Who Should Study International Relations Theory?

Author: Notre Dame International Security Center

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The study of foreign policy, diplomacy, and international relations theory may seem like an inaccessible subject matter. For people who find themselves hopeless when they see the news about seemingly endless conflict, diplomatic efforts may seem futile. For others, it’s difficult to feel their voices can be heard in consequential debates. So, who should study international relations theory? Together, let us meet four up-and-comers* of differing backgrounds and interests to talk about why they’re studying global security. 

*Disclaimer: these are semi-fictional representations of past NDISC students.

Meet Mia: The Budding Business Leader 

Mia, from the Atlantic coast of Georgia, didn’t come from a family of entrepreneurs, but, for as long as she could remember, she’s been interested in building a business she could call her own. 

“I’m inspired by people who found a lifelong passion, started a business around it, and built it into something successful. I hope to do that, too, and inspire someone else to pursue that path, too, so we can continue the cycle!” 

When asked what caught her interest in foreign policy, Mia said she imagined what it would be like to own even a small business with a handful of employees. 

“People who work in the same department and have similar skill sets may disagree on the best course of action for a project they’re working on. As the leader of the organization, if I’m not careful about how I approach a situation like that, these employees—even if they’re friends—can grow to resent each other. So, it would be my responsibility to find a resolution. Studying things like crisis management, which is also a business principle, has shown me there is a distinct overlap between different subjects, including how foreign policy affects the economy. It’s also just good to be informed of what’s going on in the world.” 

Meet Lily: The Thoughtful Theologian 

Lily, from Pennsylvania, went to Catholic school in her formative years. She is deeply invested in her faith, but she’s also interested in learning more about other religions and those who practice them.  

“In the spring of my freshman year, I took a class on Saint Augustine. One week, we had a reading which referenced his ‘just war theory.’ We only briefly talked about the theory, but I was intrigued! There are times where fighting is justified, people need to fight to stay alive, but I’m also called to understand the ethics of fighting, while still seeking to find peaceful resolutions.” 

Lily says reading about the just war theory whetted her curiosity for diplomacy and cooperation between nations. 

“When I registered for classes sophomore year, I was excited to sign up for more classes! I’m excited to learn more about diplomacy and national security.” 

Meet Quang: The Poli Sci Pro 

Quang and his sister are the grandchildren of Vietnamese immigrants. After the Vietnam War, their grandparents left the country and moved to Southern California, where the Quang was born. When he left home for college, Quang says his only aspiration was to study political science. 

“I love living in SoCal. There are people from all walks of life there and the weather is pretty much always perfect!” he says, “Being surrounded by so many people and knowing my grandfather’s history growing up during the War made me really interested in politics even from a young age.” 

Being a political scientist, though, didn’t come naturally to Quang: 

“I struggled a bit with the historical component of political science. When I studied grand strategy, it really helped make history more relevant and helped contextualize things for me.” 

Meet Michael: The Skilled Psychologist 

Michael is from Chicago. When he was in high school, a crime occurred just down the road from where his father worked. 

“It could’ve turned out really nasty, and it made me wonder why people do horrible things to each other and to themselves. That question has lingered with me ever since.” 

When it came time for Michael to go to college and choose his major, his path was clear, knowing he wanted to become a criminal psychologist. He also took a variety of classes about law and forensics, but one that stood out was about the causes of widespread conflict. 

“A lot of conflicts begin because people don’t understand each other. A misplaced word or the wrong tone can make people think you’re being more hostile than you ever intended. In foreign policy, these misperceptions and miscalculations can escalate into war, and more people getting hurt.” 

Though he doesn’t intend to become a part of the intelligence community, Michael says “it’s important for me to be educated about what’s going on in the world. Whether I’m seeing something on social media or engaging with my representatives in Congress, I’m glad I understand concepts that matter on a global scale and can think critically about these issues. I feel like my voice is being heard.” 

So, Who Should Study International Relations Theory? 

Anyone who’s interested! Everyone benefits from a deeper understanding of foreign policy and global affairs; additionally, as more people are able to bring their perspectives and creative solutions, the fields themselves benefit.  

The Notre Dame International Security Center (NDISC) is proud to offer a variety of curricula tailored to students’ needs and interests. If you’re an aspiring political scientist who wants to know more about surrounding international security issues, our Certificate program will train you to be a leader in foreign policy. If your interests lie in other areas but you’re still curious about foreign policy, the interdisciplinary international security studies minor is perfect for you!  

Need guidance deciding which program is right for you? Connect with a member of the NDISC faculty and consider subscribing to our newsletter to learn more about how an understanding of foreign policy can supplement your expertise.