Difference Between International Relations and International Politics

International Relations vs International Politics

Before knowing the difference between international relations and international politics, one should know what each term stands for. This is because the terms International Relations and International Politics present a complex dilemma to many. Indeed, a mere glance at the two words lead many of us to assume they mean one and the same thing. Perhaps the common term, ‘International’, is the source of confusion and does not help shed light on the difference between the two. Naturally, we tend to confuse the terms ‘Politics’ and ‘Relations’ as meaning interaction, particularly, between countries on an international level. Undoubtedly, there is the possibility of an overlap of the terms, but despite this overlap, there remains a subtle difference.

What is International Relations?

At the very outset, International Relations clearly refers to the relations among states. Keep in mind that relations between nations can take various forms such as political relations, economic relations, cultural relations, military-technical cooperation, and more. Thus, International Relations includes every aspect of relations between states. In the international arena, states are viewed as the most important actors. While the study of International Relations examines these ties, it also encompasses the foreign policies of nations. Simply put, it refers to the foreign affairs of nations.

Given the rapid changes in the international system today, International Relations also include relations between states and international organizations such as the United Nations. International Relations cannot be studied or examined in isolation. It is linked with other fields such as history, international law, international economics and finance, political science, and geography. Therefore, International Relations covers a broad spectrum with nations as its primary focus. On the academic front, it focuses on how states formulate and implement their foreign policy goals and what objectives motivate their behaviour in the international system.

Difference Between International Relations and International Politics

What is International Politics?

It was mentioned above that International Relations encompasses a broad area in that it examines the entire international system. Think of International Politics, then, as a component within that broad spectrum. Therefore, it is a much narrower subject area. The term International Politics is used synonymously with the terms ‘world politics’ or ‘global politics’. The definitions for each of these terms are often not helpful and tend to confuse a person even more.

International Politics deals with the practical realities of a state’s interaction with another state or several other states. On the academic front, it entails utilising the theories of International Relations and applying them analytically to the contemporary issues in the international system. Thus, issues in the international system also play a large role in International Politics. More importantly, the concept of power is key to understanding International Politics. Students of International Politics are well aware that power can be both a means and an end. Furthermore, power can be either hard power or soft power. Hard power means military and economic power while soft power is more indirect such as cultural power. International Politics essentially studies how and why states use these types of power to achieve their goals.

Think of International Politics as primarily dealing with the political relations of states. Thus, political conflicts between states, reasons behind these conflicts, conflict resolution and the promotion of political cooperation among states to achieve a common goal, all fall within the purview of International Politics. Today, International Politics also includes the role of non-state actors such as terrorist organizations, and Multinational Corporations and their impact on the political relations of states.

What is the difference between International Relations and International Politics?

• International Relations encompasses a broad spectrum of the international arena while International Politics is only a component of International Relations and, therefore, much narrower.

• International Relations concerns the relations or foreign affairs of nations. International Politics deals only with the political relations of states and focuses on how states collectively respond to the emerging global issues.


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