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Rathiesh Narayanan asked: Does India have its own International Relations (IR) theory?

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  • S. Kalyanaraman replies: No, India does not have its own International Relations (IR) theory. Indeed, no country has, or can have, its own IR theory. The ambit of the discipline of IR is the cooperative and conflictual interactions among sovereign states. The purpose of theory is to explain why, in what conditions, and under the influence of which factors inter-state cooperation and conflict occur, the forms they assume, and their outcomes. Since the scope of IR theory is the interaction among the units that make up the international system, to think or talk in terms of a distinct country-specific or culture-specific IR theory is not useful. Countries do not and cannot have distinct IR theories. What they do have and practice are distinct foreign policies, which are influenced by a combination of factors operating at the domestic, regional and international levels.

    There have indeed been calls in recent years from scholars such as Amitav Acharya and Barry Buzan to go beyond the existing paradigms of what is essentially Western IR theory. Acharya and Buzan contend that existing theoretical paradigms are neither fully reflective of historical reality nor universally applicable because they are derived from the unique experience of the modern European state system over the last 500 years. Thus, when William Wohlforth et. al. tested for the prevalence of one of the core concepts of IR theory, the recurrent formation of balances of power, in various international systems comprising over 2000 years of international politics, they found that balance of power is not a universal empirical law and that sustained hegemonies have indeed routinely formed in various parts of the world. Hence Acharya’s call for the development of a Global IR theory that draws upon the histories, practices, and traditions of thinking about international relations in various parts of the world. Such an inclusive and eclectic approach to the development of universal IR theory and the broader historical and ideational materials it should draw upon for insights is, however, fundamentally different from calls to develop ethnocentric Chinese or Indian or Asian IR Theories. The latter effort is nothing but a Quixotic charge at windmills.

     Posted on June 07, 2019

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