Global politics concerns the relations between different actors in the world, the characteristics of those relations, and their consequences. It has to do with the nature of those actors, how they have changed over time, and how their interactions have changed over time. Global politics, also commonly referred to as international politics, world politics, or international relations, includes questions of international conflict (for example, why do countries and ethnic groups go to war with one another, and what contributes to peaceful relations?), questions of international economics (for example, why and how do states enter into trading agreements with one another, and how is wealth distributed in the world?), and questions that transcend actors but confront them nonetheless (for example, what contributes to global environmental problems, and how is cultural, political, and economic globalization changing world politics?).
The major purpose of this book, Global Politics, is to help students understand world politics in the past, present, and future. The process begins in this fi rst chapter with a discussion of theoretical perspectives on the way international relations operate. Theoretical perspectives of international politics provide answers to these basic questions: Who are the main actors in international politics? Why do actors do what they do in international politics? What are th underlying factors that govern relationships in global politics? How have international relations changed or stayed the same over the centuries? What accounts for conflict and cooperation in international politics?
Each of the theoretical perspectives presented in this chapter provides different answers to these questions. Each perspective is based on different assumptions about humans, governments, and international politics. Each can provide a different analysis of the same event in international politics, such as the Vietnam War, the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the rise of the World Trade Organization, internal conflict in Sudan, or the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss and compare these alternative takes on international
politics. This chapter presents an overview of these theoretical perspectives. Subsequent chapters will illustrate how these perspectives can be used to explain more specific topics of international politics.
Understanding alternative theoretical perspectives is important for understanding world politics for two main reasons. First, everybody already has some theoretical perspective in mind when they consider international relations. Even students new to the subject bring with them sets of assumptions about the world and its actors. When you read about current events or the history of international relations, you are seeing the “facts” through a particular lens. Knowing what lens you are using and what alternative lens may be available will help you better understand how you are interpreting the facts and how facts may be seen in different ways.