International relations refers to the collective interactions of the international community, which includes individual nations and states, inter-governmental organizations such as the United Nations, non-governmental organizations like Doctors Without Borders, multinational corporations, and so forth. The term is also used to refer to a branch of political science that focuses on the study of these interactions. As an academic discipline, it encompasses a wide range of academic fields, ranging from history to environmental studies, and there are a number of areas of specific specialty for academics who are interested in them.
The concept is probably quite old, given that humans have been establishing governments and communicating with each other for thousands of years. Many people agree that international relations truly began to emerge around the 15th century, however, when people started exploring the world and interacting with other governments and cultures. Organizations like the Dutch East India company were among the first multinational corporations, for example, while representatives of various European governments met with foreign governments to establish trade agreements and to discuss issues of mutual concern.
As one might imagine, these relations can get incredibly complex. They are also sometimes known as “foreign relations,” and specialists in the field do things like staffing diplomatic agencies abroad, providing consultation to businesses that are considering establishing branches overseas, and assisting charitable non-governmental organizations with their missions. Many specialists pick a particular region of the world to focus on, as the language and etiquette of this discipline is incredibly varied, depending on whom one deals with.
In the academic world, the study of international relations encompasses the history of this immensely varied field, along with studies of modern foreign relations. Students often examine specific relationships to learn more about them, and they may look at emerging global issues as an ongoing part of their education. Many people in the field also spend time abroad, studying foreign relations from a different angle and performing specific regional research.
Whether one works in this discipline or studies it, he or she should expect to examine things like economics, history, sociology, anthropology, law, nationalism, development, human rights issues, psychology, geography, global studies, and even philosophy. Many institutions all over the world offer training for people who wish to specialize in this field, along with cooperative study agreements abroad which help to expand the horizons of students.