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Difference between International Relations and Foreign Policy

Difference between International Relations and Foreign Policy

In order to understand the difference between international relations and foreign policy, it is important to first understand what each term means. International relations can be defined as the study of how nations interact with one another. Foreign policy, on the other hand, refers to the specific actions that a government takes in order to protect its interests and promote its values abroad. While there is some overlap between these two concepts, they are ultimately two separate fields of study.

What is International Relations?

  • International Relations (IR) is a branch of political science that deals with the relations between states and international organizations. It includes the study of war, diplomacy, international law, and International organizations.
  • The field of International Relations has its roots in the study of diplomacy and statecraft, which dates back to ancient times. In modern times, International Relations became a distinct field of study in the early 20th century, in part due to the rise of international organizations such as the League of Nations and the United Nations.
  • International Relations is a complex and ever-changing field, and scholars continue to debate its key concepts and methods. However, there is general agreement that International Relations are essential for understanding the contemporary world.

What is Foreign Policy?

  • Foreign policy refers to the policies that a government uses to guide its interactions with other nations. The foreign policy includes a wide range of issues, including trade, diplomacy, and defense. Foreign policy is crafted based on a nation’s values, interests, and goals.
  • A country’s foreign policy is often shaped by its history, culture, and economy. For example, France’s Foreign Legion is a direct result of its colonial history. The United States, meanwhile, has been shaped by its extensive history of immigration.
  • Foreign policy also varies based on a nation’s form of government. democracies tend to have more open foreign policies than autocracies. Foreign policy is an important tool for shaping the world and protecting a country’s national interests.

Difference between International Relations and Foreign Policy

Many people use the terms International Relations (IR) and Foreign Policy (FP) interchangeably, but there is a big difference between the two. International Relations refers to the study of relations between countries, while Foreign Policy refers to the actual policies that a country pursues in its interactions with other nations. In other words, IR is an academic field of study, while FP is the practical application of that study.

  • There are a number of differences between IR and FP, but one of the most important is that IR is largely theoretical, while FP is highly practical. International Relations scholars develop theories about how countries interact with each other, what motivates their behavior, and what the consequences of their actions might be.
  • Foreign policymakers, on the other hand, are more concerned with the real-world implications of those interactions. They must take into account a wide range of factors – from economic considerations to domestic politics – when formulating policies. As a result, foreign policy is often more complex and fluid than International Relations theory would suggest.
  • Another big difference between IR and FP is that International Relations scholars tend to be much more pessimistic about the possibility of cooperation between countries than foreign policymakers are. This is because IR theorists typically focus on the structural causes of conflict between states, while foreign policymakers are more concerned with finding ways to overcome those obstacles.

This difference in perspective can lead to tension between IR scholars and foreign policymakers, but it also underscores the importance of both disciplines in understanding the modern world.


The main difference between International Relations and Foreign Policy is that the former looks at the big picture, while the latter focuses on individual policies. However, it’s important to note that there is a lot of overlap between these two concepts. As we’ve seen, International Relations encompasses everything from diplomacy and security to trade and development. Meanwhile, Foreign Policy can be broken down into specific areas such as economic policy or defense policy. It’s also important to remember that countries don’t operate in a vacuum; their actions always have implications for other nations. In short, both International Relations and Foreign Policy are essential aspects of understanding global affairs.

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