Understanding the Factors of International Relations

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Political science incorporates the foundational aspects of economic development, globalization, human rights and how these operate within international relations, among other topics. These aspects can be explained to a certain extent within the context of the contemporary world and the interests that function between nations. In understanding international relations to a certain extent, an examination of several different factors must be ascertained.

Human Rights & Economic Development

Senator Barbara Boxer once argued that "The Saudi government's denial of basic rights to women is not only wrong, it hurts Saudi Arabia's economic development, modernization, and prosperity." The question becomes then are human rights and economic development related? There is an undercurrent of human rights flowing within the river of economic development. A nation's economic development is in direct proportion to several factors, human rights included. A country's lack of economic development is a result of minimal material wealth, a lack of domestic investments and nominal equitable distribution; thus, there is no equal footing for those who are within striking distance of poverty or for those who are less fortunate than the wealthy and middle-class individuals. Reasoning’s surrounding the unequal factors attributing to the lack of wealth in most nations has to do with geography and history, and government policies.

 Many governments have set up impermeable laws and policies that impose strict rules on the everyday individual, making it difficult for them to rise within the ranks of economic status. The governmental policies of these countries are intertwined with the history of that country and what it has traditionally done rather than the geography of the country. Many nations also suffer from what is known as the Resource Curse, where food and everyday needs are scarce or nonexistent (Frieden et.al, pgs.397). Policies associated with the governments of these countries can be directly attributed to these issues and problems. It is as if the rule of law outweighs the proverbial needs of one's country. Rulers of nations have a powerful infrastructure that has been established over time that renders much of the decisions associated with that country. Countries where resources are scarce have traditionally been scarce when examining historical texts and history books. Reasons for this are several, but a noteworthy one is the trade agreements that countries have set up with other countries.  When rendering a decision on the correlation between human rights and economic development there is a significant statement that can be made and that is that they are normally considered mutually exclusive. 

For a country or nation to grow exponentially, there must be a vested interest in ensuring human rights. One prime example of where human rights have been a constant issue is in the country of Sudan. Several human rights organizations have documented a variety of incidents carried out by the Sudanese government over the past several years. One incident, the ethnic cleansing in Darfur was noted by the United Nations as being one of the most systematic massacres in that region. This, in turn, had an effect on Sudan's economic development. How can a country progress toward growth if they are extinguishing individuals? This is what Senator Boxer meant in her statement. Nations will never progress if they continue to take it upon themselves to be uncooperative, or have a lack of interest in their own people.

Free Trade

While trade is mutually beneficial to most nations where the practice is afoot, some countries restrict trade. Free trade through NAFTA allows countries to evolve and create new opportunities for economic development and potentially aid those in their country who are suffering from the plight of poverty. Trade is a more efficient means of gaining resources and oftentimes, cheaper products. So why are there restrictions in certain countries? The reason for this is due to tariffs, which are taxes placed upon exports and imports; quotas, which are proportional shares of goods assigned to a particular group; nontariff barriers, which are specific barriers that restrict certain imports. These are not the same as tariffs in how they are treated. Other restrictions include subsidies, which are a form of assistance to the business and economic areas. Subsidies sometimes are regarded as a type of trade barrier. Some nations opt to have prohibitions with regard to trade that restricts certain types of products from being both imported and exported (Frieden et.al, pgs.264-268). There are some patterns within trade restrictions as well. 

Economists have examined several different theories on trade. One, in particular, is the Stolper-Samuelson approach, which forms the basis for the Heckscher-Ohlin type trade theory. This approach describes the relationship between the relative prices of output goods and relative factor rewards such as actual wages and returns on capital. The Heckscher-Ohlin model is a mathematical model of international trade that predicts certain patterns of production and commerce within the trading arena. The essential statement of the theory is that countries tend to export products that use cheap materials and factors in the production of them and import products that use scarce factors (Frieden et.al, pgs.264-268). Economists have stated that this approach, among others, is a specific factor-based preference approach. 

Another approach to trade is the Ricardo-Viner approach, which states that there are advantages in political power over trade policy and that policy change has to be seen as a public good. The Ricardo-Viner model came prior to the Heckscher-Ohlin Model. This particular model is synonymous with specific factors. For example, when this approach is applied to the United States exporting and importing as well as factors of production, high and low skilled labor, when free trade is executed, profits are enhanced through the factor of expansion in relation to high skilled labor, while if there is low-skilled labor in the areas of exporting, then profits will be minute in nature. Specific factors drive the profitability of exporting and importing down under this model approach. In other words, those in power have the potential to affect trade policies. This is why there are restrictions in place with certain agreements between countries. Thus, trade produces winners and losers. Is free international trade good or bad for countries, then? And who benefits from free trade?  

Free trade is essentially a policy where the government of a country does not discriminate against imports or interfere with exports. Free trade allows for increased production and efficiency, satisfaction on behalf of the exporter as some items can be produced at cheaper rates. The importer is also satisfied because they have expanded their relations with another country through the usage of trade. There, of course, are losers in this situation as well. Free trade leads to increased competition among nations due to trading often being in the same trade zone. Free trade also leads to what is known as specialization. Specialization is defined as a particular method of production where the focus is on a precise scope of products and services. This allows for the production of these products to be more efficient. Companies can, therefore, produce enough goods to become self-sufficient (Frieden et.al, pgs.269, 272-281). While this is good in one respect, specialization creates a monopoly effect in that only certain companies end up producing certain types of products or offering certain types of services thus rendering the mixture of companies in the marketplace unnecessary. Countries within the zone are in effect competing with one another for the same consumers. There is also the potential for corporate restructuring to take place as competition is fierce with free trade. 

Restructuring is usually considered to be a significantly expensive endeavor as it involves many different factors including ownership and management changes. Countries that operate within the free trade policy may be underdeveloped as a result. Economic development does not occur as much within free trade agreements because certain countries may find that they are prospering as a result, while others are left by the proverbial wayside. This is why certain countries are struggling with their gross domestic product. Free trade also leads to what is known as comparative advantage, which is when a company can produce a good or service at a lower opportunity cost over another. Countries can become more efficient in their good production than others as a result. Comparative advantage is a core concept of the economics of trade. It applies the principle of specialization to countries. It implies that a nation gains most by specializing in producing and exporting what it produces more efficiently. By doing so, it can earn as much as possible in order to pay for imports of the best products in other countries. The principles of comparative advantage lead to the conclusion that each country will be best off it produces what it is best at producing and exchanges it products with other countries in return for imports of things it is not so good at producing" (Frieden et.al, pgs.269, 272-278). While the comparative advantage is good on one hand, it can lead to unfair competition and certain types of tactics by nations. So in essence, does the liberation of trade promote harmony between nations? Yes and no. There appear to be some positives and negative aspects surrounding free trade and the equilibrium needed between nations. By achieving equilibrium, countries have better relations with each other and the trading of goods and services flows smoother.  There will always, unfortunately, be conflict when trading happens because one country will feel that they did not receive a fair deal when dealing with another country. 


Upon examining globalization, which is defined by the integration of goods and services among nations, an assessment of the distributional consequences of trade can be problematic. Why? There are currently international laws in place that have certain characteristics (i.e. obligation, precisions, delegations, and hard and soft laws). These exist so countries and nations do not take advantage of other countries with regard to globalization and the successful operation of the marketplace. Several consequences that can result from globalization are the way money functions. An example of this is Microsoft's globalization. Money is the social medium of exchange between nations with regard to how goods and services are imported and exported. Yes, countries receive and send the goods and services to the determining country, but money is how the transaction takes place. 

Money has several functions within the globalization arena: domestic interests, how it affects the value of other country's monetary mediums as well as the institution of trade. This begins a discussion on exchange rates and the varying policies that exist within certain regimes about currency rates and the instability of money in certain countries. As a result of the monetary concerns associated with countries (especially those that are undeveloped), there have been national interest rates established to account for the instability that happens within the global marketplace. Certain currencies have been undervalued and overvalued as a consequence of free trade (Frieden et.al, pgs.268-278, 322-332), which in turn has a relative impact on the purchasing power. Depreciating currencies make more expensive imported goods yet lower costs for countries' that export. Foreign investors may purchase assets in the country as the depreciated currency lowers asset prices. Appreciating currencies usually have the opposite effect, providing consumers with a more solid purchasing power. This can lead to trading deficits as well.  Currencies continually change in response to changes that occur in interest rates and other economic issues. When interests’ rates elevate or rise, this encourages foreign investors to purchase currency, thereby increasing its value. Some countries opt to commit to a fixed exchange rate and may seek to thwart any instability issues that may arise as a result of economic decline. Countries can fix their currency to another as a rule. The stability of the values of currency fosters better international trading and corresponding economic growth (Frieden et.al, pgs.325-330, 353-360) and in turn globalization.

One might argue that globalization is hurting the United States. The United States once operated as a superpower but since China has been the prominent economic competitor, the United States has been able to grow, but it has been nominal compared to China. Modern capitalism then is being put to better use over in China in many fields and their economic growth is expanding. Much of the United States' issue with its global financial relations is a result of the housing crisis and the drop in demand for products. Due to the housing crisis, many financial institutions realized a considerable drop in equity and started threatening trade on a global scale. This caused several different implications leading to a global recession. The country became less stable with regard to lending overall and the debt burdens of its borrower, China rose sharply (Frieden et.al, pgs.322-332). The United States has borrowed a significant amount of money from China and continues to do so to stay afloat, therefore how can the United States government continue to impose economic sanctions on a government it owes money to? This would inevitably continue to cause issues between China and the United States and as a result of this, the relationship has become somewhat shaky. That is not to say that it cannot be mended but the countries may end up becoming more antagonistic because of the modern growth that China has been able to attain over the United States due to globalization.  

Globalization and the role of international financial institutions is to address any issue on a macroeconomic scale through a process that is currently centered on the International Monetary Fund or IMF. The IMF was created post-World War II to safeguard any financial issues that may occur. Critics of the IMF see its current place in the international financial landscape as not providing sufficient information for countries such as the United States that have to borrow from countries like China. Yet, foreign direct investments lack the centralized aspects that the IMF has. The problems with one country’s FDI are normally seen to spill into other countries, removing the interest and motivation for countries to seek to borrow from other countries because of this problem (Frieden et.al, pgs.266-273). Better and more proficient policies regarding globalization have to be implemented on a global scale in order to prevent what is occurring now between the United States and China. We are essentially borrowing from our future now through the proverbial bank of China.

International Institutions

If everyone wants economic success why is it so hard to achieve? A little known word is power. Of course, that is not the sole reason, but a noteworthy factor. Governmental policies have "a powerful impact on economic growth because they can either encourage or retard it. In fact, almost all explanations of development and underdevelopment [as aforementioned] consider the results of government actions or inactions." Economic institutions then such as financial and monetary systems need to be built alongside a strong and sound infrastructure. The government also has to function to ensure the security of property. "Economic growth requires everyone to invest in improving their ability to produce, and improvements are unlikely to be made if property rights are not secure. A commitment to protect private property is not necessarily something that benefits only the rich: in most poor societies, the principal property owners are farmers. For any new economic opportunities, they have to set aside time, energy and money to improve them (Frieden et. al, pgs.392). It is important to note that certain countries just simply do not have the resources in either economic or security affairs thus efficient bargaining between certain countries causes a different preference. International institutions do not necessarily constrain the powerful, but it does allow for the promotion of interests because countries that are better developed with regard to economic and security affairs have an advantage over less or undeveloped countries.  

There is also the issue of self-serving groups which contribute to the development or underdevelopment of countries. Every country has special interests that have the power to impede economic and security affairs. Social actors then must interact in a cooperative manner to spur development within international institutions. The "institutions affect the influence of those pressing for public interest and for the goals of specific groups. More representative political institutions [both domestically and internationally] for example, are likely to give more weight to broad public concerns about overall economic growth. Countries with more democratic political institutions appear to provide more public goods than do authoritarian political systems - more basic education, more public health, and more equitable and efficient distributions of land (Frieden et. al, pg.393, 396). Economic scholars have proclaimed that global governance is a conundrum because of the power that developed countries have over underdeveloped countries in the realm of economic and security affairs. 

These scholars have also examined domestic institutions. They note that “interests that characterize a society, the interactions among them, and the institutions that develop within them are all interrelated. Some scholars emphasize how the resource endowments of societies give rise to sets of interests and institutions that may be more or less favorable to development. This perspective helps explain the surprising fact that many regions that are extremely rich in natural resources are developmental disasters. The relationship between resource wealth and underdevelopment is strong enough to have prompted theories of the [aforementioned] resource curse, which initial wealth gives rise to subsequent poverty.” The resource curse is built upon the idea that the government of a particular country with a natural resource can be easily exploited for productive activities. On the other side of the argument, if a country has minimal resources, and wants economic growth, they have to "undertake measures that will make their economy more productive." Two countries that are examples of this are Zambia and South Korea. Zambia has a momentous amount of copper wealth that gives "its rulers little incentive to increase the country's ability to produce anything other than raw materials by improving education, public health, and the economic infrastructure; by contrast, South Korea's lack of any major exportable raw materials forced its government to focus on improving the productive capacities of its people" (Frieden et.al, pgs.397, 400).

The Human Rights Agenda

Human rights are defined as "rights that all individuals possess by virtue of being human, regardless of their status as citizens of particular states or members of a group or organization. These rights are, accordingly, universal and apply to all humans equally," (Frieden et.al, pg.456) thus in tackling the human rights agenda, there are steps that must be undertaken. The United Nations Charter Article 55 states that "based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, the United Nations shall promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion." Following Article 55 and its establishment of what human rights are as per the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created. This was a product of the deliberations about the basis of human rights. Defined "as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and accepted as the foundation of modern human rights law, its 30 articles identify a diverse set of rights. The UDHR is today considered to be the authoritative standard of human rights" (Frieden et.al, pg.456). In order to further understand the human rights agenda, further negotiations were needed. 

The negotiations would spur "two separate agreements: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The ICCPR details the basic rights of individuals and nations, defining in sometimes more precise terms the political and civil rights first claimed in the UDHR. Among the rights of individuals are life, liberty, and the freedom of movement, the presumption of innocence and equal standing before the law. Individuals are also guaranteed freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of assembly and association" (Frieden et.al, pg.458). In contrast the ICESR specific the right along the path of economic and social means.

The ICESCR "specifies the basic economic, social and cultural rights of individuals and nations, including the right to earn wages sufficient to support a minimum standard of living, equal pay for equal work, equal opportunity for advancement, the right to form trade unions and strike, paid or otherwise compensated maternity leave, free primary education and accessible schools at all levels and copyright. It also specifies rights along the lines of trademark protection and patent to intellectual property. The United States signed the covenant in 1977 under President Jimmy Carter but has never ratified it because of the continuing opposition to provisions that would go substantially beyond existing domestic laws" (Frieden et.al, pg. 458-459). Additional rights have been implemented over time as supplementary agreements.

Due to many different philosophies, ideals, and traditions, human rights are a controversial topic. "States have interests in supporting rights that they already respect domestically and in fighting against new rights that they see as costly to protect. They have an interest in preserving their own sovereignty. States may also have a strategic interest in promoting rights that their adversaries will deny or find costly to implement. Critics of the rights noted under the UDHR point to their origins as being liberal philosophical emphasizing. The modern idea of human rights is rooted in a moral vision that sees all humans as equal and autonomous individuals" (Frieden et.al, pgs. 459-461). World affairs have often suffered as a result of the human rights agenda because of the thought processes that many countries have about human rights. This is why there is much criticism on the fact that human rights are a liberal conceptualization. Many countries have different viewpoints than those established via the negotiations of the United Nations about human rights and their importance to everyone in the world. 

The human rights debate has also been linked to which rights individuals actually have. In spite of the agreements that have been put forth, "international human rights are not fixed or immutable but are a product of struggle, debate and social interests. Although nearly everyone may agree that some human rights exist in principle, debate continues on exact which rights humans possess. This continuing debate also demonstrates that human rights have not been internalized as norms in all societies and governments" (Frieden et.al, pg.461), as this explains the treatment of humans in countries such as Sudan and North Korea as opposed to the United States and Canada where rights are more available to humans. This is not to say that rights are not under debate in the United States and Canada, there is just a more overt picture of freedom for humans in these countries as opposed to others.

So are we to accept that some rights are more important than others when discussing human rights? Maybe. There exists what are known as nonderogable rights, which are "rights that cannot be suspended for any reason, including at times of public emergency. These rights include freedom from torture or cruel and degrading punishment, recognition as a person before the law and freedom of thought, conscience and religion." These rights are not necessarily enforced more than any other rights but are noteworthy in the ICCPR as being assumed to be more important than others. There are certain measures that are put into place for countries that violate the human rights agreements such as economic sanctions. 

Sanctions are a common tool that is used to punish violators of human rights and they "inflict costs on states, so the states must weigh their interest in defending certain rights against their other priorities. Indeed, many violations of human rights go entirely unpunished, sometimes even unnoticed" (Frieden et.al, pg.463). Therefore, the scope of human rights is a vast one but because of the fact that certain violations go unpunished or unnoticed, it makes it difficult to realistically enforce what human rights are. This results in protests and other activities of this nature to provoke a change of course regarding this topic.

International Law

The definition of international law is "a body of rules that binds states and other agents in the world politics in their relations with one another and is considered to have the status of law." International law then is no simply a list of rules, but a unifying set of ideals. For international law to be upheld then there must be a unifying conceptualization of the norms and mores of a state or at a bare minimum the behavior associated within the confines of a country. Law itself "is defined by a set of both primary and secondary rules. Norms are often singular rules, disconnected from any larger body or rules and can contradict secondary rules" (Frieden et. al, pg.425), making the discussion of international law a profound one, to say the least. But is international law viable, or it is irrelevant because it needs unification to be successful?

International law varies across several different areas with regard to interests, provisions and other obligatory laws. Thus, international law is difficult to enforce in some respects because of the varying degrees of injury that can occur and the inconsistencies present in certain countries' laws. There are exceptions to the rule. Law differs however in the precise details and the specifics of what can be interpreted as being reasonable. In other words, one country may interpret the law completely different from the government of another country in spite of the preciseness that international law encompasses. As with all laws, there is some vagueness to the international law framework.

The three dimensions of international law are obligation, precision, and delegation. These can be "aggregated into a single continuum of hard and soft law. Hard law is obligatory, precisely defined and delegates substantial authority to third parties, particularly international courts. Soft law is exhortatory, ambiguous and does not delegate significant powers to third parties. Countries often adopt soft law because it is easier to achieve and is more flexible and therefore better suited in dealing with uncertain futures. Soft law is not a failure of law-making but reflects intentional choices by states to write law appropriate to the issue area" (Frieden et.al, pg.429). This is why international law is not feasibly viable because of the generalities of it. With there being both hard and soft law present and the majority of countries adopting soft laws in an effort to create collaboration, there undoubtedly will be problems and issues that arise. 

These problems and issues arise because there have not been any formal provisions set forth to deal with uncertainties that arise because the majority of the countries operate under soft law. Skeptical observers of international law note that it is the product of "states interests and interactions and [that the] states decide the rules by which they will constrain themselves, including the degree to which these rules are obligatory, precise and delegated. States, therefore, comply with rules they have written" (Frieden et.al, pg.432). In other words, states create soft laws and comply with them because they have constrained themselves to follow the laws even though soft law is somewhat flexible in meaning and application. It is difficult then to argue against the viewpoint that many skeptics make about international law because of the vagueness that is associated with soft law. Of course, it only hard law was applicable to international law then the viewpoint could be easily argued against.

The "enforcement of international law is dependent on the principles of national self-help. It is a truth of world politics that there is no central authority higher than the state or that can enforce law between states" (Frieden et.al, pg.432). This is what strengthens international relations. Therefore, for international law to work successfully, countries have to set the terms and conditions of it that they will follow to a tee. Where the debate comes in is that international law is on the one hand very precise in its definition and concept about unification, but on the other hand, is easily violated because of the application of soft law in most countries. There is then no policing of international relations as a result and this is why countries are able to get away with certain activities that would otherwise be punished within a certain arena where hard law was applied. That is not to say that international law does not have its benefits, but they are often swallowed up by the problems and issues that arise from the lack of cooperation and enforcement of the said established laws and policies. Cooperation can indeed be widespread in certain areas, and the implication here is that states must express this when they are creating the laws otherwise problems will continue to persist.

Work Cited

Frieden, Jeffrey A., David A. Lake, and Kenneth A. Schultz. World Politics Interests, Interactions, Institutions. 2nd. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013. Print.