Changing International Agenda - MA Assignment

Changing International Agenda - MA Assignment

Aims of the course:

The course aims to explore approaches to the study of contemporary international relations. It examines the international system since the end of the Second World War, and addresses major forces, trends, developments and events that have shaped and changed that system.

Objectives of the course:

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of contemporary international history and relations
  • demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the differences between varied approaches to contemporary international history and relations, the reasons underlying these approaches, and the ways in which these approaches are constructed
  • analyse contemporary themes and events through the application of one or many approaches to the study of contemporary international history and relations


The module consists of a seminar each week, lasting two hours.  Attendance at all seminars is compulsory.  At each seminar, students will be expected to participate in small group discussions and to give an informal presentation as a group. To this end, each student will select a particular question in advance of the class. Each student will be expected to undertake some of the reading expected for that question. In the seminar, students will have time to discuss their readings in small groups, and each group will then report its findings to the class as a whole. There will then be the opportunity for discussion.

Seminar Programme

Week 2: Introduction to the course

Lecture and discussion on ‘Theory and International Relations’      

Week 3: International history and international relations

The aim of this seminar is to provide an introduction to some of the methods involved in the study of international history and international relations. Students will work in groups on key documents pertaining to the start of the Cold War as a way of addressing some of the problems and issues involved.

Week 4: The global Cold War

The aim of this seminar is to examine approaches to the study of the global Cold War. Two main debates in Cold War studies are the nature of the conflict between the superpowers, and the balance of the hostilities between focus in Europe, and in the wider world. To this end, we will examine debates about the Cold War in the world, looking in particular at the wars in Indochina (Vietnam) 1954-1975, as a defining conflict of the Cold War.

Students will work in groups on these questions:

  1. Why did the Americans become increasingly involved in the conflict in Indochina? Was it in the US national interest?
  2. Why did the Americans fail to win the war in Vietnam?

We will draw upon the evidence presented to discuss the wider questions:

  1. How would a Realist interpret the origins of the Cold War?
  2. Why was the Cold War ‘cold’ in Europe, but ‘hot’ in Asia?
Week 5: The United Nations


  • What is understood by the concept of collective security? Is it practical as an approach to maintaining international peace and security?
  • How did the provisions for collective security differ in the Covenant of the League of Nations and the United Nations Charter?
  • How, and why, did UN peacekeeping emerge? How could it be distinguished from peace enforcement?
Week 6: The End of the Cold War and the Rise of a new global order

The aim of this seminar is to examine the explanations of the collapse of the Soviet bloc in Europe, the Soviet Union and so the end of the Cold War. At the same time, it aims to set the collapse of the Cold War in perspective, both of the social, economic and political forces since the late 1960s that combined to permit the end of the Cold War, and of the competing visions of the world that would come next.


  1. What explains the rise of détente in the early 1970s, and what were the consequences of détente?
  2. Why did the Soviet Union collapse?
  3. What are the implications of regarding the end of the Cold War as the ‘end of history’?
Week 7: Globalisation
  • What is globalisation? Is it a new phenomenon?
  • Does globalisation mean the end of the sovereign-states system?
Week 8 : North South Relations


  • What are the main differences between the liberal, mercantilist and Marxist approaches to understanding global economic relations?
  • What happened to the "North-South Dialogue" of the 1970s about a New International Economic Order?
Week 9 : Humanitarian intervention

The aim of this seminar is to examine the complex issues surrounding the use of military force between nation states in the contemporary international system. Since the end of the Cold War, the idea that military intervention should be used in cases of massive human rights abuses by states on their peoples. In this seminar, we will look at the foundations of these arguments, and at the intervention by the West in the wars in Bosnia 1992-5 and Kosovo, 1999.


  • Should humanitarian intervention be permissible?
  • Analyse the arguments surrounding Western military interventions in Bosnia Kosovo and Libya.
Week 10 : Climate Change


  • What are the main national security implications of a changing climate?
  • What is implied by the concept of environmental security?
  •  Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of ‘securitising’ the climate.
Week 11: Terrorism and the ‘war on terror’


  • Does contemporary international terrorism differ from previous forms of terrorism?
  • Is the ‘war on terror’ motivated primarily by concerns of security?