Approach to International Relations for General Studies

This article is about Studyplan: International Relations for GS Mains. How to Study IR for UPSC?

The Scope:

In an interconnected and interdependent world comprising of multiplicity of actors a country like India has to navigate variety of actors, ideas and institutions to ensure safety, security and prosperity. International Relations (IR) deal with these webs of interactions, outcomes, actors, ideas and institutions. Thus, the scope of the discipline is wide and varied.

In narrower sense International relations is about relations between states and the institutions they form. However, in the contemporary and broader sense, as represented by the term International politics and International Affairs, IR is considered to encompass the complexities of a world which not only have states as key actors but also multiple institutions, non-state actors and emerging issue areas that go beyond the boundaries of a state and require a collective approach. At another level events in one part of the world have a bearing on the outcomes for another part of the world at the multiple levels of states, societies and individuals.

Thus, foreign policies and other policy responses of states increasingly have to factor in external factors and non state actors. Seen in this way International relations provides a vast canvass with a web of connections between internal and the external. However, for the purpose of the exam one has to narrow down the content to manageable proportions and the need is to find the focal lens through which this task can be accomplished.

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The Focus:

For the purpose of the Civil Services Examination international relations has to be seen through the lens of India. Hence, the focus should be on key relations, institutions, ideas and current developments that have a bearing on India. A basic understanding and reading of India’s foreign policy thus provides a vantage point from where key historical junctures, important actors (state and non state), institutions, issues and challenges can be identified.

However, this is not to argue that International Relations or IR is all about India. As mentioned earlier identifying key issue areas and important global actors as well as understanding an ongoing phenomenon is crucial for maximizing scoring potential in IR as part of general studies.

Locating IR in the Examination Scheme:

The syllabus of the examination provided by the Union Public Service Commission explicitly places IR as part of the General Studies Paper-2 in the mains. Nonetheless, on a closer scrutiny one would find the subject matter of IR spilling into other papers as well.

In the preliminary examination the task of specifically locating IR is onerous and one fraught with the risk of myopic segregation between Pre and Mains. It would suffice to say here that from the point of view of Preliminary stage a better approach would be to consider IR as part of various areas of studythus use Atlas as part of an exercise to locate geographical locales linked with the international developments in news or of historic importance – for example Bandung (the capital of West Java Province in Indonesia) 2015 being 60th anniversary of the Bandung Conference of 1955 ; similarly events and ideas key to IR can be approached as part of modern history; International organizations can seen linked with the issue areas such as Economy, Environment and others. Utilizing the news papers for following key developments and new terms linked with current events of national and international importance would be helpful.

Studyplan: International Relations for GS Mains. How to Study IR for UPSC

In the paper GS1/CSM 2014 one would find question no. 25 on India’s position vis-à-vis resource rich Africa. Similarly, in GS-3/CSM 2014 and one would find questions 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 deal with the subject matter of International relations/ International Affairs. Thus, even if the in terms of allocation paper-2 is the arena of International relations, the subject matter In no ways is limited to the specific paper only and preparing for IR could in multiple ways help in other papers including the essay and further in the personality test stage.

Class instruction, Sources and coverage:

The Subject matter of IR for the purpose of the exam can be broadly divided into three subparts

Indian Foreign Policy and India’s External Relations:

Indian foreign Policy basics, Relations- bilateral, regional, Major Powers.


International organizations- Global and Regional, specific purpose groupings- G4, G8, G77 etc., Emerging architecture of global governance-NDB, AIIB, UN reforms etc


Security– Disarmament, Nuclear issues, Terrorism, Maritime Security etc

Economy– evolution of international economic order key issues and milestones from Brettonwoods to contemporary times, Global trade negotiations issues, challenges and prospect, current issues etc.

Environment– Climate change negotiations especially the international politics of environment, various initiatives such as the CBD, Cartagena Protocol, current issues etc-

Diaspora– Issues, challenges and Prospects. Other Emergent issues in the areas such as Human rights, humanitarian concern such as the contemporary refugee crisis in India’s neighborhood and in Europe can be covered considering their relevance and context in the current milieu.

Studyplan: International Relations for GS Mains. How to Study IR for UPSC
  • In terms of Classes in the scheme of 6 lectures each of the heading can be covered in 2 lectures each.
  • For the First part books by C. Rajamohan, Sashi Tharoor, Rajiv Sikari and David M. Malone can be employed apart from relevant IGNOU modules such as MPSE-001.The briefs from the Ministry of External Affairs useful in this context. Ideally at the beginning sufficient timeframe should be devoted to providing an overview of the subject matter, India’s location in the world, evolution of Indian foreign Policy and diplomacy.
  • For the second part assorted resources from the internet can be employed, apart from this, the books mentioned above have dealt with the matter in specific ways.
  • The third part can be covered using websites of MEA along with ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Environment. Selected units from IGNOU module MPS-002 also provide useful resources for covering the topics. These can be further augmented by adding further reading of the News Papers to keep up with the current developments.
  • Apart from these selected resources from institutions such as IDSA and IPCS can be useful and are easily accessible.
  • The NCERT text for Class XII “Contemporary World Politics”, can prove to be a useful resource as a starting point.
  • Key terms such as Deterrence, NAM, Panchsheel, Strategic Autonomy, National Interest etc should be explained contextually for a better understanding.
  • Optimal Use of Maps, Globe and Atlas along with figures would make learning fruitful.
  • News Papers such as the Hindu and Indian Express are indispensable for comprehensive coverage, relevant, contemporary and contextual understanding of actors, issues and institutions.
  • For the purpose of direction and relevance drawing linkage between topics in the UPSC Syllabus and Questions asked in the previous years would provide an effective framework.

Also Read: How to study for UPSC Prelims Exam?

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