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Introduction to International Relations

Session B: July 20 - July 30, 2021
9:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.
English and Writing
Philosophy and Society
Paul Silva

Introduction to International Relations will survey the contemporary actors, theoretical paradigms, and disciplinary debates of the study of global politics. Students will listen to lectures, participate in discussion groups, and conduct group work in a role-playing crisis situation. This introductory course is divided into two parts. The first part introduces students to the foundational concepts and theoretical approaches to International Relations. The second part of the course shifts to an analysis of more contemporary issues in International Relations through utilizing foundational concepts and theoretical approaches of International Relations. The second part of the course is especially concerned with how traditional theoretical paradigms influence contemporary debates on interstate relations. Thus, this course should be of particular interest to students excited by US foreign policy, US-China, and US-Russia great power competition.

Goals for Students:

  1. Understand and be able to wield major concepts in the study of world politics such as power, states, war, globalization, anarchy, balance of power, interdependence, and norms.
  2. Compare and contrast different theoretical approaches with the objective of identifying the advantages and disadvantages of theoretical approaches.
  3. Analyze contemporary events in world politics through using the canonical theoretical approaches of International Relations, including the variations of realism, liberalism, and constructivism.
  4. Master the location of states on a world map.
  5. Demonstrate a basic familiarity great power politics with the objective of identifying the advantages and disadvantages of different US grand strategies.


The study of world politics is impossible without completing the assigned readings and contemplating the readings prior to attending class. Thus, reading the assigned material is essential for successfully completing this course. Most readings will be assigned from the following textbook: International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity (2016) by Tim Dunne, Milja Kurki, and Steve Smith. Other readings will be short articles that I will distribute to students at the beginning of the course.

Possible Assignments

  1. Map Quizzes
    1. Students will be presented maps of different regions every two sessions. They will be asked to identify all or most of the names of states in the assigned region, with a total of four map quizzes.
  2. Substantive Mini-Quizzes
    1. Students will be asked to define major concepts in the study of world politics in two mini-quizzes.
  3. Reading Discussions on Days 4, 7, and 8
    1. For thirty minutes, students will be encouraged to discuss the readings from the previous sessions through being presented with provocative discussion questions.
  4. Application of Theoretical Approaches Assignment
    1. For homework, students will be presented with small paragraphs on contemporary interstate relations. Students will read these paragraphs and will be asked to identify and explain which theoretical approach of world politics best helps observers understand the causes of the given phenomena.
  5. Crisis Scenario Role Play Exercise
    1. Students will be assigned a hypothetical crisis scenario in which they will act as members of the US cabinet. Students must use their knowledge on grand strategies to select a grand strategy to adopt towards a rising China or a resurgent Russia.

Part I. Foundational Concepts and Theoretical Approaches
Day 1: Introduction to International Relations and Course Overview

  • Student introductions
  • Description of the course
  • Introduction to the subject matter of International Relations:
    • States
    • Power
    • War
    • Peace
  • Reading:
    • Steve Smith, “Introduction: Discipline and Diversity in International Relations Theory,” in Dunne, Kurki, and Smith

Day 2: Realism

  • Classical Realism
  • Structural Realism
  • Balance of Power
  • Map Quiz 1
  • Reading:
    • Richard Ned Lebow, “Classical Realism,” in Dunne, Kurki, and Smith
    • John J. Mearsheimer, “Structural Realism,” in Dunne, Kurki, and Smith

Day 3: Liberalism

  • Democratic Peace Theory
  • Interdependence Theory
  • Intergovernmental Organization Peace Theory
  • Substantive Mini-Quiz 1
  • Reading:
    • Bruce Russett, “Liberalism” in Dunne, Kurki, and Smith

Day 4: Constructivism

  • Constitutive and Regulative Norms
  • Socialization
  • International Organizations and Norm Creation
  • Group Discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of Realism, Liberalism, and Constructivism
  • Map Quiz 2
  • Reading:
    • Karin Fierke, “Constructivism,” in Dunne, Kurki, and Smith

Part II: Application of International Relations Theories to Contemporary Issues

Day 5: Introduction to Grand Strategy

  • Foreign Policy
  • Grand Strategy
  • Readings:
    • Hal Brands, The Promise and Pitfalls of Grand Strategy, Strategic Studies Institute 2012, pp. 1-15.
    • Walter Russell Mead, “American Grand Strategy in a World at Risk” Orbis, Vol. 49, No.4 Fall 2005, pp. 589-598.

Day 6: US-China Great Power Competition and Implications

  • Thucydides Trap
  • US-China Relations
  • Map Quiz 3
  • Deadline: Turn in Theoretical Approach Assignment
  • Reading:
    • Part 1 “The Rise of China” in Destined for War: America, China, and Thucydides’s Trap (Allison, 2017)
    • Part 4 “Why war is not inevitable” in Destined for War: America, China, and Thucydides’s Trap (Allison, 2017)

Day 7: US-Russia Great Power Competition and Implications

  • Russian Foreign Policy
  • US Grand Strategy towards Russia: Containment versus Engagement
  • Substantive Mini-Quiz 2
  • Group Discussion
  • Reading:
    • Michael McFaul “Russia as It Is: A Grand Strategy for Confronting Putin”, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2018
    • Introduction and Conclusion of Paul Silva and Zachary Selden “Economic Interdependence and Economic Sanctions: a case study of European Union sanctions on Russia”, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, October 2019

Day 8: A War on Terror: Is It Still Relevant?

  • Terrorism
  • US Counter-Terrorism Strategy
  • Map Quiz 4
  • Group Discussion
  • Readings:
    • Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism, Chapter 1
    • Excerpts from US National Security Strategies (2002; 2010; 2017)

Day 9: Crisis Scenario and Presentations

  • Each group has 1 hour to deliberate over the crisis and select a grand strategy.
  • Groups will then present the selected grand strategy to the class.
  • As a class, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each grand strategy
  • Class Wrap-Up and Evaluations