International Relations Theories and International Law

16 Pages Posted: 17 May 2015

See all articles by Thomas H. Lee

Thomas H. Lee

Fordham University School of Law

Date Written: May 15, 2015


This brief essay describes the main approaches to explaining international relations and how they might be useful in understanding international law.

As used in academic discourse in the United States, international relations (IR) theory is a sub-field of political science that applies the methods of modern social science to develop and test hypotheses identifying the causes of “outcomes” that occur in world — as opposed to domestic — politics. The most important outcome is war (or peace); other outcomes of interest are alliances, treaties, varying levels of international trade, and the creation or effectiveness of international institutions like the United Nations (UN) and the International Criminal Court (ICC). A useful abstraction is to characterize all international outcomes along one spectrum of cooperation and conflict, with perpetual world peace on one end and no-holds-barred world war on the other. The term “international relations” is commonly used in non-academic settings to refer to the international outcomes that the eponymous discipline seeks primarily to explain and secondarily to predict.

Keywords: International Relations Theory, International Law, International Poltics

Suggested Citation

Lee, Thomas H., International Relations Theories and International Law (May 15, 2015). Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2606223. Available at SSRN: or

Thomas H. Lee (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

150 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
212.636.6728 (Phone)

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