International Relations as a Series of Systems, I


Systems Theory (yes, another theory)

-        system: set of units that interact in ways that affect other units’ interactions

-        interesting when properties and behavior of the system differ from properties and behavior of units

-        emergent properties of system: system equilibrium out of maximizing or minimizing unit behavior

-        systems may produce non-intuitive effects

o     non-additive

o     non-linear

o     un-intended consequences

-        IR Approach Independent: realist system theory v. liberal system theory v. constructivist system theory


‘Automatic’ v. ‘Manual’ Systems

-        intended organization v. emergent organization of a system

o     balance of power requires a balancer (manual/intended)

o     balance of power emerges (automatic/emergent)



Pre-Concert of Europe System

-        no agreement on a balance of power but ‘balances’ emerge

-        multiple major power wars

-        nil collective consultation

-        unilateral action


‘Concert of Europe’ System (1815-1914)

-        intent to avoid multiple major-power wars

o     war for limited aims by limited means accepted

o     intervention for internal change opposed


-        principle of ‘balance of power’ as equilibrium

o     compensate major parties to territorial changes

o     use of neutral and buffer states

o     defensive alliances

-        norm of consultation

o     consent of great powers to major territorial change

o     unilateral action avoided

o     only among great powers, not other states

-        legitimacy of system accepted

o     great powers initially satisfied

o     relative v. absolute security


Why does the Concert breakdown?



Inter-War System/League of Nations System (1919-1939)

-        permanent organization to ensure collective security

-        territorial integrity and political independence explicitly accepted

-        ‘world opinion’ as a constraint on war


Hindrances to the League

-        too many & too few members

-        unanimity in Council

-        no power beyond economic sanctions

Why does the Inter-War System Collapse?

-        League weaknesses

-        World depression and economic competition

-        German resentment & hypernationalism

-        Lesson of WWI alliance chain-gang effect

-        Democratization of foreign policy (liberal & totalitarian)

-        Anti-Communist v. balance of power strategies