Does an International Political System exist?

Adding Another Page to the International Political System’s History Book

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The International Political System’s existence has been questioned in every way, and a plethora of studies have been conducted either to verify its very presence or reject it. It has gone through countless criticisms and praises. But even if we identified the truth about its existence, what would be the importance of knowing if such a system existed? Perhaps it is to make the obscure world a little bit clear. We get to learn things in the system better and possibly even predict what can happen in the future. The only tough task I presume is to classify them since the scope is immense.

This paper aims to dwell into the subject matter and prove that one does exist. The first part of the paper will tackle the definitions of the words, “international,” “political,” and “system,” and how they constitute a set of elements peculiar to others. Having put together their definitions, I will turn my focus to the underlying topics that conform to the International Political System’s existence. And lastly, I will provide a conclusion that is going to sum up all my points in this paper.

The term “international” was popularized by a political philosopher named Jeremy Bentham at a time when nation-states were perceived to be prominent actors in the world arena.[1] Using a less authoritative definition, it is “existing, occurring, or carried on between nations,” according to The English Oxford Dictionary. Furthermore, what is political, according to David Easton, refers to the “distribution of social values[2].” Systems, however, as defined also by David Easton, are just “constructions of experiential values, impartial and are not defined by ideology.[3]” Although we are more familiar with defining systems as, “sets of interacting parts that comprise a whole.” In addition, Hedley Bull also defined international system as a union of states bounded by interaction. This interaction, though, should have a significant amount of impact on another’s behavior[4]. Therefore, an International Political System involves two or more states bounded in common interaction with relation to the allocation of social values.

To further elaborate the specifics of defining a system, especially one that is political, I will be using David Easton’s Systems Analysis and Categories for the Systems Analysis of Politics. With Easton’s given definition of a system above, it is said to be an open and adaptive system. He suggests that social systems create an open system. An open system is a system that responds to the environment’s influences and vice versa[5].

David Easton argues that a system cannot exist in a void. He claims that system requires an environment for it to exist[6]. And this environment, which is composed of the physical, sociological, social, and psychological, should enclose a system. Therefore, the identification of boundaries is clear. The environment is divided into two parts: intra-societal and extra-societal. The intro-societal consists of systems quite similar to that of the political. These may include a system that is economic, social, etc. While on the other hand, the extra-societal encompasses systems that do not belong within the society. Systems that are international in scope fall under this category – extra-societal (also called “super systems”). Thus, an international political system is one of the said systems.

Now that the definitions have been provided, I will now give topics that indirectly claim that an international political system exists. They are its very foundation of today’s system.

Moreover, topics such as structure-functionalism and the identification of patterns will be discussed.

A factor to consider whether or not an international political system exists is the presence of intergovernmental organizations. These organizations address the problems of its members and solve them[7]. Having said so, there is a constant interaction between states. This is accomplished through the building of institutions or modifying the old ones. Take the United Nations for example, the European Union, and the World Bank, too. The United Nations have been participating in peacekeeping missions around the globe[8]. Consequently, it is an instrument for regulating power in the international system, acts as arbitraries in pacts or agreements between states, inspires political change, builds norms, ensures development of states. The ability to intervene in the politics of others is interaction. The European Union, however, evidently presents the interdependence of each member in the system. Thus, conflict would be avoided. It is also known not just to prosper financially and politically, but to observe human rights and see things in a democratic manner[9]. The World Bank however hopes to eradicate poverty across the globe and provide impartiality in the progressing world[10]. All of which have goals that are not centered in just one state. The scale ranges from a regional collective to an international/world collective. Thus, intergovernmental organizations give way to the existence of an international political system.

With the inevitability of intergovernmental organizations, comes the existence of international laws. In neorealism, there exists a structure occupied by anarchic units. And in order to maintain stability and remain organized within the system, established rules are to be followed[11]. These rules make up the international laws. Although the only downfall of having such international laws is the fact that it invades the sovereignty of the states; therefore, international laws are being observed with consent of the state. The state might feel threatened that its sovereignty would be at stake.

Transnational institutions are able to connect people in different places, strengthening ties between them. These are corporations that are “transnational.” They go beyond what it is to be a state or a nation. Although they are not states which we usually identify as units in an international political system, they do have what it takes to interact which undeniably still affects the system. Hence, they can be seen as units of analysis on this context.

Existent before and today, diplomacy has been a big factor to prove that an international political system exists. Diplomacy is the peaceful relations among state[12]. It has existed throughout the course of history, preventing wars and promoting peace within the system. Without the will of states to communicate or interact, diplomacy then would be rendered useless. And had there not been diplomacy when interaction occurred, the options would have been to ignore or to go to war. Evidently, whatever choice a state pursues inevitably affects the behavior of the others. Thus, diplomacy is vital in conforming to the presence of an international political system.

Treaties are written forms wherein states agree to something. This may include two or more states. It is also ruled by international law. Then again, this is political, and it includes two or more states which are our current units of analysis. Moreover, they do constitute a system. Treaties have been prevalent throughout the course of world history. Some of them include the Westphalian Treaty, which gave the birth of the definition of a state. Armistices which are also referred to as a ceasefire among warring states, contributes to the development of an international political system[13]. Today, we can see the armistice North Korea and South Korea which has been going on for a while now.

Another feature is war. War is deeply connected to culture and is even as old as man himself. Although in contemporary times, when everything is quite organized, and wars occur due to the failure of politics[14]. Conflicts spawn when interests contradict, and this is political. World War II for example, came into being because of an immense sense of pride – Nazism. This ultra-nationalistic idea had interests which contradicted many, and so a war was brought into existence.

What are usually associated with wars are the formations of alliances. There could exist two factions or a bipolar system where the power rests on two parties. From a liberalist’s perspective the increasing power of an ally isn’t much of a threat and neither do you feel threatened. In fact, you feel more secure. Somehow, this interaction shows an acknowledgment of one state to recognize the other. Hence, from a liberalist’s standpoint, as opposed to realism, cooperation is best, and interaction is greater[15]. Those who conform to this conceive of an absolute gain, or a positive or a negative sum game. Wherein both parties may have a win-win situation or a lose-lose situation. Unlike from a realist’s standpoint, it is always a zero sum game where one wins and the other loses. Hence, realists believe solely on self-interests, where liberalists, on the other hand, believe in shared interests[16].

Since the structure of the international system is anarchic, as conformed to neorealism, conflicts favor the system[17]. Observing the behavior of states, they appear to be relative such as how power that exists is. States normally try to balance their power to whoever has much, or surpass them[18]. Since systems promote stability and unity, the balance of power is intrinsic to the subject matter. This is done out of security purposes, which is in fact, political.

Another issue to be tackled is the existence of its boundaries. The international political system, I suppose, should be an open and adaptive system, as what David Easton envisioned for a political system[19]. It should be able to accept whatever the environment has to offer and adapt to it. In order to identify the environment, we must first know the boundaries which separate it from the system. The fact that there exists an international economic system, suggests that it is a different field from the international political system. We can already identify a hint of its environment this way. Instead of focusing on how much the international political system has, we draw our attention more on what it lacks; then systematically, we can easily identify what belongs to its environment. Many critics though such as Lampert believe that the system is too immense that it leaves no space for the environment. But then again, it has all the qualifications of a system; it is only what the system lacks that is part of the environment.

These aforementioned topics tell us that the system does exist. Now, I will be moving to the structure-functionalism theory. It is often called as “scientific analysis[20].” It often asks the questions: 1. What patterns exist in the study? 2. What are the conditions that these pattern produce? 3. What processes exist?

First, I will define what a structure is. Structures are patterns to which a process is taking place. Functions, however, is defined as “a condition resulting from the activity performed by a unit[21].” Therefore, structure-functionalism ultimately refers to the foundation of theories to which they explain a comprehensive system framework.

In light of the situation of determining the existence of the international political system, the structure would refer to the disturbances that affect the behavior of the units involved.

Patterns usually provide us foresight. It is the importance of studying the international political system in order to predict what could possibly happen in the future. Since it clears what is obscure, it could help us establish norms that conform to the patterns that the structure provides.

Wars, for example, have been countless results of patterns. From a realist’s point of view, there exist polarities. Power, which every unit struggles for, is a social value. It is their interest and patterns such as balancing of power, offensive realism, defensive realism, come into play[22]. Whatever deviates from these patterns triggers war. It is plausible that almost anything can be quantified today. By providing a set of actions to political actors inevitably mean that system exists. Therefore, without an international political system, patterns would not be provided and understanding the political phenomena in society will be difficult.

This is one of the reasons why an international political system should exist. It will provide a framework that will guide political scientists or scholars who specialize in the field of international relations. It is to provide a political map and understand the underlying causes as each situation occurs. Consequently, should this field be taken as a discipline of study, future scholars could possible devise multiple theories which can benefit the entirety of the system. Furthermore, discontinuities can pose no threat to the missing links or the gap that development took a leap. And even better, this leap could spring forward to an even farther destination.


Of the given topics above, I have attempted to prove that an international political system exists. From the very definitions of these terms that make up the subject matter, to intergovernmental organizations that exist within the system, to international laws by which states respect and ultimately follow with consent, to transnational institutions or actors that expand or go beyond a state level of analysis, to how diplomatic relationships refer to the preservation of their respective politics without conflict, to wars that eventually happen due to the patterns provided by the international political system, to how formation of alliances meddle with the interactions of states and the influences abroad, and to the realist’s perspective of an anarchic system. Further discussion about the scope of the system has been talked about, identifying the boundaries of

All these topics are involved in the activities that comprise the international political system. To identify the origins of the system, I have used the structure-functionalism theory and Systems analysis.

Structure-functionalism is a foundation to many systems. It provides the patterns found in the study and used the structure-functionalism theory. I have found it useful to incorporate this field to conform to the system’s existence since it has been a foundation to many systems in the environment. It starts off by identifying patterns found in the political phenomena. Consequently, it determines the functions of each element included in the structure. Having done so, a system is created.

David Easton’s analysis however of a political system states that it is adaptive and open. Moreover, he states that systems are not bounded by an ideology. Furthermore, he states that environment which encloses the political system can be divided into two: intra-societal and extra-societal. He further states that the intra-societal environment consists of systems similar to that of the political; while extra-societal, on the other hand, involves supra systems, or systems international in nature.

And lastly, I have provided instances why an international political system exists and should exist. I have stated multiple assessments that could either help us get through international matters in a good way or the opposite, all depending on the existence of an international political system.


European Union. (n.d.). Retrieved August 29, 2014, from European Union Web site:

Hamilton, K., & Langhorne, R. (1995). The Practice of Diplomacy. New York: Routledge.

McCormick. (2004). Comparative Politics in Transition. Indiniapolis : Cengage Learning.

Susser, B. (1991). Approaches to the Study of Politics. New York: Prentice Hall.

The World Bank. (n.d.). Retrieved August 29, 2014, from The World Bank Web site:

Wansbach, R., & Rhodes, E. (2000). Global Politics in a Changing World. Houghton Mifflin Company.

Young, O. (1968). United Nations and the International System. International Organization, Vol. 22 No. 4.

[1] Richard W. Mansbach and Edward Rhodes, Global Politics in a Changing World (Boston:2000)

[2] Bernard Susser, Approaches to the Study of Politics (New Jersey, 1991)

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hedley Bull, Anarchical Society (New York, 1977)

[5] Bernard Susser, op.cit.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Richard W. Mansbach and Edward Rhodes, op. cit.

[8] Oran R. Young, United Nations and the International System (Madison: 1968)

[9] Retrieved August 29, 2014, from

[10] Retrieved August 29, 2014, from

[11] David Kinsella, Bruce Russett, and Harvey Starr, World Politics: The Menu for Choice (Boston, 2010)

[12] Keith Hamilton and Richard Langhorne, The Practice of Diplomacy (New York, 1995)

[13] John McCormick, Comparative Politics in Transition (Indianapolis, 2007)

[14] Richard W. Mansbach, op.cit.

[15] Bruce Russett, Harvey Starr, and David Kinsella, op.cit.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Bernard Susser, op.cit.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Bruce Russett, Harvey Starr, and David Kinsella, op.cit.