International Politics

George Shambaugh, Field Chair; Kendra Billingslea and Anna Steinhelper, Curricular Deans  

The International Politics major examines how states and non-state actors cooperate and compete on political issues. In the contemporary geopolitics, there is no longer the stable hierarchy of issues that dominated policy makers' and scholars' attention during the Cold War period of 1945 through the late 1980s. Now, numerous non-security issues compete with security for the attention of policy makers, outside analysts, and citizens.

Goals of the Major

The International Politics major is designed to provide students with the substantive expertise and analytical skills necessary to understand, and become leaders in, the study and practice of world politics. The major provides all students with in-depth knowledge of the issues and actors that constitute three central arenas in international politics:

  • International Law, Institutions and Ethics
  • International Security
  • Foreign Policy and Policy Processes

Students build their substantive expertise in these areas through in-depth foundational courses. Within each area, they are also expected to gain expertise on matters of particular interest to them by taking supporting courses in a wide range of specialized topics within each area. In addition, all students are expected to master the analytical methods and statistical skills necessary to be productive consumers and producers of research in international politics.

Objectives of the Major

The international political arena is dynamic. The ability to recognize the potential for cooperation and conflict among a diversity of state and non-state actors, and then to choose and implement an appropriate policy response to the issue at hand requires a sophisticated and informed understanding of international politics as well as the skills to respond unforeseen threats and opportunities. To be prepared to do so, students will be educated to do the following:

  • Understand, evaluate and apply the key concepts and scholarly research in international politics regarding the behavior of state and non-state actors in the international system.
  • Identify key institutions and dynamics in the development of the contemporary international system as well as their historical foundations and precedents.
  • Explicate and critique international and political issues, dynamics, and events in clear, concise writing.
  • Analyze world political phenomena systematically using statistical methodologies to evaluate global trends and relationships.
  • Develop substantive and theoretical expertise necessary to understand, interpret, and explain complex events and case studies in international or foreign policy.
  • Recognize important moral dimensions of world politics and apply ethical frameworks to the multifaceted challenges faced today.
  • Develop the substantive, analytical and ethical skills necessary to anticipate emerging threats, challenges and opportunities in the global arena and respond effectively those unforeseen.
Major Courses

Although the International Politics major is a multi-disciplinary major, the majority of courses in the major are taught by political scientists and international relations experts from the Government and SFS faculty. However, there are significant contributions from the Departments of History, Philosophy, Sociology, Theology, and the SFS' regional studies programs.

Concentrations

Field 1: International Law, Institutions and Ethics

This concentration focuses the questions of global civil society and on the role of norms, rules, and institutions in international politics. Students who do work in this concentration are encouraged to think about three broad sets of issues:

  • What are the philosophical foundations for the norms, rules, and institutions that exist in international relations? Related to this, what kinds of norms, rules, and institutions actually exist, and how can their performance be assessed?
  • By what processes are these norms, rules, and institutions created and changed?
  • What role do norms, rules, and institutions play in shaping the behavior of state and non-state actors in the international system?

While the international political system lacks both enforceable rules and a government, there are many aspects of organization within security, trade, the environment, and other issue-areas. In some field 1 courses, students examine formal legal rules, which comprise the body of contemporary international law. In others, they examine formal or less formal international institutions such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the Group of Seven Industrialized Nations. In still other courses, students examine the foundations and content of ethics in international relations, which at times provide the normative structure for legal rules and various institutions.

Field 2: International Security

Security studies examines the causes, practices, and effects of armed conflict among and within states. It focuses on how people use, threaten, and prepare to use force to achieve their goals. Traditionally, force and the threat of force have been thought to be the major problems in international politics: humans have fought for as long as they have lived in organized groups. Yet for nearly as long, they have also thought and written about the ways in which force and war can be controlled. Scholars as well as political leaders and diplomats have been concerned with these issues. In this concentration, students examine three main questions:

  • What accounts for the use of force?
  • How do states and non-state groups profit from and plan to use or threaten the use of force?
  • How, if at all, can the likelihood or costs of violence be controlled?

To be secure is to be able to protect one's core values. Since the end of the Cold War, some maintain that "security" has taken on a broader meaning than before. They argue that security now includes protection from various non-military as well as military threats, including damage to the environment. Students taking this concentration are encouraged to fashion their own way of thinking about security by sampling courses on various aspects of this topic.

Field 3: Foreign Policy and Policy Processes

A state's foreign policy is the way it relates to the international system. Essentially, foreign policy is the set of actions designed to further states' interests in a world where other actors may have conflicting or compatible interests. To the extent that states cannot provide for their own security, economic welfare, or other needs, they must build relationships with other states and non-state actors. In field 3, students examine how and why states make choices that pertain to these issues. They explore how foreign policy is formulated, some of the key instruments states use in the conduct of their foreign policies (e.g. military force, economic statecraft, diplomacy, and intelligence), and analyze the foreign policies of selected states in the contemporary or in historical international systems.

The analysis of foreign policy involves a number of recurring issues. To what extent do states' foreign policies involve reactions to their external environments, and how much stems from such internal factors as type of political system or leaders' beliefs and perceptions? How do states integrate various types of potential power (e.g. military, economic, cultural, or ideological resources) into a plan for dealing with other international actors? Can we generalize about the processes of foreign policy across states, or are the factors that produce foreign policy largely country or problem-specific? Students choosing to do work in field 3 should ponder these questions by taking various courses on the substantive and process aspects of foreign policy. Notice that while you can study American foreign policy in field 3, you can also enrich that study by analyzing other countries' policies and policy processes.

Honors in the Major

The standards and expectations for honors-quality work are consistent with the ideal that students completing honors in the IPOL major are among the premier thinkers and writers at Georgetown. An IPOL honors thesis is best suited for students who have an interest in exploring a specific puzzle and/or field of knowledge beyond their previous course work at Georgetown. An IPOL honors thesis is an in depth analysis of a specific research question supported by original research.

For detailed information about the IPOL Honors in the Major program, such as qualifications, application deadline and how to choose a thesis topic, please read.