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Variables of International System

Contemporary International System (1919- date)

The international system is the collection of independent political units that interact based on some levels of frequency and regularized and formalized rules. That is, to examine an international system of any particular period of time, the five parameters will be used (the boundary, political unit, structure, forms of interaction, and the rules of the system).

Summarily, the existence of these five variables made a system an international system. Therefore, if a variable is missing, such collection cannot be called ‘ international system.”

It is not arguable that the scope of the contemporary international system is limitless and endless; the interconnectedness among contemporary polities is not limited to a clear-cut geographical barrier, like the historic international systems (the International System of the Chou dynasty, the Greek City-State System, and European Dynastic System).

In other words, the actors in the international system are connected in many ways; in fact, the patterns of their connection are complex and diverse. The system is now a global system, unlike the preceded systems.

The emergence of the global system, first with the European colonization of the world, and now, the states and societies in the world belong to one entity, which is the global system.

The Global System

After the First World War, there was a birth of an international organization in 1919, the League of Nations (and later the United Nations Organisations 1945), which attempted to manage the affairs of the whole world, unlike the European collective security system (the Congress System of 1814), made the contemporary international system a global system which is borderless and limitless in its geographical definition.


The boundary of the system is limitless and endless; it covers the whole world, especially with the emergence of an international organization that houses the whole world’s political entities as members.

Since the 1648 Westphalia Treaty, independent political bodies had emerged defined on the ‘territorialization’ of states. The concept of sovereignty emerged with the then-state system.

Political Unit

Therefore, in the contemporary international system (building on the heritage of the Westphalia Treaty), the political units in interaction are diverse; there are state actors and non-state actors in the system.

That is, there are actors with clear territorial definitions, while some are not bounded by any geographical barrier. Countries, also called states, are the state units that interact in the system. Nigeria, Togo, Saudi Arabia, China the United States, Netherland, Cuba, Italy, Australia, and others, are examples of state actors in the system.

Notably, the state actors are not limited to the aforementioned states; they are the countries in the whole world, not limited by any geographical definition because, in one way or the order, there is no isolated country in the world; if a country was not having cultural relation with another country, then it would be either economic, religious affinity with the country. In other words, there is no country in the world that is isolated.

The systems of government used in these countries are diverse, ranging from democracy, monarchy, parliamentary system, and others. There are different sorts of disparities and differences among these political bodies.

The Federal Republic of Nigeria practices a democratic system of government, the United States practices democracy, Great Britain uses constitutional monarchy, and also, the monarchical system of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

There are different sorts of governmental systems used by different states in the administrations of their respective states.

Also, there are demographic differences among the polities in the system. The population of the People’s Republic of China is over 1.4 billion (1); Nigeria, over 206 million population, while Togo has a population of over 8.82 million. Moreover, the religious difference is also notable.

There are different religions in the world, ranging from Islam, Christianity, and other beliefs. For an instance, “the six countries with the highest percentage of their populations identifying as atheists are China, Japan, Czech Republic, France, Australia, Iceland” (2)

The Second World War ended colonialism, and different states started to join the system as they had independence from their colonial mothers. The global system is often referred to as a young system because its members have “no history as sovereign states that goes further than a generation”.

There is an intermixture of populations across the world; the Yorubas in Brazil and Australia, the Germans in Poland, among others.

And there are several secessionist movements vying for independence every day. For instance, Cascadia (independence movement), and Quebec sovereignty movement in North America (3), the Tamazgha, and Kabylia Movements in Algeria, and other secessionist movements in Africa, Asia, South America, and Australia (4)  

Moreover, there are also differences in their life expectancy, level of technological advancement, public education and general wellbeing.

The non-state actors are actors that also promote issues on the international agenda. It can be territorial or non-territorial non-state actors. The territorial non-state actors are those who are concerned about territories like the Palestine Liberal Organization.

The non-territorial non-state actors are actors that are concerned about other things than territorial interests. These are Multinational Corporations (MNC), NATO, OECD, the UNO and others. It is inarguable that these bodies are not states, but they have a very strong influence on the decisions making at the international arena.

The telecommunication and transportation systems have further increased the relations of these political units. Millions of tourists from Russia, the UK, Denmark and Germany, visit tourist centers in Egypt, and Kenya yearly. And also, millions of Africans travel to Europe and America to secure jobs or further their education.


The structure of the system is a polarized one since the onset of the Cold War of 1945 between the West NATO, USA; and the East USSR, Russia. These most significant powers sought to spread their respective ideologies throughout the world.

That is, the United States sought to spread capitalism while the USSR wanted to spread socialism. They became the two most powerful countries in the world because they were the only countries that could advance their interests on the international level.

When Isreal, France and Britain invaded the Suez Canal region in 1958, it didn’t last long because the two superpowers did not support it. With the decline of the USSR in 1989 and eventual fall in 1991, the system changed from bipolar to unipolar, dominated by the United States.

Starting from the 1960s upwards, the Japanese firms have become prominent as economic actors, just like the now rising economic power of China, Korea, and others in direct checkmate on the superpower, America’s economy.

Notably, with the rising economic power of countries like Japan, and China, the system is multipolar. Economic decisions made in Tokyo would have a very significant effect on the global economy. The Chinese economy is a challenge to American predominance.

However, America has the most influential position in the system; world trade is a playing ground for the US, dollar is the most important currency in the world. Summarily, in all dealings going on in the system, the United States is in a favourable position to make decisions.


The forms of interaction are asymmetry, ranging from mails, phone calls, tourism and travel, world trade, investment, international conferences, sports, and others. There are also clear diplomatic relations among the countries with the use of embassies and sending of diplomats to other countries.

Also, war is a form of relations among these diverse actors. Terrorism is now a terrible issue of global concern. Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Lord’s Resistance Army, and others are notorious terrorist groups fighting for their respective ideologies under the pretext of spreading Islam, and Christianity.

In the failure of diplomacy, there is often recourse to war as a means of achieving the state’s interest.


The major rule of the system is the principle of sovereignty, backed by many ideologies now known as international law. Sovereignty is the principle that guarantees the internal actions and decisions of states without being interrupted by outside parties.

That is, the right of the states to act without any foreign countries challenging their domestic politics. With the supportive ideologies like self-determination, nationalism, legitimacy, and others, the rules of the system award unlimited rights of the state over its domestic politics, though there are still many challenges to these rules as world powers, especially the United States, still infringe the sovereignty of the Third World.


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.