The Most Common Norms and Rules of the International System

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The Most Common Norms and Rules of the International System

The study utilizes two texts, Kaplan’s The revenge of Geography (2012) and Watson’s The Evolution of International Society, to understand whether the international system is characterized by particular common norms and rules. Kaplan offers readers with a realist assessment of globalization as well as on what he terms as humanitarian intervention. He develops insight into how geography and culture influence international politics and offers information that describe how persistent forces counter attempts to develop a cosmopolitan world order. Examining each text provides valuable information concerning whether certain regulations determine how the international system works and whether some of these principles are accepted universally. Reading Kaplan’s text provides valuable information concerning whether global hegemony is possible, hence giving more awareness into the area of international system.

Understanding International System

Prior to dwelling on the perceptions and arguments by the two authors, it is imperative to pay considerable attention to the meaning of international system. International system in politics refers to the interaction of various states. Typically, states interact with each other in an environment called the international system. All states are deemed to be sovereign, and some countries are more influential than others. Often, the system adheres to informal regulations regarding how things ought to happen, but in many instances the rules are not binding. The international system has resulted in the formation of international relations that have been in place as long as nations themselves. Nonetheless, the present international system under which people live in the contemporary time has only existed for few centuries. Important events have characterized the achievements in the formation of the international system.

Characterizing the Most Common Norms and Rules of the International System

Evaluating both Kaplan and Watson’s assessment reveals that the international system adheres to particular norms and rules. A common norm and rule of the international system as it appears in Watson is liberalism (51). It refers to the moral and political philosophy pegged on sameness before the law, consent of the governed people, and liberty. Liberals advocate for an end to monopolies, mercantilist regulations, and other constraints to trade, instead calling for marketization and free trade. Liberalism as a principle guiding the international system advocates for the protection and enhancement of the freedom of individuals and regards this as a key issue of politics (Watson 53). The proponents of liberalism charge the government with the duty of protecting its people from being interfered with or harmed by others, and also acknowledges that the government can present significant threat to liberty. Another norm guiding the international system as it appears from both texts is the concept of realism that stresses the roles of the state, power, and national interests. Realists assert that whereas politics and international relations present significant challenges to governance, it is vital to embrace mechanisms that counter anarchy, safeguard the national interest, and promotes the balance of power (Watson 55). More fundamentally, desisting from using force is a paramount rule guiding the international system with each nation expected to embrace mechanism that protect its people and territory from potential violations.  

Whether any of the Principles are Universally Held

International norms and regulations exist as constraints on foreign policies, yet these norms are also the outcomes of the foreign policies of countries and other actors. Research reveals that international system norms deter foreign policy behavior and choice, and even impact on state perceptions of national interests (Watson 78). Various studies identify the strengths and weaknesses of these norms in the face of state power and national interests. Other scholars find that the idea of norms and their roles are usually debated, resulting in issues of norm enforcement and violation (Watson 78). Thus, as social formations, a vital consideration is how and when foreign policies influence norms and norm adoption in the context of wider international community. Based on these arguments, therefore, it is possible to argue that the principles guiding the international system are not widely held.

The failure to adhere to the norms and rules at the global context is the reason why some strong states that have invested significantly in the available world order tend to act defiantly by defying particular international norms, even as they attempt to maintain others. Some nations, including less powerful nations defy the norms, especially with regard to the utilization of force. Whereas a key norm of the international system counters the use of force, both Kaplan and Watson reveal scenarios where states use unnecessary force against its people and other states. One particular example of violation of the norm requiring states to desist from using force was witnessed by the Nazi under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. The attempts by the Nazi to consolidate power using forceful means that caused the suffering of many Germans attracted other states that sought to restore peace and normalcy in Germany (Kaplan 93). However, Hitler’s administration was not willing to give in to the demands resulting in relentless push and pull between the German forces and other states that thought using force is inappropriate and against the rules and norms of the international system (Kaplan 94). A similar scenario was witnessed during the rule of the Ottoman Empire where states joined hands in an attempt to counter the expansion of the empire whose leaders applied force to propel its agendas.

Whether Kaplan Believes Global Hegemony is Possible

Hegemony in political science refers to the dominance of one nation or group over another state, usually backed up by legitimate ideas and norms. The term hegemony is often utilized to describe the dominant position or influence of a particular set of concepts and their related propensity to be intuitive and sense-making, thus derailing the dissemination and expression of alternative concepts (Kaplan 36). The control can be practiced subtly instead of forcefully via economic and cultural practices, and relies on a mixture of intimidation and consent. A critical examination of the text by Kaplan indicates that the author thinks global hegemony is possible. He refers to how Nazi sought to dominate a significant portion of Europe and the world as a possible form of hegemony. He also describes how the Chinese dominated over a significant portion of Asia as well as how other European states sought to position themselves as being influential over others. Kaplan gives the particular example of Russia that focused on strengthening its forces, resources, and culture so that it appears as an influential state in Europe (Kaplan 154). Watson also gives a similar impression about hegemony, especially in the way he describes how various states try to expand their territories and become more influential.

How Geography and Culture Shape International Politics

Examining Kaplan and Watson’s texts reveals that geography and culture play fundamental functions in shaping international politics. It emerges that states with larger areas or those that are strategically placed tend to have significant impact on international politics same to countries that regard their cultures to be superior to others (Kaplan 215). For example, it emerges that nations that are located near large water bodies are in a better position to make trips to other regions and interact with other people in a way that impact on international politics. Similarly, the culture of dominant states is likely to influence international politics because people from less superior nations may be tempted to imitate what more influential cultures do and how their practices determine their political actions.

How Timeless Forces Resist Efforts for a Cosmopolitan World Order

A cosmopolitan world order is one where ideal moral order prevails that takes effect globally and in which individuals have significant impact on how things happen. People in a cosmopolitan world order are entitled to equal consideration and respect. However, Kaplan gives information that shows how certain timeless forces counter attempts to achieve a cosmopolitan world order. For example, the feeling that some cultures are superior to others or some political structures are more effective than others result in a situation where some people have better chances and opportunities than others (Kaplan 217). Consequently, more dominant cultures and political forces tend to enjoy better features than their counterparts with less superior features.


The study refers to two texts to understand the impact of norms and rules guiding the international system. It emerges that whereas particular norms and regulations determine how the international system works not all states abide by them. The study gives an example of how some states use force against their people and how such actions counter the calls of liberalism and realism. The study looks into the issue of hegemony and shows how both scholars agree that it is possible for some nations to dominate over others. It also address how geography and culture impact on international politics and how particular forces strive to counter a cosmopolitan world order.

Works Cited

Kaplan, Robert. The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate. Random House, 2012.

Watson, Adam. The Evolution of International Society: A Comparative Historical Analysis. Routledge, 2009.

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