Practice of International Relations IOMBA, University of Geneva

We do not study international relations for aesthetic reasons, since world politics is not beautiful. If we sought scientific rigor we would have pursued careers in experimental disciplines. Instead we are motivated by normative questions, often asked urgently in the wake of disasters…

The course “Practice of International Relations” forms part of the University of Geneva International Organizations MBA programme which promotes a multidisciplinary approach to the management of international institutions. The 24 hours teaching module explores major global economic, security, societal and governance shifts. It aims to enable participants to systematically analyse drivers behind these shifts and their implications for global cooperation. In particular, it offers participants a deeper understanding of the determinants of state behaviour, the levels of agency in international relations, as well as the norms and principles that underpin international cooperation.

I designed and teach this course together with Stephan Mergenthaler.

Practice of International Relations – Course Description

Since the end of the Cold War, the world has shifted towards a more open and connected global environment. East and West, North and South started to trade and compete on increasingly equal terms, driving an economic expansion much larger than anything the planet ever experienced before.

As a result, the global economy doubled to more than 70 trillion USD and global trade tripled to 37 trillion. Emerging economies such as Brazil, India and China account for more than half of this increase, transforming the world in many ways: commodity prices soared, the cost of manufactured goods and labour sank, poverty rates fell, and the build-up of economic imbalances laid the ground for the recent financial crisis.

These developments provide the context for the course “The Practice of International Relations”: traditionally, the study of international relations was about the behaviour of states and the way in which they project power over territories as expressed in the commonly used term of geopolitics. Today, international relations are about much more than states, and security threats are broader than what used to be an inter-state confrontation about territory and power: from tackling organized crime to fighting pollution, most of the security threats of the 21st century involve the need to cooperate across borders in order to provide for global public goods.

These shifts pose important questions for the functioning of international organizations: Who are the actors that shape global policy outcomes? What factors and constellations influence their behaviour? What new principles or mechanisms will provide order as established ones falter? How is the rebalancing of economic power affecting global governance? Will new global hegemons assume greater responsibility? Will regional powers fill the vacuum where global governance fails? And, how will all these developments affect the world’s capacity to manage global challenges, such as nuclear proliferation, environmental sustainability and climate change?

At completion of our course “Practice of International Relations”, participants will be able to systematically analyse drivers transforming the international system as well as their implications for global cooperation. In particular, participants will have gained a deeper understanding of the determinants of state behaviour, the levels of agency in international relations, as well as the norms and principles that underpin international cooperation.

Three questions will guide through the course as a red thread:

  • What are the big shifts that characterize the global context?
  • How do these shifts affect global cooperation?
  • Why does this matter for impact International Organizations?

Course Modules International Organization Management - The Practice of International Relations

1 – Setting the Scene – International Relations as a Practice

Three important developments have marked much of the post-1945 era: the American construction of a hegemonic order, the emergence of an open world economy, and the acceleration of technological progress. These three intertwined developments propelled the process of globalization, a process which Tom Friedman describes as “integration of everything with everything else … the integration of markets, finance, and technology in a way that shrinks the world from a size medium to a size small.” What are the dynamics and consequences of this process? This session introduces course participants to each other by jointly exploring core subjects of the course in an interactive manner. It will also introduce practical challenges that characterize contemporary international relations.

2 – Conceptual Foundations – Making Sense of Global Transformations

This session introduces the conceptual foundations for analyzing the practice of international relations in the 21st century. The focus is on concepts that can allow us to better understand foreign policy outcomes and the dynamics of interaction that can be observed in contemporary international relations. In this view, the session focuses on breaching two dominant boundaries in the study of international relations: (1) Opening up the ‘black box’ of states in the analysis of foreign policy outcomes. (2) Conceiving the international system as a set of complex interactions between not just sovereign states, but also a multitude of new actors. In reviewing the different conceptual approaches that focus on overcoming these limitations, the session will also focus on the international system’s capacity to deal with global challenges. How has the study of international relations developed since the early 20th century? How to account for structural constraints on the international system versus the possibilities of human agency and sub-national actors to affect foreign policy outcomes?

3 – From One to Many – The Rise of New Global Actors

The current era of economic expansion which started with the end of the Cold War profoundly transformed the international system. Firstly, it accelerated the rise of non-state actors on the global scene: 41 of the world‘s one hundred largest economic entities are now companies; and large international NGOs such as Doctors without Borders, Save the Children or World Vision had annual growth rates over 10 per cent over the past two decades. Secondly, it led to a rebalancing of economic might from the North to the South, and from the West to the East: so-called emerging economies such as Brazil, India and China contributed more than half of global growth over the past decades. The central actor in this play is China. Over the past decades it has consistently grown at annual rates above 9% – one of the fastest expansions of a major economy in recent history. What is the impact and scope of today’s era of global economic expansion? What has been driving it? How are new global actors affecting the autonomy of the state? And how will the rebalancing of global economic power affect cooperation?

4 – From Bombs to Bugs – The Changing Faces of International Security

International security is at the core of both the study and the practice of international relations. The UN charter establishes the basic framework for assessing international security, granting the UN Security Council the authority to decide over the legitimate use of economic sanctions and military force to maintain international peace and security. The changing global environment since the end of the Cold War, however, has significantly changed the substance and practice of international security. Information and technology is much more widely available, changing the relative power and influence of states; new players and new connections have appeared with the rise of emerging economies; and hyper-connectivity has changed the nature of security threats. All these dynamics are highlighted by the tensions over Iran’s nuclear program. It raised important questions about the stability of the global non-proliferation regime and about effective governance in a context where emerging economies play an increasingly important role in defining international relations. What does this specific case study teach us about actors, behaviors and interactions in the new international security landscape? And what inferences can we draw from this case about the future of international security?

5 – From States to Networks – Addressing Transnational Policy Challenges

In 2003, the outbreak of SARS in China’s Southern Guangdong province affected trade and supply chains worldwide. A financial crisis which started in 2007/08 as a result of bad loans in the US housing market led to an 8 percent drop in Russia’s Gross Domestic Product. And, global warming is affecting weather incidents, food security and migration patterns across the world. These are just a few examples to demonstrate that globalization is not just about the deeper integration of economic transactions and the rise of transnational actors; it is also about the proliferation of global challenges that require collective action. What are the most eminent transnational challenges of our present times and what is driving their emergence? What are the consequences for international cooperation? How can the ‘globalization of challenges’ be met by a corresponding ‘globalization of solutions’?

6 – From Competition to Cooperation – The Crisis of Post-National Governance

For the past decades, European integration has been seen as a unique attempt at governing globalization through the establishment of supranational institutions and inter-governmental politics. Policy makers from Asia to Latin America have looked to the EU for guidance on the future of post-national governance. However, the Euro crisis has fundamentally shifted this debate and highlighted the significant shortcomings of this system. Europe’s inability to effectively deal with the political challenges that resulted from the escalating sovereign debt and competitiveness crises at its periphery has raised questions over the very prospect of its ambitious form of post-national governance. At the same time, the crisis has accelerated the move towards further integration, with politicians reigning over significant further transfers of sovereignty regarding economic and budgetary policies. What have been the main expectations and debates about post-national governance in the context of European integration? What does the current crisis mean for the prospects of regional and global governance across the world? What does it mean for the role of the state?

7 – The Future of International Organizations

Since 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, epitaphs for globalization appear with increasing frequency. The historian Niall Ferguson writes about “sinking globalization” and John Gray concludes that “the era of globalization is over”. Such conclusions are rooted in the perception that the institutions to deal with the challenges of our time do not exist – there is no global antitrust authority, no global regulator, and no global safety net – or suffer from being relics of another era: the United Nations system builds on the idea of a Westphalian international system with states as the only actors, and the power configuration of the post-World War II era. Has globalization finally reached its limits? In a full day workshop, we will explore future pathways for global cooperation and implications for international organizations.

In a full day workshop, participants will explore these questions and develop a vision for the future of international organizations using scenario techniques. Detailed information about the workshop and required preparation will be shared at the end of the thematic block.