The International System

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The International System

States interact with each other in an environment called the international system. All nations are believed to be independent, and some countries are more dominant than others. The system has various casual principles regarding how things should happen, but these orders are neither obliging nor compulsory. International relations have been in place for the same timeframe states have being existent. Nevertheless, the present-day international system is not very old. Various crucial events have characterized the achievements in the blossoming of the international system. One such event was the striking of the Westphalia peace accord of 1648 that marked the end of a three decade conflict between Protestant and Catholic states (Bull 17). The event contributed to the formation of a sovereign leader for each nation-state who could come up with decisions that they found suitable for their people. Other factors that have contributed towards the development of the international system, include changing balance of power, emergence of nationalism, and new world orders among other influential factors. The paper examines the concept of international system from the perception of two authors, Robert Gilpin and Hedley Bull, who extensively discuss the topic in their books. The analysis provides valuable insight into how the international system was formed, how the rules and norms guiding IS were created, as well as how governance happens from the perception of the two authors. Bull holds that there are rules and norms that regulate the international system regardless of the absence of a governing body. Gilpin believes that certain structures and power influence the existence of the international system, but thinks that the phenomenon is not formed by an international group but by a hegemonic influential force.

How the International System was Established

Bull acknowledges that an international system exists that has emerged from continuous engagement in activities that sustain the chief objectives of states or the international society. Bull argues that the initial point of the international system is the emergence of states or autonomous political community each of which has a government and shows sovereignty in accordance with a given portion of the earth’s surface and a substantial portion of the human population (8). States, on the other hand, assert in accordance the population and territory, what may be known as internal sovereignty, which implies dominance over all other authoritative bodies within the population and the territory. Bull describes how sovereign nations came together to achieve various aspirations (8). One of the factors that facilitate the formation of an international system because according to Gilpin states will become increasingly participative in an international system if the anticipated benefits surpass the expected costs, or in other words there is a projected net gain (10). However, both Bull and Gilpin share the same perception that the coming together of various states played fundamental roles in the establishment of the international system.

How Rules and Norms were Established

The international system relies on rules and norms that define how states relate to each other. One of the rules is that and norms guiding the system is the need to achieve peace. Bull writes that the goal to achieve peace, which does not mean the goal of developing global and permanent peace, as it was the aspiration of theorists of peace and irenists, and is contradictory to real historical encounters (17). Peace in this perspective has been perceived by international system as an objective to that of the maintenance of the states system, for which it has been widely perceived that it can be correct to commence war. Peace is also subordinate to maintaining and upholding the sovereignty and autonomy of individual states, which have emphasized on the independence of individual states, which have stressed on the rights to engage in war as a self-defense mechanism, and to safeguard the rights of others (Bull 17). Another rule of the international system is to engage in actions aimed at reducing death and enhancing social life. Hence, it is expected that states engage in actions aimed at reducing bodily harm or deaths. It is expected that states act in a way that shows they keep promises as well as to enact regulations that protect the property of every person (Bull 19). Overall, the rules and norms of the international system seek to restore a world order where every state enjoys its autonomy and individuals are free to give their views and opinions regarding different issues.

International treaties and conventions have been instrumental in the formation of rules and norms of the international system. Gilpin informs that the treaties arrived at the end of the great wars of European civilization acted as the guiding framework of the international system (36). Some of the treaties that Gilpin identifies as being critical in developing the rules and norms of the international system include Versailles (1919), Vienna (1815), Utrecht (1713), and Westphalia (1648) (Gilpin 36). These treaties according to Gilpin develop an unwavering status quo and create a mutually acknowledged set of rights and rules. These treaties provided a suitable base for dealing with disputes as well as offered framework for penalizing violators. The treaties also provided a framework for achieving mutual recognition of all parties (Gilpin 36). More fundamentally, the treaties enhanced the redistribution of territories and resources among individual states forming the system and thus altered the nature of the international system. Hence, treaties can be termed as the primary source for the rules and norms determining relations and activities of the international system.  


The international system often relies on international law for governance directives. International law refers to the body of legal standards, norms, and rules that apply between sovereign nations and other institutions that are legally acknowledged as international players. International law comprises various rules regulating relations among nations and acts as an indication of how much international law has changed. Moreover, it is no longer satisfactory to think of international law as merely an assortment of regulations and directions, rather it is a fast developing intricate system of elaborate guidelines and impactful declarations, ideologies, and practices bonded with mounting multifaceted procedures and constructions (Gilpin 35). In its comprehensive interpretation, international law presents extensive regulations as well as implements, performance, and a accustomed theoretical verbal forms to international players, which chiefly includes of independent nations but also progressively some individuals and establishments. The range of stakeholders directly connecting with international law has broadened significantly, stretching past the conventional notions of that most revolved around war and peace to encompass human rights and economic concerns (Gilpin 35). The rules of international law emanate from two chief sources; customary international law and treaties. Nearly all states are bound by these provisions, especially with which they have selected to attach themselves – rules and regulations to which they have agreed to follow. Nonetheless, it is necessary to acknowledge that some states have more influence in the governance of the international system because of certain powers that they enjoy. For example, the G7 nations such as the U.S., the UK, Japan, Canada, Italy, Germany, and France are more likely to generate recommendations that could significantly impact on the governance of the international system but this must also resonate well with the views and desires of other states.


The study focuses on the international system while bring up the views and arguments by two scholars; Bull and Gilpin. Both scholars agree that states have initiated processes that resulted in the formation of the international system that adheres to a set of rules and norms. The initial interactions among different states were instrumental in the formation of ties that focused on fostering peace, economy through trade, and individual and state sovereignty. Furthermore, both scholars agree that the international law serves as a vital source of governance of the international system. International law comprises of asset of laws, ideologies, organizations, and individuals who have significant impact on how states interact to each other. Whereas much research has gone into understanding how the international system works as well as into knowing how governance works in this area, future researchers have much more to explore that could provide more insight into the subject. Hence additional research is needed in this area to be more conversant with the concept of the international system, its rules and norms, and to know what governs operations in this area.

Works Cited

Bull, Hedley. The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics. Palgrave, 2002.

Gilpin, Robert. War & Change in World Politics. Cambridge University Press, 1981.

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