International Relations vs Foreign Policy: Difference and Comparison

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.

Key Takeaways

  1. International relations studies how nations interact, while foreign policy represents a country’s specific strategy and actions toward other nations.
  2. Governments formulate foreign policy, whereas international relations encompass various actors, including NGOs and multinational corporations.
  3. International relations theories provide a framework for understanding global politics, while foreign policy focuses on specific government actions.

International Relations vs Foreign Policy

International relations is the academic study of relationships between countries and international actors and provides the policy framework. Foreign policy refers to the actions/strategies a country uses to engage with the international community.

International Relations vs Foreign Policy

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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 behaviour 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 a nation takes concerning other countries or international organizations.

Comparison Table

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 behaviours 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 the global system’s anarchy, in which no one is a superior body: realists believe that war is always possible.

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.

From this succinct but true description, we can deduce that the main motive is to explain what happens on a global scale and give the skills necessary to comprehend the interactions among country states.

To put it another way, the phrase “international relations” is 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.

international relations

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, one country’s acts always impact 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 in “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.

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 for 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.
Difference Between International Relations and Foreign Policy

Last Updated : 13 July, 2023

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