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date: 16 October 2019

Summary and Keywords

In terms of a political entity, a “state” is any politically organized community living under a single system of government. In international relations (IR), states are assumed to be persons by virtue of their capacity to act intentionally, if not always rationally. In international law, states are assumed to be persons by virtue of being bearers of rights and obligations. “Levels of analysis” is a way of looking at the international system, which includes the individual level, the domestic state as a unit, the international level of transnational and intergovernmental affairs, and the global level. The dominant image of the state in the discipline of IR is the state as an actor and indeed as the pre-eminent actor upon the international stage. Notwithstanding the comparative neglect, in recent years at least, of the general characteristics that constitute this particular actor, the notion that the state is to be understood as an actor is more or less automatic. The history of international relations based on sovereign states is often traced back to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, a stepping stone in the development of the modern state system. The contemporary international system was then established through decolonization during the Cold War. As a result, several states have moved beyond insistence on full sovereignty, and can be considered “post-modern.”

Keywords: state, international relations, international law, sovereign states, modern state system, Peace of Westphalia, Cold War

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