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Man by nature is a social animal. There is always a propensity for man to associate with others. This flows from the mutually beneficial advantages that such an associational, cooperative and collaborative relationship confers on human existence. Thus, at the micro-level of aggregative human existence, the state is the expression of the desire of man to exist within a political society in which structured and orderly existence takes place. Through the social contract freely entered into by man, the state came into existence as a platform for collaborative and cooperative human living.
However, the peace and orderly existence which man had forged through the existence of the state would hardly endure without a similar structure to coordinate, order and prescribe the norms of cooperative and collaborative existence, mediate and resolve disputes and conflicts when they arise amongst the different state systems produced and empowered with the monopoly of the means of physical coercion by different groups of individuals.

To this end, international relations, is a replication of the cooperative, collaborative and ordered process of social interactions within the state at the international level between and amongst different state systems, and other non-state actors that have bearing on the possibilities or otherwise of what happens in terms of who gets what when and how within the state systems from the globally limited resources. Central therefore to the problematic of international relations, is the issue of power, its uses and control between and amongst state within the context of global geopolitics.


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1. explain what international relations is 
  2.  explain what international organizations are 
  3.  describe the workings of international organizations. 


3.1 The Imperatives of International Relations

International relations is as important for states as domestic concern. Fundamentally, states seek to achieve two goals in their relations with other states at the international level. One, every state has peculiar and particularistic interests and problems; the state uses the platform of relations with other nations to promote, and find solutions too. Two, there are a number of problems which impact negatively on conditions within the territorial boundaries of a state, but with implications of an international nature. Hence, solutions to such concerns cannot but be of a transnational character. International relations engender the possibilities of a transnational solutions and management of such problems of global concern.

It must be clearly stated however, that state relations at the international level is never unidirectional, that is, it is not solely, peaceful. It could manifest in terms of cooperation and collaboration, or conflictual in nature. It is for this reason that Akindele (2003) argues that war and peace are the core of international relations. This underscores the importance and the premium placed on the issue of alliances and collective security in international relations.

3.2 Preconditions for International Relations

According to Akinboye and Ottoh (2005:23), certain conditions are germane for the existence of international relations amongst states. These are:

  1. There must be in place a global international system in which international actors are co-inhabitants; 
  2. The existence of different international actors e.g. states, international organizations, non-state actors, e.g. Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), transnational corporations, etc engaged in cooperation or competition over resources; 
  3. Bilateral and multilateral interactions among international actors; 
  4. The need for resolution of conflicting claims and rights between the different international actors collectively. 

The implication of the foregoing is that international relations is a system embedded in a structural relationship between different actors with particularistic and sometimes collective interests, which they strive to achieve within a mutually agreed process and given pre-determined normative behaviour. It is in this context that Stoessinger (1979:27) opines that nation’s in international relation attempt to use its tangible and intangible resources to change the probability of outcome, that is, to condition what would happen in a way desirable and beneficial to it. So, while national interest conditions the behaviour of nations in international relations, the mutual assure destruction of every state in the event of chaos occasioned by unregulated pursuit of selfish national interests imposes limits on state’s action in the system through a collective preservation orientation on the parts of nation-states. Hence, international relations entail the promotion of national interests by individual nation-states, as well as a conscious attempt at preserving the collective security of the international order, the failure of which in the past led to the outbreak of World War I and World War II, with devastating consequences for humanity.

3.3 Focus of International Relations

International relations deal with a universe of concerns. Some of which are: cooperative interactions, economic cooperation, political cooperation, international politics, diplomacy, foreign policy, strategic studies, international law, international organizations, bilateralism and multilateralism, human security, and global peace initiatives. For instance political cooperation is a desideratum to international relations, and for international peace and security. As Adeniran (1982: 34) notes, “the motivations for political cooperation are based on the national interests of the individual nation-states”. Similarly, international law is the platform on which international cooperation is established. Specifically, international law, according to Adeniran (1982: 45) is designed to: (a) minimize friction between states; (b) stabilize behaviours of states; (c) facilitate cooperation between and among states; (d) protect individuals; (e) settle disputes; (f) serve as a tool of public relations and propaganda.
Flowing from the above, it is clear that international relation is a system, a structure and a process. It is as much an academic discipline as it is a power and interest-based relation among nation-states. And as Akinbobola (1999: 329) submits, international relations entail “conscious promotion of peace among nations and of the study and enhancement of the mechanism of conflict prevention, management and resolution”.


What is International Relations?

3.3 International Organizations

A conceptual understanding of international relation is incomplete without international organizations. This is because, next to the nation-states, international organizations are the most important actors in the global arena, and they constitute the platform for bilateral and multilateral interactions and politics amongst nation-state. According to Palmer and Perkins (1969 cited in Akinboye and Ottoh, 2005: 167), an international organization is “any cooperative arrangement instituted among states usually by agreement to perform some mutually advantageous functions implemented through periodic treaties and staff activities”.
Modern international organizations are products of historical development amongst nation-states in their constant desire to engender global peace and security. Three historical developments that preceded the modern international organization are relevant to our concern at this point. First, were the high level meetings between leaders at various times to find solutions to issues of general concern. One of such meetings was the Vienna Congress of 1815. Second, was the institution of the Hague system in 1899, and again in 1907, with the programmatic agenda amongst nations to order and structure inter-state relations. The third was the public international unions, such as, the Danube River and Rhine Commission (1806), which deals with non-political issues, but establishing basis of providing services of mutual beneficial global concerns which are of economic and social problems, e.g. International Postal Union (1875), International Bureau for Weights and Measures (1875), International Office of Public Health (1903), International Bureau for Telegraphic Administrations (1868).
Certain conditions are sine qua non to the existence of any international organization. Adeniran (1982: 85) proposes the following as essential basis for international organizations: (a) operation in a world of states; (b) contacts amongst states; (c) recognition of certain problems of common interest to all the states; and (d) the need for joint action in solving mutual problems.

As Akindele (2003: 109) argues, international organizations are important for the following reasons: (a) they are much needed instruments for the conduct of foreign policy; (b) they are actors in the diplomatic game involving the management of international order; and (c) they bring pressure to bear on states in the conduct of their foreign policy, and consequently influence the shape of their policy.
It is however important to bear in mind the following issues as it relates to international organizations:

  1.  International organization can only exist when there is agreement between two or more nation-states, in essence, international organization is formed by states; 
  2.  The legislative competence of international organization is almost nil; 
  3.  Democratic principles, that is, one man one vote regime governs 
  4. decision making of international organizations; 
  5.  Negotiation, enquiry, mediation and conciliation, rather than forces are the preferred techniques of conflict resolution and management by international organizations; 
  6. International organizations, in some respects limit the sovereignty 
  7. of nation-states. Decisions taken by international organizations to which states are members are morally binding on the state-members. As Akinbobola (1999: 344) submits, while “no one wishes to diminish the scope of a nation states sovereignty, however the capacity to take unilateral action is at variance to the collective will to which a state is a signatory”. 

3.4 United Nations Organisations (UNO)

The United Nations was established following the inability of the League of Nations, which was put in place as a global system in 1919 at the end of World War I, to prevent the outbreak of another World War. The different international activities during World War II by powerful Western nations to engender global peace after the war historically culminated in the establishment of the United Nations on October 24, 1945, with the ratification of the organization’s Charter by the United States of America, United Kingdom, France, China, Soviet Union, and other signatories.

The UN has the following objectives

  1. Maintain international peace and security through collaborative measures geared towards removing threats, acts of aggression or other breaches of peace and to use peaceful means for conflict resolution;
  2. To develop friendly relations based on the principle of equal rights and self-determination of people; 
  3. To achieve international cooperation in different spheres of human existence; 
  4.  To promote respect for fundamental freedom and human rights. 

Article 1, of the UN Charter outlined the principles, which constitutes the strategies for the achievement of the above objectives. These principles are sovereign equality of all nations; peaceful settlement of disputes between nations; prohibition of the use of force or threat of its use against other states; non-interference by the UN in the internal affairs of member states; and faithful fulfillment of obligations by members to the organization.

Structure of the UN

Structurally, the UN was designed as an all-inclusive umbrella to accommodate all nations irrespective of size, power and wealth, just as its scope of activities took account of the multi-dimensional concerns of member nations. However, the power of nation-states, and their ability to use such powers to change the probabilities of outcome in global politics, was a major variable in the determination of the structure of the UN. The dominant power and hegemonic forces in global politics during World War II, insisted on the need to take account of the relative powers of the different member nations in the structuring of the UN. Goodrich (1974:60) argues, the powerful nations favoured “… the allocation of responsibilities among organizations and the definition of powers, composition should reflect difference of power, with the emphasis on the military element”. The functions and powers of the various organs of the UN as we have them today conform to this global power calculus. The UN has six principal organs namely:

  1.  Security Council; 
  2. The General Assembly; 
  3. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); 
  4. The Trusteeship Council;
  5. The International Court of Justice; and 
  6.  The Secretariat. 

For the purpose of this paper we shall concern ourselves with discussion of the two most important organs of the UN, namely the Security Council and the General Assembly.
The Security Council is the most powerful organ of the UN. Expectedly, the five most powerful nations at the end of World War II, namely, the United States of America, United kingdom, France, Soviet
Union, and China, in line with the power calculus as a basis for giving responsibilities that was canvassed by the powerful nations, are permanent members of the Security Council. In addition to these permanent members are six other temporary members elected every two years. It is however unfortunate that such an important organ of the UN charged with the sole responsibility of maintaining world peace and security does not operate by democratic imperative in both membership and decision-making process. Any of the permanent members can veto the decision of the organ. It is note worthy however, that efforts is been made to reform the UN, and democratizes its operations. As part of this reform measure is to give two permanent seats to Africa in the Security Council, Asia and Latin American are also demand for seats.

The General Assembly is the most important organ of the UN. Five members represent each member nation on the Assembly during its yearly meetings. Its jurisdiction covers every issue contained in the UN Charter. Matters are referred to the Assembly by the Security Council for discussions and decisions. It operates on democratic imperative of equality of nations and votes on decisions. The annual budget of the UN is placed before the Assembly for approval.
Associated with the UN are some international inter-governmental organizations, namely, World Health Organization (WHO); Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO); International Labour Organization (ILO); International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) otherwise known as the World Bank; International Monetary Fund (IMF); The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); While the lack of enforcement power and the non-interference in the domestic affairs of member nations amongst other factors have seriously inhibited the effectiveness and efficiency of the UN, what cannot be denied is that in the last fifty years, the UN has succeeded in preventing another World War, embarked on a number of peace-keeping operations across the globe, promote international cooperation and respect for fundamental human rights globally.


Discuss the major functions of the United Nations Organization.

3.5 African Union (AU)

The AU is the successors of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), founded in 1963. The formation of the AU is underscored by the imperative of change and the need to cope with contemporary challenges of development by African nations, and the imperative engendered by the radical change and hegemonic politics of the international political economy following the end of the Cold War. According to Ogwu (2004:6), “AU is the cornerstone on the new terms of engagement between Africa and the world would be framed. Indeed, the renegotiation of Africa’s place in the international division of labour as well as the equitable redistribution of global developmental resources in favour of Africa constitute important items in the transformation of Africa”. The formation of the AU entails a lot of preparations, consultation, and deliberations, hence it emergence was not an over-night affairs.
Historically, the March towards the formation of the AU started in 1979, with the attempt to amend the OAU Charter. However, the lack of the necessary political will on the part of African Heads of State, contributed to the inefficiency and the inability of the committee setup for the purpose to achieve results. The Ouagadougou Declaration of 10 June, 1998, was however a positive effort at reengineering and refocusing the OAU. At the Ouagadougou, decision was taken for the establishment and consolidation of effective democratic institutions. Interestingly, the thrust of the Ouagadougou’s deliberations were basically economic and developmental, rather than the characteristic political concern of the OAU. The Algiers Summit, with was held in July, 1999, which centered on the themes of “Collective Security and Problems of Conflicts in Africa”, and “The Challenges of Globalization and Establishment of the African Economic Community”, build on the Ouagadougou’s achievements.
Following the Algiers Summit was the Sitre, Libya, 4th Extraordinary Summit in September, 1999. The purpose of this Summit was to amend the OAU Charter in order to make the organization more functionally effective and efficient. This concern was reflected in the theme of the Summit, “Strengthening OAU Capacity to enable it to meet the Challenges of the New Millennium”. At the Summit, the establishment of the AAU was agreed upon. To this end, the draft Constitutive Act of the AU (as well as the draft Protocol establishing Pan-African Parliament) was prepared. This was adopted by the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Lome, Togo, between 10-12 July, 2000. At the 5th Extraordinary Summit of the OAU, again at Sitre, Libya, between 1-2 March, 2001, the establishment of the AU was unanimously declared. There were however provisions in the Constitutive Act detailing conditions precedent to the full realization of the AU.

According to Kawonihse (2002:92), “In the decision (at the Sitre, Summit) African Heads of state and Government specified that legal requirements of the union would have been completed upon the deposit of the 36th instrument of ratification of the Constitutive Act of the AU”.
It was agreed too that the effective date of the Constitutive Act will be 30 days after 2/3 members of the OAU have deposited their instruments of ratification. Nigeria, on 26 April, 2001, became the 36th state to deposit the instrument of ratification of the AU Constitutive Act. Based on this agreement, the AU Constitutive Act became effective on 26 May, 2001, being the 30th day after the 36th instrument of the AU was deposited. The formal launching of the AU was however to wait till the OAU Summit in Lusaka, Zambia, between 9-11 July, 2001. The AU finally emerged at the Durban, South African Summit, 9 July, 2002, after the expiration of one- year transitional period provided by Article 33 (1) of the AU Constitutive Act.
Given the series of activities and historical landmark that culminated in the formation of the AU, there is confusion as to the date that should be regarded as the formation of the AU. Some illumination is offered in the literature. According to Kawonishe (2002:95), “On this controversy two precedents exist. The adoption of the OAU Charter on 25 May, 1963 is the day commemorated as the OUA birthday, although the Charter entered into force on 13 September. On the other hand, and conversely, the establishment of the UN is traced to 24 October 1945, the day the UN Charter entered into force, and not 26 July, 1946, the day it was adopted. Using the African standard set by the OAU precedent, the birthday of the AU is 26 May, 2001.

Reasons for the Formation of the AU

  1.  The OAU Charter has become stale and anachronistic. The issues of which it seek to address, such as, colonialism, independence, apartheid, etc, are no longer relevant and has become overtaken by time. 
  2. The end of the Cold War and the emergence of a unipolar world order under the hegemonic control of America have reduced the importance of African nations in global geopolitical calculation thus necessitating the need for unity, cooperation, collaboration, and common positions on major issues of general concern to the continent. 
  3.  The failure of the imposed Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), debt crisis, and deteriorating and parlous state of African economies which has aggravated the problems of poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, brain-drain, deindustrialization, etc, calls for regional economic cooperation and programmatic continental actions. 
  4.  Decline in the value of inflow of foreign aid and Foreign Direct Investment. Added to this is the reduction in the volume of trade between the North and Africa, a situation occasioned by the establishment of the European Union, and the increasing trade between countries of the North, and Transnational corporations domicile in the North. 
  5.  The regime of globalization has gone beyond the exploitation of African nations, and make it possible for them to be totally excluded to the extent that they are irrelevant to the profit calculation of North profit goals. 
  6. The realization that individually African nations are structurally and organically weak to effectively and decisively participate in the present global politics which is oriented toward regionalism. 

Objectives of the AU

Article 3 of the AU the Constitutive Act clear detailed the objectives of the organization as follow:

  1.  Achieve greater unity and solidarity between the African countries and the peoples of Africa; 
  2.  Defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its member states; 
  3.  Accelerate the political and socio-economic integration of the continent; 
  4.  Promote and defend African common positions on issues of interests to the continent and its people; 
  5.  Encourage international cooperation, taking due account of the charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; 
  6.  Promote peace, security, and stability on the continent; 
  7.  Promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance; 
  8.  Promote and protect human people’s rights in accordance with the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights and other relevant human rights instruments; 


International relations and international organizations are veritable platforms and tools for nation-states in the realization of nation’s interests, promotion of global peace and harmony, and ensuring international cooperation and security which are desideratum for the realization of domestic development and human progress.


You have learnt that international relations is a cooperative, collaborative and ordered process of social interactions within the state at the international level between and amongst different state systems, and other non-state actors that have bearing on the possibilities or otherwise of what happens in terms of who gets what when and how within the state systems from the globally limited resources.


  1. . What is international Relations? What are the necessary conditions for international Relations? 
  2.  Discuss the contention that the primary focus international relations is on the twin issue of war and peace. iii. Any talk of international relations in exclusion of international organizations is like tea without sugar. Do you agree? iv. Discuss the origin of the United Nations Organizations and the role of the relative powers of the members in the structure of the organization. v. “The African Union is a child of continental and global circumstances”. Identify and discuss the different context for the emergence of the African Union. vi. Trace the historical transition from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU). 


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