Research Paper Topics for International Relations Classes
Selecting a topic appropriate for the international relations (IR) course research paper could be as simple as pulling out the "World" section of your local newspaper and scanning the headlines. However, you should be sure that the topic you do decide to research is appropriate: It should investigate and provide insight into countries' relationships, especially in terms of their intergovernmental or international nongovernmental organizations, states, multinational corporations, etc. Some general issues associated with an international relations paper would be ecological sustainability, foreign interventionism, nuclear proliferation, economic development, terrorism, organized crime, etc.
Below are some more specific ideas you may consider when looking for a topic for your IR research paper:
Discuss the impact of a transnational issue, such as a disease that affects people around the globe.
Certain issues affect people all throughout the world, regardless of national boundaries. These interconnected issues have effects on international bargaining and can also cause conflicts. How is the control and eradication of a disease, such as AIDS, a transnational issue (an economic, social, and ethical issue)? What are the primary countries involved with this issue, and what countries have assumed leadership roles in dealing with it? You should consider taking a particular point of view for your issue; for example, argue that the issue is an international responsibility, a state responsibility, or you may point out the differences between developed or undeveloped nations. What about multinational pharmaceutical companies? Your research may delve into the concept of global governance or other multinational coordinated efforts.
Analyze an international issue through a particular theoretical perspective, for example, through a realist, liberal, or radical interpretation.
Your particular theory will play a big part of how you perceive and react to international relations; for example, you may question whether change is possible or even desirable. If you choose to discuss the issue through the realism approach, you want to discuss the roll of the individual as a selfish, power-seeking entity functioning within a state that acts as one voice, and how they seek to fulfill national interest. A liberalist perspective should stick to the premise that people are basically good and moral, and that we develop institutions to bring out the best in people in order to deal with society's problems. You may also analyze the issue through a mixture of different theoretical perspectives.
Argue that a particular region and group of people should, or should not, be recognized as a state.
Keep in mind the conditions traditionally thought necessary for an entity to be recognized as a state; i.e., there must be a territorial base with a stable population and government recognized by these people, and other states need to recognize the entity as a state. You should consider different points of view when presenting your research. For example, a constructivist view would discuss national interest as continually changing. Liberalism might say that the state may be sovereign, but that it still is bound to the rules of the other nations. The realist view would consider the state as a unitary player, not bound to rules of the international system. Consider the importance of common identity and value systems within a state. What controversies and conflicts may arise (consider the Israelis and the Palestinians, for example) when nations try to form their own states?
Discuss significant differences made to foreign-policy by a particular national leader.
How has the leadership of a particular individual started change in terms of its foreign-policy? Be sure to pick a specific figure, for example, Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill Gates, Aung San Suu Kyi, etc. What activities do such people conduct that allow them to make differences on an international level? Discuss personality characteristics of the individual, for example, nationalism, need for power, distrust of others, etc., that the particular person might exhibit and how those characteristics affect foreign-policy. Were there any external factors, such as political instability or liberal institutionalism, that may have had an impact? Conversely, you may also argue that individuals play an insignificant on an international level, and that the state itself is important in terms of the power it holds. You may choose to research mass publics as they affect foreign-policy.
Present the strengths and/or weaknesses of a particular intergovernmental organization (IGO), such as the United Nations, the World Bank, or NATO.
In addressing this topic, consider the motivations for entities to join into collective organizations: a common problem, collective access to goods, etc. You'll also want to discuss bargaining within the IGO, rules and dispute resolution, information gathering, etc. What international laws (including customs, treaties, and authoritative bodies) affect the IGOs, and how are the laws enforced? What is the incentive for the IGO member to follow the laws? Some of the advantages you may discuss are the IGO's authority and permanence as well as the access to forums for discussion and information. IGOs can also be an alternative way to act collectively for the state, they can limit the power of the state, and they can provide an avenue for individual leadership. If you delve into the disadvantages, you may consider the limitations of membership, complexity and conflicts due to overlapping with other IGOs, and voting discrepancies due to power of the member in the IGO. Is it fair for certain entities to be excluded from IGOs? Can the IGO overextend its boundaries?
Select a particular multinational corporation (MNC), and discuss its global significance.
Sometimes referred to as an "international corporation," MNCs play important roles in the global economy and beyond. MNCs often create employment and increase economic activity as well as create tax revenue for their "host" countries. On the other hand, they can be exploitive, infringing upon human rights or negatively impacting the environment of the host country, as well as transferring the capital and natural resources away from the host country. They can also pay unfair wages and negatively affect culture. On the other hand, MNCs can make significant investments in the host country, bringing increased opportunity for all the parties involved. They play a key part in global economic growth, reduce transport costs, have tax and licensing advantages, and take advantages of the knowledge and skills of foreign personnel.
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