International Relations Theory and International Law


International relations theory refers to a set of ideas that provide a conceptual framework applicable in the analysis of how states relate with each other at the global level. They include realism, liberalism, constructivism, and neo-Marxism. On the other hand, international law is a set of rules and regulations that function as the accepted code of conduct in international relations. The law cements and regulates interdependence between states. The two concepts are deeply related; International Law forms the basis for international relations and the theories form the foundation for diplomacy, which is key in international relations. Moreover, the law provides order in international relations because it presents a framework that guides the operation of international organizations and society.

Theories of International Relations

The practice of international relations is invaluable, especially in international corporations, government agencies, humanitarian organizations, media outlets, intergovernmental organizations, and international communications. The aforementioned theories comprise sets of ideas that explain the functioning of the international system.


Realism explores the idea that states function in a manner likely to increase their power in comparison to other states. According to this theory, power is the only certainty in the world, and it is best expressed through a strong military (Lawson, 2015). In that regard, a powerful state will always be able to protect itself because self-preservation is the main responsibility. Developing a strong military and strengthening it is a social, political, and economic imperative (Jackson & Sorensen, 2016). This theory suggests that the implementation of foreign policy should be primarily founded on military force and not morality (Lawson, 2015). In addition, it recognizes the importance of international law. However, it suggests that its existence is based on acceptance and recognition by selected states that possess great power. The application of this theory is evident in the foreign policies of Russia and China.


Liberalism is founded on the notion that states can co-exist peacefully because of the strong ties they share. The bonds eliminate independent national interests that are a core concept of realism. Unlike realism, liberalism advocates for the decreased use of military power as a means of self-preservation and the promotion of a state’s interests (Lawson, 2015). International cooperation is a major concept of this theory. It suggests that fostering cooperation between states is a more effective means of furthering national interests than using military force (Jackson & Sorensen, 2016). Proponents of this theory believe that the disadvantages of using military forces overshadow its benefits (Lawson, 2015). In that regard, they advocate for the use of economic and social power to achieve a state’s goals. Today’s economic system is highly globalized. Therefore, using avenues such as bilateral trade agreements and international diplomacy is the most effective way of achieving political objectives (Jackson & Sorensen, 2016).


Constructivism is based on the belief that a nation’s cultural, social, and historical beliefs are critical in the analysis of its foreign policy pursuits. Culture and social structures are key components of a nation and their influence should not be ignored (Lawson, 2015). Proponents of this theory argue that international institutions are more important than states in international relations. They argue that these organizations and other non-state participants play an important role in influencing policies through persuasion and lobbying (Jackson & Sorensen, 2016). For instance, the precepts of constructivism have been influential in the formation of organizations like Amnesty International and Greenpeace.


This theory’s main tenet is the replacement of the international capitalistic system with socialism. It states that capitalism is not a sustainable system in modern times because it motivates states to compete against each other and use crude means to attain domination (Jackson & Sorensen, 2016). Karl Marx held the opinion that cooperative ownership was the best form of property ownership and the satisfaction of human needs for consumption was the goal of such a system (Lawson, 2015). In that regard, states should work together to make sure that basic human needs are attained internationally. This theory is promoted by individuals who believe that the satisfaction of human needs is more important than the generation of profits by private enterprises.

Relationship with International Law

International law provides a set of rules and standards that states are required to adhere to when dealing with each other. In that regard, it provides guidelines that govern how states conduct their economic, social, political, and cultural relations (Lowe, 2015). Each state forms and implements its foreign policy based on precepts covered in one or more of the aforementioned theories of international relations. In that regard, the theory informs a state’s conduct while the law provides a legal basis for transnational relations. Nations use the law to protect their rights and as a shield against attacks for criticizing other states’ policies (Lowe, 2015). Both theories of international relations and international law play key roles in streamlining relations among countries. Moreover, they facilitate the establishment of diplomatic missions and govern the conduct of international relations (Andenas et al., 2019). None of the two can work effectively with the involvement of the other.

International Law and International Peace

International law can help bring about international peace because it offers a basis on which states relate with each other. The establishment of international organizations like the

UN, the ICC, and Amnesty International encourage peace by promoting cohesion and harmony among member states. Moreover, it creates order in international relations because it endorses respect for common international values that bring peace. For instance, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights unites states that are bound together by the common value of respect for human welfare


Theories of international relations and International law provide a basis on which states relate with each other. The growth of social, economic, political, and cultural relations among nations can be attributed to the effect of International law. Countries adopt precepts of the theories informing their foreign policies. They are critical in providing a framework that is important in the development of society and international organizations.


  1. Andenas, M., Fitzmaurice, M., Tanzi, A., & Wouters, J. (Eds.). (2019). General principles and the coherence of international law. Brill.
  2. Jackson, R. H., & Sorensen, G. (2016). Introduction to international relations: Theories and approaches. Oxford University Press.
  3. Lawson, S. (2015). Theories of international relations: Contending approaches to world politics. John Wiley & Sons.
  4. Lowe, V. (2015). International law: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press.

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DemoEssays. "International Relations Theory and International Law." January 5, 2023.