Topic 6: System Formation and Fracture


See Moodle


We have been living since the end of the second world war with the aftermath of Dumbarton Oaks and Bretton Woods, at which the post-war order was carved out. However, it was shaped by the capitalist West, and we have to widen the lens to see how this post-1945 snippet of history fits into a longer pattern of evolution, because state systems form and fracture of many generations.  There are many theories of the evolution of international relations and state systems that can be mobilized to explain where we are, how we got here, and what might come next. I’ll concentrate on two:  Philipp Bobbitt and Immanuel Wallerstein

The rise of market states to replace the nation-state

In the tradition of Fernand Braudel, lawyer and national security advisor to Bill Clinton Philipp Bobbitt produced a general theory of the evolution of the state system, to which you were introduced in week 1. Using the example of the 100 years war, he points out that wars blend together as they recede in historical time. He describes the three big wars of the 20th Century as a single “long war” that determined the constitutional characteristics of the states that would survive.  In rounds 1 and 2, communism and capitalism (Bobbitt calls it parliamentary democracy) defeated fascism. In the cold war, capitalism knocked out communism.  With each epochal war, like the 100 Years War, the 30 Years War, the Napoleonic Wars, and the “long war” of the 20th Century, the nature of the state changes, in order to survive the new conditions. At the end of his book, Achilles Shield, Bobbitt describes several new forms of “market state” competing for dominance in the new international system.  This is the world in which we live now, and it suggests that states are also in competition with corporations as basic forms of political and economic organization. David Rothkopf, another Clinton advisor, has also written about this in Power Inc. (2012).

Learning objectives

  • Describe actors, events and issues in international relations
  • Demonstrate discrimination in the use and interpretation of sources
  • Understand political economy and world systems analysis as approaches to linking international politics, economics, and social change
  • Interpret the events, sequences, causes and effects related to alternative theories
  • Identify terms and concepts related to the study of international relations


Resources according to cases selected.

Presentation: System Formation and Fracture


Student coordinators will select two of the following cases to explore this week:

Activities before class

  • Review current events
  • Read the case summary or links
  • Check Moodle for case notes from the presenters
  • Apply your own aide memoire on theory: which ones seem most useful? What do they omit? What can be gained from other perspectives?
  • Are there alternative narratives for the cases under consideration?
  • What terminology or concepts are relevant in the discussion of this case?

Activities during class

  • Discuss current events
  • Relate current events to the events up for discussion
  • Present the cases
  • Discuss the cases from empirical and normative perspectives
  • Call-in speaker (if any) Q&A managed by coordinators
  • International perspectives from allied military academies (if available)
  • Frame an essay question addressing the issues raised in discussion
  • Offer suggestions for completion of the analytical papers following the presentation
  • List relevant terminology and concepts

Activities after class

  • Post comments on Moodle
  • Confirm understanding of terminology and concepts
  • Review notes and readings for essay question

Additional resources

Bobbitt, P. (2002). The shield of Achilles: War, peace, and the course of history. Anchor.
Dooley, M. P., Folkerts‐Landau, D., & Garber, P. (2004). The revived Bretton Woods system.
International Journal of Finance & Economics9(4), 307-313.

Garber, P. M. (1993). The collapse of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system. In A Retrospective on the Bretton Woods system: Lessons for international monetary reform (pp. 461-494). University of Chicago Press.

Ido, M. (Ed.). (2012). Varieties of capitalism, types of democracy and globalization. Routledge.

Meisler, S. (2011). United Nations: A History. Grove/Atlantic, Inc..

Rothkopf, D. (2012). Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government–and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead. Macmillan.

Rothkopf, D. (2012). Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government–and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead. Macmillan.

Schlesinger, S. C. (2003). Act of creation: The founding of the United Nations. Basic Books.

Weiss, T. G., & Thakur, R. (2010). Global governance and the UN: an unfinished journey. Indiana University Press.

Kissinger, H. (2014) World Order. Introduction [systems + realism] [see also in oc-ko, a 30 minute instaread summary!]

Horowitz, M.C. (2010) The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.  [system formation]

Lake, David A. (2013) Hierarchy in International Relations. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.  [system formation]

Buzan, B. (1991, 2009) People, States and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post-Cold War Era.  Colchester, UK: European Consortium for Political Research.  [end of the cold war- include buzan’s 2009 introduction + constructivism]

Merritt, G. (2017) “By Highlighting the EU’s value, Brexit clinches ‘mission impossible’,” Friends of Europe.

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