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Diplomacy is Constant

Although systems aren’t novel to civilizations around the world, the international system which entails the interaction of nations and states from across the globe by way of the art of diplomacy is constantly in action and constantly seeking to maintain peace or return to it at the exact moment that conflict between states ever escalates into war. An international system is a system composed of various states which are involved in diplomatic efforts, trade, and collective efforts to spread peace, and especially resolve conflict in the event of escalation to war. The international system is composed of states which act harmoniously with each other and create a dynamic which Herbert Butterfield referred to as “The Balance of Power”.

Upon being established, the newfound international system was a continuation, broadening, and expansion of The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 which followed the conclusion of the Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants came to be the way of organizing international politics. From its multilateral agreement amongst European states involved, international politics became a matter of relations between states and no other political units. (McGlinchey) Nation- states claimed the same right of sovereignty

“The revolutions that took place in Britain’s North American colonies in 1776 and in France during 1789 provided models for other nationalists to follow. The results of the American and French revolutions led to others demanding the right to rule themselves. “Yet it was only with the conclusion of the first World War in 1918 that self-determination was acknowledged. After the war most people in Europe formed their own nation states. As a result, the European international system became for the first time ‘truly international’. The modern international system also involves powerful actors that are not states such as international non-governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations.” (McGlinchey)

An international system is based on how states and nations utilize diplomacy with each other. Norms become established which can be referred to as etiquette amongst participating nation states in their diplomatic dealings.

International systems are a product of international societies—entailing nations of varying power, non-exclusive to one type of nation or state—if numerous states of significance acknowledge and validate each participant. It isn’t uncommon for major states to attempt exclusion of other states based on the relationship between them, such as United States and China, in addition to Israel and other nations. In Paul Wilkinson noted, “Even external recognition is not an absolute criterion of statehood. For decades US governments withheld diplomatic recognition from communist China, and many countries refused to recognize the state of Israel. Thus, it is clear that external recognition does not have to be universally accorded before status of statehood can be achieved. Recognition by the United Nations is the sine qua non of achieving full statehood.” (Wilkinson)

In an international system, the resources and strengths of each participant may be of use to another which encourages trade and alliance—made easier if the participant states have cultural or religious common ground. The common ground is peace and preservation of sovereignty and can even be expansion of it. In the words of Adam Smith, “A nation is considered rich because it has the capacity to manufacture what others want, and in order to capitalize on that, trade is necessary to become wealthier. It follows that the quest for profits & shares would become more important than neighboring territory, making world peace more feasible and those involved in the international trade too busy for war. (McGlinchey)

An important dynamic of an international system is diplomacy—can be considered the backbone because without peaceful discussion of interests then there would be conflict and potentially war. “Diplomacy is not foreign policy and must be distinguished from it. It may be helpful to perceive diplomacy as a part of foreign policy; The interaction one state has with another is considered the act of foreign policy. This act typically takes place via interactions between government personnel through diplomacy. To interact without diplomacy would typically limit a state’s foreign policy actions to conflict or espionage—mixing spycraft and statecraft. In that sense, diplomacy is an essential tool required to operate successfully in today’s international system.” (McGlinchey)

There are scales which can be used to analyze systems ranging from interpersonal, local, regional, state, etc., to international such as micro- and macro-scales of perspective. Stephen McGlinchey provides levels of analysis: “International Relations generally distinguishes between three levels of analysis: the system, the state, and the individual – but group level is also important to consider as a fourth.” (McGlinchey) Leftwich refers to international relations as an ‘arena’ than a process, as McGlinchey also wrote, “given the way which it focuses on the location, or ‘locus’ of interactions, on different platforms that provide the stage to particular events and instances of international relations. International relations should not primarily be looked at as something that happens in a particular location or at a particular level; But that it can instead be thought of as a complex web of processes that take place between people.”

States which make up the international system are sovereign and considered anarchic due to their anti-hegemonic ambitions and decentralization of power, there are rules and regulations which can be referred to as norms – international laws which come in the forms of treaties and conventions, such as Treaty of Versailles and Geneva Convention. In international law, there exists the law of peace and the law of war. The flaw of international laws is that they’re not necessarily binding—they’re functional and consent-based.

There are some conditions which can lead to war such as actions taken against a state which affects their power such as an imbalance of power disrupting the Balance of Power in the international system. This would be due to a hegemonic nation-state attempting to grow its territorial by taking what belongs to other states. Another is economic sanctions in retaliation towards an adversarial state which may lead to the sanctioned state having to consider alternative methods of obtaining resources and manufacturing goods which were previously available through the sanctioning state. “The role of power becomes more significant if we remember that in the intercourse between states the problems which arise are not the result of mere differences of opinion on speculative matters, but arc rather the consequences of diverging interests.” (Butterfield)

The arms race which the necessity of armament evokes amongst all states is cause to the never- ending effect of what’s known as the security dilemma. Since each state is generally making their best attempts to maximize their power so that they may pursue their national interests, which has national security as the primary concern, the quest to stockpile weaponry is marathonic and intensifies when they feel threatened. Technological advancements brought upon the development of the nuclear bomb and then its use in war which then resulted in devastating damage. Considering the damage and the development of nuclear artillery for the purpose of combat use by numerous nations, the possibility and threat of its use has been utilized by powerful states in deterrence. Deterrence is a stalemate or standstill between adversaries which either of them can break at any moment but the moment it does, disaster could occur in that the nuclear weapons are used which may cause many casualties. Deterrence was the reason why the Cold War between United States and Russia didn’t turn into a heated and active military conflict. International systems are dynamic and although they’re heavily reliant on diplomacy and foreign policy, there are other priority functions: spreading the practice to developing nations and achieving peace. The dynamics of the international system combined with the art of diplomacy and observing the results of the system’s participants’ efforts make for timed yet timeless lessons of history.

Butterfield, Herbert. Christianity, Diplomacy and War. Wyvern Books, 1962.
Wilkinson, Paul. “Chapter 1.” International Relations: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007.
McGlinchey, Stephen. International Relations. E-International Relations, 2017.