paradigms which reject the realist/liberal view of state conflict or cooperation; instead focusing on the economic and material aspects. It makes the assumption that the economic concerns transcend others; allowing for the elevation of class as the focus of study. Marxists view the international system as an integrated capitalist system in pursuit of capital accumulation.


Whereas realism deals mainly with security and material power, and liberalism looks primarily at economic interdependence and domestic-level factors, constructivism most concerns itself with the role of ideas in shaping the international system (Indeed it is possible there is some overlap between constructivism and realism or liberalism, but they remain separate schools of thought). By “ideas” constructivists refer to the goals, threats, fears, identities, and other elements of perceived reality that influence states and non-state actors within the international system. Constructivists believe that these ideational factors can often have far-reaching effects, and that they can trump materialistic power concerns. For example, constructivists note that an increase in the size of the US military is likely to be viewed with much greater concern in Cuba, a traditional antagonist of the US, than in Canada, a close US ally. Therefore, there must be perceptions at work in shaping international outcomes. As such, constructivists do not see anarchy as the invariable foundation of the international system, but rather argue, in the words of Alexander Wendt, that “anarchy is what states make of it.” Constructivists also believe that social norms shape and change foreign policy over time rather than security which realists cite.


Functionalism a theory of international relations that arose principally from the experience of European integration. Rather than the self-interest that realists see as a motivating factor, functionalists focus on common interests shared by states. Integration develops its own internal dynamic: as states integrate in limited functional or technical areas, they increasingly find that momentum for further rounds of integration in related areas. This “invisible hand” of integration phenomenon is termed “spill-over.” Although integration can be resisted, it becomes harder to stop integration’s reach as it progresses. This usage, and the usage in functionalist in international relations, is the less commonly used meaning of the term functionalism.

More commonly, however, functionalism is a term used to describe an argument which explains phenomena as functions of a system rather than an actor or actors. Immanuel Wallerstein employed a functionalist theory when he argued that the Westphalian international political system arose to secure and protect the developing international capitalist system. His theory is called “functionalist” because it says that an event was a function of the ‘ preferences of a system and not the preferences of an agent. Functionalism is different from structural or realist arguments in that while both look to broader, structural causes, realists (and structuralists more broadly) say that the structure gives incentives to agents, while functionalists attribute causal power to the system itself, bypassing agents entirely.

Judicial Activism In India

The concept of judicial activism which is another name for innovative I interpretation was not of the recent past; it was born in 1804 when Chief Justice Marshall, the greatest Judge of the English-speaking world, decided Marbury v. Madison. Judicial creativity may yield good results if it is the result of principled activism but if it is propelled by partisanship, it may result in catastrophic consequences generating conflicts which may result in social change.

The function of the American Judiciary was intended to be proscriptive to block the enforcement of an unjust law or action instead of being prescriptive giving directions as to how remedial actions should be taken by the Executive. The Fifth Amendment to the American Constitution mandating inter alia that no one shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law was in the beginning understood as applicable only to the Union. It however was extended by the Fourteenth Amendment to the States also. As a result of this decision, the responsibility of the American Supreme Court to interpret the legislative and executive actions in the light of the due process clause became very great.

Judicial Activism in India

Judicial activism was made possible in India, thanks to PIL (Public Interest Litigation). Generally speaking before the court takes up a matter for adjudication, it must be satisfied that the person who approaches it has sufficient interest in the matter. Stated differently, the test is whether the petitioner has locus standi to maintain the action? This is intended to avoid unnecessary litigation. The legal doctrine ‘Jus tertii’ implying that no one except the affected person can approach a court for a legal remedy was holding the field both in respect of private and public law adjudications until it was overthrown by the PIL wave.

PIL, a manifestation of judicial activism, has introduced a new dimension regarding judiciary’s involvement in public administration. The sanctity of locus standi and the procedural complexities are totally side-tracked in the causes brought before the courts through PIL. In the beginning, the application of PIL was confined only to improving the lot of the disadvantaged sections of the society who by reason of their poverty and ignorance were not in a position to seek justice from the courts and, therefore, any member of the public was permitted to maintain an application for appropriate directions.

After the Constitution (Twenty fifth Amendment) Act, 1971, by which primacy was accorded to a limited extent to the Directive Principles vis-,… vis the Fundamental Rights making the former enforceable rights, the expectations of the public soared high and the demands on the courts to improve the administration by giving appropriate directions for ensuring compliance with statutory and constitutional prescriptions have increased, Beginning with the Ratlam Municipality case the sweep of PIL had encompassed a variety of causes.

Ensuring green belts and open spaces for maintaining ecological balance; forbidding stone-crushing activities near residential complexes; earmarking a part of the reserved forest for Adivasis to ensure their habitat and means of livelihood; compelling the municipal authorities of the Delhi Municipal Corporation to perform their statutory obligations for protecting the health of the community; compelling the industrial units to set up effluent treatment plants; directing installation of air-pollution-controlling devices for preventing air pollution; directing closure of recalcitrant factories in order to save the community from the hazards of environmental pollution and quashing of a warrant of appointment for the office of Judge, High Court of Assam and Guwahati are some of the later significant cases displaying judicial activism.

A five-member Bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in D. Satyanarayana v. N.T. Rama Rao has gone to the extent of laying down the proposition that the executive is accountable to the public through the instrumentality of the judiciary.

Consistency in adhering to earlier views despite the amendment of the law is an aspect – though not a brighter one – of judicial activism. Illustrative of this in the Indian context is the decision of the Supreme Court in Bela Banerjee case in which even after the Constitution (Fourth Amendment) Act, 1955 specifically injuncting that no law concerning acquisition of property for a public purpose shall be called in question on the ground that the compensation provided by that law is not adequate, the Supreme Court reiterated its earlier view expressed in Subodh Gopal and Dwarkadas cases to the effect that compensation is a justiciable issue and that what is provided by way of compensation must be “a just equivalent of what the owner has been deprived of Golak Nath case is also an example of judicial activismin that the Supreme Court for the first time by a majority of 6 against 5 despite the earlier holding that Parliament in exercise of its constituent power can amend any provision of the Constitution, declared that the fundamental rights as enshrined in Part III of the Constitution are immutable and so beyond the reach of the amendatory process. The doctrine of “prospective overruling”, a feature of the American Constitutional Law, was invoked by the Supreme Court to avoid unsettling matters which attained finality because of the earlier amendments to the Constitution. The declaration of law by the Supreme Court that in future, Indian Parliament has no power to amend any of the provisions of Part III of the Constitution became the subject-matter of very animated discussion.

KesavanandaBharati had given a quietus to the controversy as to the immutability of any of the provisions of the Constitution. By a majority of seven against six, the Court held that under Article 368 of the Constitution, Parliament has undoubted power to amend any provision in the Constitution but the amendatory power does not extend to alter the basic structure or framework of the Constitution. Illustratively, it was pointed out by the Supreme Court that the following, among others, are the basic features: (i) Supremacy of the Constitution; (ii) Republican and Democratic form of Government; (iii) Secularism; (iv) Separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary; and (v) Federal character of the Constitution. Supremacy and permanency of the Constitution have thus been ensured by the pronouncement of the summit court of the country with the result that the basic features of the Constitution are now beyond the reach of Parliament.

The judicial power under our Constitution is vested in the Supreme Court and the High Courts which are empowered to exercise the power of judicial review both in regard to legislative and executive actions. Judges cannot shirk their responsibilities as adjudicators of legal and constitutional matters.

A common criticism we hear about judicial activism is that in the name of interpreting the provisions of the Constitution and legislative enactments, the judiciary often rewrites them without explicitly stating so and in this process, some of the personal opinions of the judges metamorphose into legal principles and constitutional values. One other facet of this line of criticism is that in the name of judicial activism, the theory of separation of powers is overthrown and the judiciary is undermining the authority of the legislature and the executive by encroaching upon the spheres reserved for them. Critics openly assert that the Constitution provides for checks and balances in order to pre-empt concentration of power by any branch not confided in it by the Constitution.

Laws enacted by the legislature must be implemented by the executive and their interpretation is within the province of the judiciary. That is the reason why judiciary has always been treated as the least dangerous branch and sometimes it is also described as the weakest of the three branches with no control either on the purse or on the sword. By reason of judicial activism, much good or harm could be brought about by the Judges by resorting to innovative interpretation. Decisions rendered by courts generally receive public acceptance in every democracy adhering to the concept of rule of law. The criticism occasionally voiced that the judiciary does not have a popular mandate and, therefore, it cannot play a prescriptive role which is the domain of the elected law-making body sounds at first blush sensible. Even so, the prescriptive role of the judiciary sometimes receives public approbation because the role played by it sustains what the Constitution mandates and averts the evils the basic document seeks to prohibit.

Popular Mandate and Judiciary

Where the public opinion asserts itself against the decisions of the judiciary, the question immediately surfaces as to the legitimacy of the judiciary since it lacks popular mandate. That is the reason why judiciary was cautioned by eminent legal philosophers to exercise great restraint while declaring the actions of the legislature unconstitutional. Judicial veto must not be exercised except in cases that “leave no room for reasonable doubt”.

Very eminent Judges like Holmes, Brandeis and Frankfurter always adhered to the theory of reasonable doubt believing firmly that what will appear to be unconstitutional to one person may reasonably be not so to another and that the Constitution unfolds a wide range of choices and the legislature therefore should not be presumed to be bound by any particular choice and whatever choice is rational, the court must uphold as constitutional. No legislature can with reasonable certainty foresee the future contingencies and necessarily every enacted law, on a closer scrutiny, will reveal several gaps which the judiciary is expected to fill. This is popularly called judicial legislation.

The line of demarcation between the three organs of the State as laid down in the aforesaid ruling of the Apex Court finds clearer expression in its subsequent rulings in Supreme Court Employees’ Welfare Assn. v. Union of India and Mallikarjuna Rao v. State of A.P.

It is true that in adjudicating public law matters, the court takes into account the social and economic realities while considering the width and amplitude of the constitutional rights.

The permanent values embodied in the Constitution need interpretation in the context of the changing social and economic conditions which are transitory in nature. The constitutional court undertakes the delicate task of reconciling the permanent with the transitory. It is the duty of the executive to implement faithfully the laws made by the legislature. When the executive fails to discharge its obligations, it becomes the primordial duty of the judiciary to compel the executive to perform its lawful functions. In the recent times, much of the criticism aired against the judiciary concerns this area. When crimes are committed by men in power and attempts are made to conceal them by rendering the official machinery ineffective, recourse to judiciary becomes inevitable. It becomes the duty of the judiciary to take cognizance of the executive’s lapses and issue appropriate directions as to the method and manner in which the executive should act as ordained by the Constitution and the laws. If the judiciary fails to respond, it would be guilty of violating the Constitution, a treason indeed.

Neither the political executive which is responsible for laying down the policy nor the permanent executive comprising civil servants who are enjoined to carry out the policies of the executive can act in any manner contrary to what the Constitution prescribes. When all the three organs of the State – the legislature, executive and the judiciary – owe their existence to the Constitution, no single organ can claim immunity from accountability.

Accountability of Judiciary

To whom the judiciary is accountable is the next question. The answer to this is found in the Constitution itself. A judge of the Supreme Court or a High Court can be impeached on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity and the power in this regard is vested in Parliament vide Articles 124(4) and 217(1)(b). When a judge is impeached, Parliament acts as a judicial body and its members must decide the guilt or otherwise of the judge facing the indictment objectively uninfluenced by extraneous considerations. When such a judicial function is discharged by Parliament, it is highly debatable whether political parties can issue whips directing their members to vote in a particular manner. An interesting case study in this regard is the impeachment proceedings against Shri Justice V.Ramaswamywhich ended unsuccessfully.

Judicial creativity even when it takes the form of judicial activism should not result in rewriting of the Constitution or any legislative enactments. Reconciliation of the permanent values embodied in the Constitution with the transitional and changing requirements of the society must not result in undermining the integrity of the Constitution. Any attempt leading to such a consequence would destroy the very structure of the constitutional institutions. Conscious of the primordial fact that the Constitution is the supreme document, the mechanism under which laws must be made and governance of the country carried on, the judiciary must play its activist role. No constitutional value propounded by the judiciary should run counter to any explicitly stated constitutional obligations or rights. In the name of doing justice and taking shelter under institutional self-righteousness, the judiciary cannot act in a manner disturbing the delicate balance between the three wings of the State.

The new jurisprudence that has emerged in the recent times has undoubtedly contributed in a great measure to the well-being of the society. People, in general, now firmly believe that if any institution or authority acts in a manner not permitted by the Constitution, the judiciary will step in to set right the wrong.

Judicial activist fervour should not flood the fields constitutionally earmarked for the legislature and the executive. That would spell disaster. Judges cannot be legislators – they have neither the mandate of the ppeople nor the practical wisdom to gauge the needs of different sections of society. They are forbidden from assuming the role of administrators. Governmental machinery cannot be run by the judges. Any populist views aired by judges would undermine their authority and disturb the institutional balance.

Fidelity to a political or social philosophy not discernible from the constitutional objectives in the discharge of judicial functions is not judicial activism; it is subversion of the Constitution. Any judicial act which is politically suspect, morally indefensible and constitutionally illegitimate must be curbed.

Judicial activism characterised by moderation and self-restraint is bound to restore the faith of the people in the efficacy of the democratic institutions which alone, in turn, will activate the executive and the legislature to function effectively under the vigilant eye of the judiciary as ordained by the Constitution.


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