International Relations Dissertation Topics

International Relations Dissertation Topics

We have provided the selection of example international relations dissertation topics below to help and inspire you.

Example international relations dissertation topic 1:

NATO and Libya: An indefensible intervention into a sovereign state.

Notwithstanding issues as to the desirability of General Gaddafi (from a Western democratic viewpoint), NATO’s involvement in the Libyan civil war helped to bring about regime change. This dissertation addresses the political motivations that enabled an organisation usually associated with peace keeping to seemingly change its operational mandate to one in which the rebel cause was directly assisted. In so doing it questions whether it is appropriate for NATO to be used as a political tool by which to further the regime change desires of its leading members (the US and the UK) and seeks to evaluate the potential damage done to NATO’s reputation (in the Eastern world) as a consequence of the Libyan expedition.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Dunne, T. and Gifkins, J. (2011). ‘Libya and the state of intervention’, Australian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 65(5), pp. 515-529.
  • Glanville, L. (2012). ‘Intervention in Libya: From sovereign consent to regional consent’, International Studies Perspectives, DOI: 10.1111/j.1528-3585.2012.00497.x.
  • Kielsgard, M. (2012). ‘National self-defence in the age of terrorism: Immediacy and state attribution’, Ius Gentium: Comparative Perspectives on Law and Justice, Vol. 14(4), pp. 315-343.

Example international relations dissertation topic 2:

Syria: The steady emergence of a new Cold War front?

The re-election of Vladimir Putin as Russian president and Russia’s support for Syria has led, this dissertation contends, to a fundamental shift in power-relations within the Middle East. Support for the Assad regime from Moscow has, in stark contrast to the situation in Libya, meant that neither NATO nor American or UK forces have been directly involved in supporting the rebels’ cause. There has also been a substantially more muted response from the West with regard to Syrian atrocities within Turkey. Advancing the proposition that the underlying reason for this ‘weakness’ in response from the West (in contrast to that deployed against either Iraq or Libya) is the support for the Syrian regime from Russia; this dissertation questions whether a post-communist, new Cold War front is emerging in which Russia (under Putin) will not tolerate Western involvement in a country that has traditionally been viewed as part of Russia’s ‘sphere of influence’.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Guiora, A.N. (2012). ‘Intervention in Libya, yes; Intervention in Syria, no: Deciphering the Obama administration’, University of Utah Working Paper JEL: K33.
  • Hasler, S. (2012). Explaining humanitarian intervention in Libya and non-intervention in Syria. Master’s thesis, US Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA.
  • Troyansky, V. (2012). ‘Russia’s support for al-Asad’s Syria: Reasons old and new’, Syrian Studies Association Newsletter, Vol. 17(1).

Example international relations dissertation topic 3:

A survey of the effects of sanctions upon the ordinary citizens of Iran.

The rial (Iran’s currency) has plummeted from 10,500 to the US Dollar last year to a present value in the region of 37,500. The sanctions imposed upon Iran by the EU in January have resulted in the Iranian government being unable to earn foreign currency and as a result the number of bankruptcies amongst Iranian firms is rising. As UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has noted, ‘the sanctions have had significant effects on the general population, including an escalation in inflation, a rise in commodities and energy costs, an increase in the rate of unemployment and a shortage of necessary items, including medicine’ (de Pasquale, 2012). This dissertation not only questions whether it is morally appropriate to continue to enforce sanctions that harm ordinary people but also evaluates the effects that those sanctions are having on ordinary Iranians’ perceptions of both their own government and those inflicting the sanctions. Accordingly, therefore, with primary research for this study being carried out within Iran itself, this is a dissertation that benefits from a research approach that utilises both primary and secondary data.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • De Pasquale, R. (2012). ‘UN Chief says sanctions harm Iranians’, ABC News, October 6th 2012. Available at: .
  • Peksen, D. (2011). ‘Economic sanctions and human security: The public health effect of economic sanctions’, Foreign Policy Analysis, Vol. 7, pp. 237-251.
  • Takeyh, R. and Maloney, S. (2011). ‘The self-limiting success of Iran sanctions’, International Affairs, Vol. 87, pp. 1297-1312.

Example international relations dissertation topic 4:

A reappraisal of foreign aid in the age of Austerity Britain.

Undertaking an audit of existing programmes supported and funded by the UK’s Department for International Development, this dissertation questions the ongoing need for Britain to give aid to India. Informed through interviews with senior politicians and bureaucrats in both Whitehall and New Delhi, this study questions the appropriateness of such aid and the political motivation behind it. In so doing it questions the extent to which the giving of aid can not only be seen as both patronising and imperialistic but also the extent to which, rather than improving relations between the two countries, it actually worsens them. For as India’s Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee notes, India ‘[does] not require the aid… it is a peanut in our total development exercises [expenditure]’ (Gilligan, 2012).

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Dunne, M., Hall-Matthews, D. and Lightfoot, S. (2011). ‘Our aid’: UK international development policy under the Coalition’, Political Insight, Vol. 2, pp. 29-31.
  • Gilligan, A. (2012). ‘India tells Britain: We don’t want your aid’, Daily Telegraph, February 4th 2012. Available at: .
  • Kimura, H. and Todo, Y. (2010). ‘Is foreign aid a vanguard of foreign direct investment? A gravity-equation approach’, World Development, Vol 38(4), pp. 482-497.

Example international relations dissertation topic 5:

The UN Security Council permanent members: The case for expansion or replacement.

Founded in 1946, the five permanent members of the Security Council are France, China, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the USSR (seat now occupied by Russia). Given the rise in importance of nations such as India and Japan, this dissertation presents an initial case for expanding the number of permanent members to seven. In so doing, this study is also particularly mindful of the declining military capabilities of Britain and France (who now, for instance, share aircraft carriers). Accordingly whilst it suggests that expansion of the permanent members would acknowledge the growing military and economic importance of China and India but enable the retention of traditional members such as Britain and France, it could be alternatively proffered that their seats should either be shared or given to the EU.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Blum, Y.Z. (2005). ‘Proposals for UN Security Council reform’, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 99(3), pp. 632-649.
  • Hurd, I. (2008). ‘Myths of membership: The politics of legitimation in UN Security Council reform’, Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations, Vol. 14(2), pp. 199-217.
  • McDonald, K.C. and Patrick, S.M. (2010). UN Security Council enlargement and U.S. interests. New York: Council on Foreign Relations.

Example international relations dissertation topic 6:

A reappraisal of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This dissertation presents a revisionist interpretation of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In so doing it re-evaluates the foreign policies pursued by both the Soviet Union and the United States and proposes that it should, at best, be interpreted as a representing only a limited diplomatic success for Kennedy’s presidency. Accordingly, it suggests that whilst direct armed conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States was avoided, the longer-term results of the crisis left Kennedy’s wider Latin American policies in tatters and also strengthened the Soviet position in southern Europe, through the removal of the Thor and Jupiter missiles in Turkey.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Dallek, R. (1983). The American style of foreign policy. New York: Knopf.
  • Furensko, A. and Naftali, T. (1997). One hell of a gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis: 1958-1964. London: John Murray.
  • Pope, R.R. (1982). Soviet views on the Cuban Missile Crisis: Myth and reality in foreign policy analysis. Washington, DC: University of Illinois .

Example international relations dissertation topic 7:

The Warsaw Pact: A Russian defence mechanism born out of fears for security?

International relations between East and West were dominated in the latter half of the twentieth century by feelings of mistrust. In revisiting this era of international relations, this dissertation focuses on Russian fears of Western imperialism and accordingly assesses the extent to which the creation of the Warsaw Pact should be evaluated not as an example of ‘creeping Russian imperialism’ but rather primarily motivated by the need to safeguard herself ‘against a recovered Germany or Japan or hostile capitalist states’ (Offner, 2002, p. 128). Noting Stalin’s comment at Yalta (1945) that the question of Poland was therefore ‘not only a question of honour, but also one of security’ (cited, Hanhimäki and Westad, 2003, p. 43), this is a dissertation that uses a range of primary and secondary sources to further a revisionist critique.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Hanhimäki, J.M. and Westad, O.A. (eds) (2003). The Cold War: A history in documents and eyewitness accounts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Offner, A.A. (2002). Another such victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945-1953. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Gaddis, J.L. (1987). The long peace: Enquiries into the history of the Cold War. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Example international relations dissertation topic 8:

Inspired by a singular desire for oil: Explaining American foreign policy in the Middle East from 1960-2000.

Senator Ernest Hollings (Democrat: South Carolina) opined, in Senate on the 12th January 1991, that President George H.W. Bush had been prompted to act over Kuwait by the need to protect American oil interests and would not act in other areas of ‘naked aggression’ (such as Lithuania) because ‘Lithuania does not have oil’. This dissertation, in noting that America has become increasingly dependent upon imported oil since the late 1960s, advances the proposal that oil rather than ideology has been, consequentially, the predominant shaper of American foreign policy in the region and so doing it looks not only at Iraq but also America’s changing relationship with Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Bromley, S. (2005). ‘The United States and the control of world oil’, Government and Opposition, Vol. 40, pp. 225-255.
  • Cameron, F. (2005). US foreign policy after the Cold War. London: Routledge.
  • Halper, S. and Clarke, J. (2004). America alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the global order. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Example international relations dissertation topic 9:

An unknown and unpredictable entity: The problem of North Korea within an international relations context.

As a secretive, largely closed, militaristic communist state which has recently undergone a change in leadership, it can be readily advanced that North Korea possesses a variety of problems for both students and practitioners of International Relations. Indeed, reports of imminent war between North and South Korea, as well as concerns that North Korea has not only the capability to make nuclear weapons but also the ability to launch them to a distance that includes American territory, suggests that there may be little to distinguish between fact, rhetoric and scaremongering. This dissertation uses qualitative and quantitative research techniques through the conducting of primary interviews with residents, dissidents and embassy staff, to attempt to shed light on the reality of the situation in North Korea and, through so doing, to allay Western fears as to the ‘danger’ that North Korea represents.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Cohen, J.M. (2012). ‘Confronting the real missile threat: Iran or North Korea’, Research Paper, Army War College. Carlisle Barracks, PA: US Army.
  • Sattler, M. (2010). Can the United States cap North Korea’s nuclear weapon by using the policy of benign-neglect? Master’s thesis, Georgetown University.
  • Snyder, S. (2009). ‘North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests and six-party talks: Where do we go from here?’, Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade. Washington, DC: The Asia Foundation.

Example international relations dissertation topic 10:

International ‘sabre-rattling’ as a political tactic to distract attention from domestic difficulties.

This dissertation investigates the use of sabre-rattling rhetoric as a mechanism by which to distract voters’ attention from domestic difficulties. In so doing this dissertation investigates the present rhetoric of the Argentinean President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her comments regarding the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. Noting not only the historic role of Britain in protecting the islands from forces of aggression but also the desire of the people of the islands to remain ‘under the Crown’, this dissertation seeks to evaluate the harm that such sabre-rattling does to the wider international reputation of countries such as Argentina.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Calvo, E. and Murillo, M.V. (2012). ‘Argentina: The persistence of Peronism’, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 23(2), pp. 148-161.
  • Dodds, K. (2012). ‘Stormy waters: Britain, the Falkland Islands and UK-Argentine relations’, International Affairs, Vol. 88, pp. 683-700.
  • Howkins, A. (2010). ‘A formal end to informal imperialism: Environmental nationalism, sovereignty disputes, and the decline of British interests in Argentina 1933-1955’, British Scholar, Vol. 3(2), pp. 235-262.

Leave a Reply