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The Role of Institutions in International Relations

Course Description
The study of international relations is strongly influenced by the assumption of anarchy,i.e., that there is no central law enforcing authority in the international system. Absentsuch an authority, cooperation among states is hard. In anarchy, power, interests and theever-present possibility of violent conflict are the defining principles of relations amongstates. From this perspective, international institutions such as the United Nations andinternational law play at best a secondary – if not entirely epiphenomenal – role.However, the increasing globalization of political, economic and social processes seemsto challenge a strictly power-political understanding of international politics. States aremembers of an ever-growing number of international institutions (formal and informal),raising several questions: What role do institutions play in international politics? Why towhat ends do states use international institutions? Are institutions created, or do theyevolve? Do institutions meaningfully impact the behavior of states? If so, is the impact positive or negative?This seminar will critically examine the institutional features of international relations.The course is organized around three interrelated questions: (1) What are internationalinstitutions? (2) What role do they play in international politics and how do they work?Finally, the class will look into the question of (3) how international institutions comeabout, and how do they change? The class calls attention to the different forms thatinternational institutions take – ranging from regimes to formal organizations such as theUnited Nations or NATO. It explores how different institutions work by studying themechanism and processes through which they influence state behavior. This also meansthinking about inherent limitations, problems and pathologies that internationalinstitutions face. Finally, the class raises the issue of the possibilities, limits and agents ofchange in the international system. At each point, we will apply the theoretical toolsderived from the literature to case studies of different international institutions.

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