Introduction to International Relations

A course developed by Richard Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations.


The course consists of 28 classes or units, approximating a normal semester or trimester in which a class would meet two times per week. Classes can be expanded or combined to fit the available time. Each class or unit in the course includes readings to be done (as well as videos, documentaries, and interactives to be viewed and podcasts, speeches, and radio programs to be listened to) beforehand along with suggested study questions, which can also be used for classroom discussion or for essay/ examination questions.

Full Syllabus: View | PDF | Word
Educators: Access Teaching Notes for The World.

Student Learning Objectives

Upon the successful completion of this course, students will have a better grasp of how the world we live in came to be, how it works, and why it matters. In particular, they will be able to:

  • Describe the historical evolution of the international system from 1648 to the present;
  • Analyze the major issues and problems in each region of the world;
  • Understand the principal global challenges of this era, including but not limited to climate change, global health, trade, cyberspace, proliferation, terrorism, and development;
  • Evaluate the role global governance can play in addressing the major problems in the contemporary world;
  • Discuss world order and describe factors that contribute to order and those that detract from order.

Required Books

This course is built around The World: A Brief Introduction (Penguin Press, 2020), with each of the book’s chapters comprising one class and one chapter several classes. The book (hardcover) can be purchased at stores or online from Amazon and other retailers. The list price is $28.00 but it is often available for under $20.00. The kindle version costs $14.99. The course includes additional required readings that supplement The World, but importantly students do not need to purchase any additional books. Instead, all of the additional readings are available online. Many of the articles are drawn from Foreign Affairs, the magazine of record for international affairs. Students can purchase a subscription to Foreign Affairs that gives them unlimited access to the magazine’s entire catalog for $24.95. Other articles are drawn from news sources that for the most part are not behind a paywall or allow users to read a handful of articles each month for free before requiring them to purchase a subscription.

For Educators Only: You may request a review copy of The World for course adoption consideration here.

The World: A Brief Introduction

We live in a global era, in which what happens thousands of miles away has the ability to affect our lives. This time, it is a coronavirus known as COVID-19, which originated in a Chinese city many had never heard of but has spread to all corners of the earth. Next time, it could be another infectious disease from somewhere else. Twenty years ago, it was a group of terrorists trained in Afghanistan and armed with box cutters who commandeered four airplanes and flew them into buildings and claimed nearly three thousand lives. Next time, it could be terrorists who use a truck bomb or gain access to a weapon of mass destruction. In 2016, hackers in a nondescript office building in Russia traveled virtually in cyberspace to manipulate America’s elections. Now they have burrowed into our political life. In recent years, severe hurricanes and large fires linked to climate change have ravaged parts of the earth; in the future we can anticipate even more serious natural disasters. In 2008, it was a global financial crisis caused by mortgage-backed securities in America, but one day it could be a financial contagion originating in Europe, Asia, or Africa. This is the new normal of the twenty-first century.

In this global era, it is critical that all citizens understand how the world works. This introduction to international relations course eschews most of the theory, which tends to be too abstract and divorced from the way the world actually operates. Instead, it focuses on history, regions of the world, globalization and global challenges, and world order to provide readers with the essential background and building blocks necessary to make sense of this complicated and interconnected world. In short, this course will make students more globally literate, which is a must in this global era, as what goes on outside a country matters enormously to what happens inside. Even if we want to ignore the world, it will not ignore us. The choice we face is how to respond. We are connected to this world in all sorts of ways. We need to better understand it, both its promise and its threats, in order to make informed choices, be it as students, citizens, voters, parents, employees, or investors. Read More

About The Author

Dr. Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations. An experienced diplomat and policymaker, he served as the senior Middle East adviser to President George H. W. Bush, as director of the Policy Planning Staff under Secretary of State Colin Powell, and as the U.S. envoy to both the Cyprus and Northern Ireland peace talks. A recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal, the State Department's Distinguished Honor Award, and the Tipperary International Peace Award, he is also the author or editor of fourteen other books, including the best-selling A World in DisarrayRead Full Bio


“After a lifetime devoted to the practice and study of American foreign policy, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations provides this useful guide to help us understand the confusing world that confronts us.”
— Joseph S. Nye, Jr.
Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus and author of Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump 

"Dr. Richard Haass, a distinguished scholar-practitioner, has written an excellent introduction to international relations--The World--and has also provided a sample syllabus that can be used as is or adapted by instructors to create their own course to address the particular needs of their students and situation. Both the book and the syllabus are highly recommended."
 Dan Caldwell
Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Pepperdine University

"Richard Haass provides a compelling, informative, and timely learning tool. Together his book and syllabus offer invaluable comprehensive course materials with interactives, discussion questions, and reading lists. With multiple pedagogical approaches, students and faculty alike will find these materials engaging, well organized, and highly relevant. The compilation is accessible and yet challenging. Overall, this is an essential tool for courses in Political Science, International Affairs, and History."
— Alynna J. Lyon
Professor of Political Science, University of New Hampshire

"Dr. Haass’s volume provides a panoramic view of salient conceptual topics that are valuable for a range of seminars and courses that address international affairs—whether in the social sciences, education, or humanities. Faculty and doctoral teaching assistants will discern that his syllabus outlines themes that can be modified for undergraduates, concentrating on aspects of world affairs and preparing for practicums in organizations with an international foci." 
Beverly Lindsay
Codirector, Institute on Women and University Leadership in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies, University of California; Professora Emerita, Pennsylvania State University