Relaciones Internacionales – Comunicación Internacional

International Relations (By R.J. Rummel )

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Volume 4

Expanded Contents | Figures | Tables


1. Perspective And Summary
3. The International Actors
4. International Behavior Space-Time
5. International Expectations And Dispositions
6. International Actor And Situation
7. International Sociocultural Space-Time
8. Interests, Capabilities, And Wills
9. The Social Field Of International Relations
10. Latent International Conflict
11. International Conflict: Trigger, Will, And Preparations
12. The Balancing Of Power
13. Comparative Dynamics Of International Conflict
14. Introduction To Propositions And Evidence On International Conflict
15. Empirical Dynamics Of International Conflict
16. Causes And Conditions Of International Conflict And War
17. Ending Conflict And War: The Balance Of Powers
18. The International Conflict Helix
19. Theoretical And Empirical Conclusions On Conflict And War
20. Principles Of Peace And Conflict


15A. Phasing Propositions and Their Evidence on International Conflict
16A. On Causes of International Conflict
16B. Propositions and Their Evidence on the Causes and Conditions of International Conflict Behavior
16C. Evidence on the Causes and Conditions of International Conflict Behavior
17A. Propositions and Evidence on the Causes and Conditions of Ending International Conflict Behavior
18A. Descriptive Propositions on International Conflict
19A. Overall Evidence on 54 Social Field Propositions on International Conflict
19B. Primary Propositions on Social Conflict
I. Unpublished Research and Results on International Relations
II. Event Data: Bases of Empirical Conflict Analysis
III. Characteristics of Published Quantitative International Relations Studies

Other Volumes

Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field
Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

Conflict And Violence page

Democratic Peace page


Chapter 2

International Relations*

By R.J. Rummel


At bottom, principle is not a finished product that can be grasped. It is invisible. The details and order of material force is a principle that is visible. Therefore, the first time there is any principle is when it is seen in material force. After principles have thus been found, they of course appear to become tendencies.
—- Wang Fu-chih, Chuan-shan i-shu, 1619-1692

International relations, world politics, transnational relations, global society. This sphere of diplomacy and war, treaties and alliances, aid and trade, migration and tourists. This arena of empires, international organizations, states, nations, governments, groups and individuals. This greatest human theater. What is its essence?

First, international relations compose our largest society.<fontsize=3>1 Since the Age of Colonization in the eighteenth century, international relations have encompassed the globe. There is or are now:

  • a worldwide system of communication regulated by international organizations (such as the Universal Postal Union, International Telecommunication Union, and Intergovernmental Copyright Committee), involving mail, telegrams, radio, television, newspapers, periodicals, and books;
  • a global transportation system involving international shipping lines, and especially, the airlines regulated by the International Civil Aviation Organization;
  • an extensive worldwide trade and division of labor, with states and multinational corporations specializing in extractive industries, forestry, fishing, food crops, or manufacturing;
  • international social norms that frame the variety of interaction among states and international groups, some of which have the status of international law;
  • a stratification system recognized by all and dividing states into those with wealth, power or prestige, and those without;<fontsize=3>2
  • a culture, of which the dominant language is English, with norms emphasizing the sovereignty, independence and equality of states, and valuing truth,<fontsize=3>4 education and knowledge, development, and government intervention, regulation, and planning<fontsize=3>5; and opposing genocide, military aggression, colonialism, and racism.

International society is riven and, in Simmel’s (1955) useful expression, «sewn together» by cross-cutting conflicts.<fontsize=3>6 In my terms, this society is a moving complex of overlapping and nested structures and situations of conflict, power balancing, balances of powers, and structures of expectations. The keynote is change, alteration, transformation, and the mechanism and manifestation of this is conflict behavior.

As do all societies, international society has two faces. One is of conflict, change, a struggle and dialectic of power. The other is equilibrium, societal norms and structures which at any one point in time appear to describe society. Indeed, without a process or conflict view of international society, the normal state of affairs is stability, of functions maintaining the system and adjusting individuals to it. Indeed, within this snapshot view international conflict appears deviant, an aberration of the system. Consensus and equilibrium rather than conflict would be the defining characteristics of the society.<fontsize=3>7

This perspective, so rightly identified with Talcott Parsons’ later work (1958) for societies in general, appears at first to contradict the conflict view of international relations. However, consider the equilibrium perspective to be, essentially, that international society comprises a system of meanings, values and norms that

  • comprise member’s socialization,
  • regulate member’s behavior,
  • define a relatively persistent equilibrium among member’s needs and interests, and
  • at the core is a causal-functional (integrated) unity.

Then international society also can be seen as changing configurations of power and balancing: a conflict helix.

Now, international actors are continuously entering into new power balances, behaving within existing structures of expectations undergirded by previous balances. These structures exist at different levels of specificity and formalization. Some may be merely intuitive and even unconscious understandings between actors, such as between leaders, diplomats, or international businessmen. As such structures exist through time they can become increasingly crystallized, to develop a rule-inertia, which is the sociological counterpart of habit at the psychological level. Nonetheless, these structures remain informal-personal understandings between individuals.<fontsize=3>8

In international relations, many structures of expectations are formalized, involving written agreements, contracts, or treaties defining the rights and obligations of cosigners. Some structures of expectations (like the UN Charter) formalize law norms, which define the membership in the structure, the rights and obligations of members, and authoritative roles (positions). Authoritative roles are those that within the structure of expectations carry the right to give certain commands for their incumbents and the obligation to obey for the other members. They carry the right to punish disobedience. In the development of law norms and authoritative roles evolves the sociological group. In international society the state is one such group. An international organization is another.

The multitude of groups in society display concretely the major expectations ordering individuals. They show how structures can be nested (a state is in UNESCO which is part of the UN), independent (such as the Catholic church and ASEAN) or overlap (such as NATO and the EEC). But it should be clear that a particular group is simply a phase in the eternal process of social balancing, albeit of longer duration than less formal structures of expectations. An international group represents but a certain formalization of the balance of interests, capabilities, and wills of members.

In this sense, an international group is a point of equilibrium, a balance of values and norms. Without a knowledge of the prior conflict process or the possible future disruption, a group such as Ethiopia, the Arab League, or the Warsaw Pact may appear stable. Consensus and functional maintenance will appear the case, as indeed it is if one views a group’s history only through the existing, formalized structure of expectations. But as within states, where such groups as families end in divorce, churches dissolve in schism, and corporations are destroyed, states, international organizations, and the largest of all social groups, the international system, undergo disruption and revolutionary change. But, on the other hand, to focus on the becoming, on the conflict or disruption, is to ignore the periods of order, of regularity, of harmony and consensus identified with a tolerable balance of powers.

International society is then a particular configuration of balances, of structures of informal and formalized expectations, to be sure. But so is a dump a configuration of objects, and a sand pile a configuration of sand grains. There is more to international society than a heap of balances.





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