This chapter explains the way international society emerged and was globalised. Its main purpose is to explore how the European sovereign state system expanded across the globe to become the truly international order of sovereign states (often called the states-system) that we see today. The first part of the chapter examines how the expansion of the states-system came about and how it has been analysed. The second part provides a critical discussion of the way in which the spread of the states-system has been understood in IR, with the aim of provoking your thinking about the enduring Eurocentrism that continues to bedevil our theorising of international politics.
International relations is often presented as a world of sovereign states, with each claiming exclusive jurisdiction within clearly demarcated territorial borders. From our vantage point in the early twenty-first century, this may seem like an enduring or even permanent and natural feature of international relations. But nothing could be further from the truth.
While the international order of sovereign states has indeed spread throughout the world, this is a distinctly modern phenomenon that only happened in the late nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. Prior to this, many areas of the globe organised their polities in different ways, and often had their own distinctive international/regional orders that were very different from those of Europe, where the sovereign states-system originated. Diplomatic relations between the European and the non-European worlds were not based on the exchange of ambassadors or equality among states, as they are today (Suzuki 2009; Zhang 2001). In fact, many of the non- European polities were often much more powerful than the European powers, and this meant that the Europeans had to follow the former's rules and norms if they were to trade or enter into some form of diplomatic relations (Suzuki, Zhang and Quirk 2014).
The spread of the sovereign states system that we see today happened primarily as a result of the imperialist expansion of the West (Europe and the United States). The nineteenth century brought about the Industrial Revolution and a significant increase in the military power of the West.