A New Handbook of Political Science

By Robert E. Goodin; Hans-Dieter Klingemann | Go to book overview

Chapter 19 International Relations, Old and New

Robert O. Keohane

INTERNATIONAL relations at the end of the 20th century is in a state of ferment and confusion. The Cold War has disoriented the Cold Warriors and many students of Soviet-U.S. relations, while the internationalization of the world economy has blurred boundaries between domestic and international politics, and made it harder to treat these two subjects as separate spheres. Controversies in the discipline have mixed enlightenment and confusion in unfortunately unequal proportions. We are at sea; but in a fascinating ocean with new creatures to observe, interacting in new ways.

Perhaps a short chapter can only irritate and befuddle; I hope not. In the space available, I will focus on what I see as central methodological, conceptual and theoretical issues in the study of international relations. Section I focuses on the objectives and methods that seem most productive for understanding this subject. Section II briefly examines Realism, which for half a century was the dominant approach to the study of international relations in the western world. Realism today encounters serious anomalies as a result of transnational relations, the peaceful behavior of democracies toward one another and the growing importance of international institutions. Section III highlights the role of assumptions about choice and necessity, while Section IV lists some research programs in international relations that I regard as promising. The chapter concludes with some suggestions for productive lines of future research.

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