74682 - Theories Of International Relations

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2020/2021

Learning outcomes

"The course provides an introduction to contemporary theories of International Relations. Its goals are (1) To present the study of International Relations as a field and to survey its main components; (2) To encourage the use of conceptual tools and theoretical insights in approaching issues in international politics. At the end of the semester students will be able to answer a set of important questions: what kinds of issues does International Relations theory address and about what kinds of problems? What methods are used to seek answers? What is the value of the answers? Where is this field headed and why? Accordingly, students will feel like they have a solid framework within which to read the major journals and are equipped with a set of conceptual and theoretical tools to interpret and explain the most relevant issues in contemporary international politics.

Course contents

Half of the lectures will be taught online on MS TEAMS (20 hours), and the other half in presence (20 hours). The number of students allowed in the classroom will be determined on the basis of class capacity and the health and safety provisions that deal with the pandemic emergency. In case more students want to attend classes in presence than permitted by the rules, a system of shifts will be organized. Regardless of the health-related conditions and the specific organization of the course, students will be able to attend the entire course remotely on MS TEAMS.




Week 1

1.1 Political Philosophy and International Politics

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War (Penguin Edition), Book V, 84-116 (pp. 400-408: this is the so-called «Melian Dialogue»).

N. Machiavelli, «Words to Be Spoken on the Law for Appropriating Money» (1503), in Machiavelli. The Chief Works and Others, Duke University Press, 2005, vol. 3, pp. 1439-1443.

A. Wolfers and L. Martin (eds.), The Anglo-American Tradition in Foreign Affairs, Yale University Press, 1956: excerpts from various works of T. Hobbes, pp. 26-40; J. Bentham, pp. 180-191, J.S. Mill, pp. 206-220.

I. Kant, Perpetual Peace (1795), any edition.

V. Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917), any edition, chapt. VII.

1.2 The Birth of a Discipline: «Utopianism» and Classical Realism

A. Wolfers and L. Martin (eds.), The Anglo-American Tradition in Foreign Affairs, Yale University Press, 1956: excerpts from the writings of W. Wilson, pp. 263-279.

E. Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919-1939, Macmillan, 1939 (any edition), chapts. 3-5.

L. Ashworth, «Where are the Idealists in Interwar International Relations?», Review of International Studies, XXXII, 2, 2006, pp. 291-308.

H. Morgenthau, Politics among Nations, Knopf, 1948 (any edition), chapt. 1.

S. Hoffmann, «Hans Morgenthau: The Limits and Influence of Realism», in S. Hoffmann, Janus and Minerva, Westview, 1987, pp. 70-81.

Week 2

2.1 The Role and Methods of Theory in International Relations

R. Aron, «What Is a Theory of International Relations?» (1967), in Politics and History (edited by M. Conant), Macmillan, 1978, pp. 166-185.

K. Waltz, «Realist Thought and Neorealist Theory», Journal of International Affairs, XLIV, 1, 1990, pp. 21-37.

K. Waltz, Man, the State and War, Columbia University Press, 1959, pp. 224-238.

S. Van Evera, Guide to Methods for Students of Political Science, Cornell University Press, 1997, pp. 7-48.


2.2 Anarchy, Polarity, and Neorealism, part 1

K. Waltz, Theory of International Politics, Addison-Wesley, 1979, pp. 79-128 and 161-193.

Week 3

3.1 Anarchy, Polarity, and Neorealism, part 2

G. Snyder, «Process Variables in Neorealist Theory», in B. Frankel (ed.), Realism: Restatements and Renewal, Cass, 1996, pp. 167-192.

J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, Norton, 2001, pp. 29-54.

D. Fiammenghi, «The Security Curve and the Structure of International Politics: A Neorealist Synthesis», International Security, XXXV, 4, 2011, pp. 126-154.

3.2 Strategic Bargaining, Conflict and Cooperation

G. Snyder, «"Prisoner's Dilemma" and "Chicken" Models in International Politics», International Studies Quarterly, XV, 1, 1971, pp. 66-103.

C. Achen and D. Snidal, «Rational Deterrence Theory and Comparative Case Studies», World Politics, XLI, 2, 1989, pp. 143-169.

T. Schelling, Arms and Influence, Yale University Press, 1966, pp. 35-55 and 69-116.

J. Fearon, «Rationalist Explanations for War», International Organization, IL, 3, 1995, pp. 379-414.

Week 4

4.1 Neoliberal Institutionalism, part 1

R. Keohane, After Hegemony, Princeton University Press, 1984, pp. 49-109.

4.2 Neoliberal Institutionalism, part 2

A. Hasenclever, P. Mayer and V. Rittberger, «Interests, Power, Knowledge: The Study of International Regimes», Mershon International Studies Review, IL, suppl. 2, 1996, pp. 177-205.

G.J. Ikenberry, After Victory. Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars, Princeton University Press, 2001, pp. 50-79 and 257-273.

R. Keohane, «Twenty Years of Institutional Liberalism», International Relations, XXVI, 2, 2012, pp. 125-138.

Week 5

5.1 Systems and Change, part 1

R. Aron, Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations, Doubleday, 1973, pp. 94-104.

J. Gaddis, «The Long Peace», International Security, X, 4, 1986, pp. 99-142.

5.2 Systems and Change, part 2

A.F.K. Organski and J. Kugler, The War Ledger, University of Chicago Press, 1980, pp. 13-63.

R. Gilpin, «The Theory of Hegemonic War», in R.I Rotberg and T.K. Rabb (eds.), The Origin and Prevention of Major Wars, Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 15-37.

W. Wohlforth, «No One Loves a Realist Explanation: The Cold War’s End Revisited», International Politics, XLVIII, 4/5, 2011, pp. 441-459.


Week 6

6.1 Domestic Institutions and Foreign Policy

J. Owen, «How Liberalism Produces Democratic Peace», International Security, XIX, 2, 1994, pp. 87-125.

S. Rosato, «The Flawed Logic of Democratic Peace Theory», American Political Science Review, XCVII, 4, 2003, pp. 585-602.

A. Gat, «The Democratic Peace Theory Reframed: The Impact of Modernity», World Politics, LVIII, 1, 2005, pp. 73-100.

6.2 Organizational and Bureaucratic Politics

G. Allison and P- Zelikov, Essence of Decision. Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, 2nd ed. Longman, 1999, pp. 197-242 and 325-366.

S. Sagan, The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents and Nuclear Weapons, Princeton University Press, 1993, pp. 117-155.

A.Zegart, Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI and the Origins of 9/11, Princeton University Press, 2007, pp. 101-119.

Week 7

7.1 The Second Image Reversed

P. Gourevitch, «The Second Image Reversed», International Organization, XXXII, 4, 1978, pp. 881-912.

S. Lobell, N. Ripsman and J. Taliaferro (eds.), Neoclassical Realism, the State, and Foreign Policy, Cambridge, 2009, «Introduction», pp. 1-41.

M. Mastanduno, D. Lake and G.J. Ikenberry, «Toward a Realist Theory of State Action», International Studies Quarterly, XXXIII, 4, 1989, pp. 457-474.

7.2 The Psychology of International Relations

R. Jervis, «War and Misperception», Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XVIII, 4, 1988, pp. 675-698.

I. Janis, Groupthink, Houghton Mifflin, 1982, pp. 2-13; 72-96; 174-197.

Y. Khong, Analogies at War, Princeton University Press, 1992, pp. 3-68.


Week 8

8.1 The Constructivist Challenge

A. Wendt, «Anarchy Is What States Make of It: The Social Construction of Power Politics», International Organization, XLVI, 2, 1992, pp. 391-425.

M. Finnemore and K. Sikkink, «International Norms Dynamics and Political Change», International Organization, LII, 4, 1998, pp. 887-918.

D. Fiammenghi, «“Anarchy Is What States Make of It”: True in a Trivial Sense; Otherwise, Wrong», International Politics, LVI, 1, 2019, pp. 17-32.

8.2 Anarchy vs. Hierarchy

D. Lake, Hierarchy in International Relations, Cornell University Press, 2009, pp. TBA

H. Wagner, War and the State. The Theory of International Politics, University of Michigan Press, 2007, pp. 12-52 and 122-125.

J.G. Ikenberry and D. Nexon, «Hegemony Studies 3.0: The Dynamics of Hegemonic Orders», Security Studies, XXVIII, 3, 2019, pp. 395-421.

J. Fearon, «Cooperation, Conflict, and the Costs of Anarchy», International Organization, LXXII, 3, 2018, pp. 523-559.

Week 9

9.1 A Globalized World?

F. Fukuyama, «The End of History?», The National Interest, 16, Summer 1989, pp. 3-16.

S. Huntington, «The Clash of Civilizations?», Foreign Affairs, LXXII, 3, 1993, pp. 22-49.

D. Held and A. McGrew, « The End of the Old Older? Globalization and the Prospects for World Order», Review of International Studies, XXIV, 5, 1998, pp. 219-245.

K. Waltz, «Globalization and American Power», The National Interest, no. 59, Spring 2000, pp. 46-56.

9.2 The Liberal International Order and Its Critics

H. Bull, The Anarchical Society. A Study of Order in World Politics, MacMillan, 1977, pp. 3-22.

G.J. Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan. The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order, Princeton University Press, 2011, pp. 33-117 and 333-360.

J. Mearsheimer, «Bound to Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Liberal International Order», International Security, XLIII, 4, 2019, pp. 7-50.

Week 10

10.1 Unipolarity

W. Wohlforth, «The Stability of a Unipolar World», International Security, XXIV, 1, 1999, pp. 5-41.

N. Monteiro, «Unrest Assured. Why Unipolarity Is Not Peaceful», International Security, XXXVI, 3, 2011-12, pp. 9-40.

G.J. Ikenberry, M. Mastanduno and W. Wohlforth (eds.), International Relations Theory and the Consequences of Unipolarity, Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp. 1-32.

10.2 The Rise of China

J. Mearsheimer, «Can China Rise Peacefully?», The National Interest, October 2014

(https://nationalinterest.org/commentary/can-china-rise-peacefully-10204 )

J. Kirshner, «The Tragedy of Offensive Realism: Classical Realism and the Rise of China», European Journal of International Relations, XVIII, 1, 2010, pp. 53-75.

S. Brooks and W. Wohlforth, «The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers in the Twenty-First Century: China’s Rise and the Fate of America’s Global Position», International Security, XL, 3, 2015/16, pp. 7-53.

J. Levy, «Power Transition Theory of the Rise of China», in R. Ross and Z. Feng (eds.), China’s Ascent: Power, Security and the Future of International Politics, Cornell University Press, 2008, pp. 11-33.

Teaching methods


Assessment methods

Final, comprehensive, written exam (2 hours). Students will be asked to write two essays, and will be expected to demonstrate knowledge that goes well beyond their lecture notes.

Teaching tools


Office hours

See the website of Marco Cesa