International Relations

The Variables of the International System

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Written by Tadese Faforiji

What is International System? The international system is a system that comprises of the five variables: boundary, political units, structure, forms of interaction, and the rules of the system (international law). Therefore, in a bid to examine what the international system is all about, the existence of these five parameters (variables) is very significant. In fact, the absence of a parameter would render such a system incomplete, and not worth an international system.

Therefore, the international system is the collection of independent political units (empires, nations, states) in a clear-cut geographical area,  that interact with some levels of frequency, and are based on formalized, and agreed principles.

As defined above, the five important variables must exist in the system, if it was to be an international system. Different from other sorts of collections, the international system is a principled interaction of independent political units with different patterns of relations (war or diplomacy). What is each variable talking about?


The boundary of the international system is the clear-cut geographical extent of the system. That is the extent of the interaction in terms of territory. Here, I would not like to talk about historic or contemporary systems. Simply, where is the actual place of interaction? Where does the influence, relations of the system reach? Where does it occur; China, Greece, Europe? What is the extent; from East Europe to the west, or from northern China to the south? How can the physical territory of the interaction be measured? Therefore, the answer to the above questions will basically fit into the ‘boundary’ variable. Are we together? Good, let’s move to the second variable.

Political Units:

The political units of the international system are the political organizations that are interacting with one another. These are the independent political entities in the system that are carrying out the interaction among themselves. That is, the real actors in the international system. Now, who is interacting? Are they countries, empires, nations, or dynasts? This variable examines the features of the political bodies that are interacting in the system. It examines the system of their administration, their demographic differences, and other peculiar features and dissimilarities.


The structure of the system is a variable that examines the status of the political units in their interaction. It examines whether it is in form of domination, or a balance of power system. It basically talks about power politics; the struggle for power, and domination among the political units in interaction. This way, the structure looks to the polarization of the system; multi-polar, bipolar, or unipolar. This variable looks at how power is being shared among the political entities in interaction. I hope you get that? Good. Let’s move to the next variable.

Forms of Interaction:

This variable looks to the form in which the political units use in their day-to-day interaction in the system. This is an examination of the ways in which the actual interaction going on in the system; how the units relate with one another. The major forms of interaction are war and diplomacy. Political units relate with wars, and also they have diplomatic relations which can base on marriage alliances, use of ambassadors (diplomats), and others.

Rules of the System:

The rules of the system are a significant variable in the international system. These are agreed principles among the political entities that are interacting. The principles are to guide their interaction in the system. The principles can base on customs, beliefs, or formalized rules (like the international law of the contemporary international system).

Summarily, the existence of the five examined variables above makes a system international and are the parameters that can only be used to examine the international system.

Citation: Tadese Faforiji. The Variables of the International System. (August 22, 2021). Tadexprof. Retrieved from

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Tadese Faforiji

I am Tadese Faforiji, a history student of the prestigious Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State- 21st-century University, properly called. I am a blogger and an avid writer.

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