Difference Between International Relations and Foreign Policy

There are many terms which are needed to be known for the knowledge perspective of an individual. Many terms sound similar but have very different meanings, like “International Relations” & “Foreign Policy”. Both of these words can be very confusing as they are interrelated and one’s definition affects the other. A nation uses both terms for maintaining and examining relations with other nations.

International Relations vs Foreign Policy

The main difference between International relations and Foreign policy is that International relations are an inclusive phrase that refers to the interpretation of current inter-state relations, whereas foreign policy determines inter-state relations. Foreign policy can be analyzed and understood using a variety of theoretical frameworks provided by international relations. International relations include theoretical concepts that describe how things work in the real world.

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International relations are known to describe the interactions of nations in the global system, as well as the interactions of those whose nature begins in one country but is directed at foreign citizens. In a nutshell, international relations research aims to explain the conduct that happens across state borders, the larger relationships that certain behavior is a part of, and the institutions that govern such interactions.

Foreign policy is a term known as a policy used by a country during communication with other countries to achieve national goals. As a result, whereas “international relations” is a big and diverse term, “foreign policy” refers to any acts taken by a nation concerning any other countries or international organizations.

Comparison Table Between International Relations and Foreign Policy

Parameters of ComparisonInternational RelationsForeign Policy
DefinitionA term that tries to explain relations among states.It determines the kind of relationship formation among states.
WorkExamines the behaviors of the states.Makes rules to make foreign relations better.
Real-life implementationProvides a theoretical framework of real-life implementationBased on real-life examples.
NeutralThese are neutralThese are never neutral.
NatureRelations are based on current scenariosCould be unpredictable and volatile.

What is International Relations?

International relations tries to understand the behaviors and interactions of such bodies and provides the theoretical basis for describing their actions and strategic decisions. However, we can discover a variety of viewpoints and ideas that offer distinct interpretations of the world and interstate relations: The state is selfish as well as egoistic that looks for supremacy & could live in peace if there is some superior powerful body making the rules, according to realism (and neo-realism) (Leviathan). One such scenario contradicts with the global system’s anarchy, in which there is no one as a superior body: realists believe that war is always a possibility.

Liberalism (and neoliberalism): relations between governments can lead to peaceful collaboration, as per the liberal (or ideal) perspective. Increased economic linkages between countries, as well as a rising amount of intergovernmental organizations and democratic nations, boost the possibility of peace.

We can deduce from this succinct but true description that the main motive is to explain what happens on a global scale and to give the skills necessary to comprehend the interactions among country states. To put it another way, the phrase “international relations” is kind of neutral: it never suggests that these connections are good or bad in any term; rather, it describes the processes that govern state conduct at the global level by providing valuable interpretations.

What is Foreign Policy?

The word “foreign policy” refers to a country’s activities with a certain goal in mind at a specific time. Indeed, the acts of one country always have an impact on other countries, causing inequalities and changes in the international system.

Former President Barack Obama has heavily criticized the expansion of settlements of Israeli within the Palestinian Territories, whereas Mr. Trump considered moving the US embassy to the East. President Barack Obama never interfered in the Syrian matter to prevent it from escalating into an international conflict, whereas Donald Trump attempted to order a missile strike for the government’s suspected attack. Such an example reflects a change in President’s views: during their former presidency, Mr. Trump was adamant about the requirement to avoid military interference in Syria. After viewing the horrific damage that happened due to the attack, Mr. Trump took stronger action and asked the international community to intervene.

To put it another way, “foreign policy” is among the major subjects studied by “international relations,” therefore “foreign policy” tends to shape the worldwide situation which also alters “international relations” ideas at the very same time. In truth, although theories around global relations may shift little to reflect reality, a country’s foreign policy can change dramatically as its President/Prime Minister changes. For example, the latest US elections have resulted in a significant shift in American foreign policy.

Main Differences Between International Relations and Foreign Policy

  1. Governments and non-governmental organizations are involved in international relations, whilst international agencies and institutions are involved in foreign policies.
  2. International relations Provide a theoretical framework of real-life implementation whereas foreign policies are based practical approach.
  3. International relation is a term that tries to explain relations among states whereas foreign policies determine the kind of relationship formation among states.
  4. International relations are neutral as they examine all the nations without any discrimination whereas foreign policies are never neutral they always carry forward past experiences for the betterment of the nation.
  5. Foreign policy can be analyzed and understood using a variety of theoretical frameworks provided by international relations whereas International relations are not based on foreign policies.


Given the turbulence and complexity of globalization and political events, individuals trying to distinguish between “international relations” &  “foreign policy” may appear to be a daunting undertaking. Similarly, the phrase “international relations” is used in many ways that are not consistent with its true meaning, leading to misconceptions and ambiguous explanations. Indeed, the phrase is frequently used in a politicized sense or could even be used as a synonym for “foreign policy.” 

“International relations” is a term which is that of connotation (international relations are just analyzed, they just exist, they are not good nor bad). Foreign policy is not ever neutral; rather, it is how governments pursue their goals along with interests, and it is among the most important aspects of international relations.


  1. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24907278
  2. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/019791838902300315

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