What are the top 100 international relations words?

This is the second and final chapter about English for International Studies. To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Introduce 100 frequent and challenging International Studies subject-specific vocabulary items

– Review the IPA to improve pronunciation and the word forms to expand vocabulary 

– Read the definitions and examples to assist with meaning

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Chapter 2

If you’re majoring in International Studies, International Relations or Politics at an English-speaking university, the following list of 100 subject-specific words should be very useful for you. This list has been compiled by studying  the frequency and difficulty of IS vocabulary: the more frequently used and challenging a word is, the more likely it has made it onto this list. Study the words in bold carefully, practise pronouncing them using the /IPA/ and pay attention to their [word forms] also. We’ve even included an example sentence to help you understand the word’s meaning; ou may wish to write your own example sentences too to practice using this subject-specific vocabulary in context.

1. Aggression /əˈɡreʃ.ən/ [aggressive; aggressor] behaviour which is threatening or that involves causing harm to someone or something

“Through its aggression, the USA was purposefully showing its power and might.”

2. Allegiance /əˈliː.dʒəns/ [ally] support and loyalty for a country, ruler, group or set of beliefs

“The two countries formed an allegiance and promised to defend each other.”

3. Ambassador /æmˈbæs.ə.dər/ an important official who works in a foreign country as a diplomatic representative of their respective home country

“The ambassador to Spain visited the UK on a matter of diplomacy.”

4. Annex /ænˈeks/ [annexation; annexed] to take possession of a country or an area of land, usually without permission or by force

“If a country annexes another country or an area of land, it seizes it and takes control of it.”

5. Authoritarian /ˌɔː.θɒr.ɪˈteə.ri.ən/ [authority; authoritarianism] demanding that people obey completely and refusing to allow them freedom to act as they wish

“Some governments are more authoritarian than others.”

6. Border /ˈbɔː.dər/ [bordered; borderline] the political line that divides one country from another, usually following geographical features

“The border between China and India is disputed.”

7. Boycott /ˈbɔɪ.kɒt/ Expressing strong disapproval by refusing to do business with a company, buy a product or take part in an activity

“Some countries are boycotting Chinese products in an ongoing trade war.”

8. Capitalism /ˈkæp.ɪ.təl.ɪ.zəm/ [capitalist; capitalise] an economic, political and social paradigm in which business, property and industry are privately owned and directed towards making the greatest possible profits for those organisations and people who are most successful

Capitalism is probably the most dominant social system on the planet today.”

9. Colonialism /kəˈləʊ.ni.ə.lɪ.zəm/ [colonial; colonialist] a policy or system in which a country controls another country or area

Colonialism forced millions into slavery and made a few countries extremely wealthy.”

10. Communism /ˈkɒm.jə.nɪ.zəm/ [commune; communist] a society that is without different social classes in which production methods are owned and controlled by everyone, with everyone working as much as they can and receiving what they need

“Many wars have been fought against invading communism, such as in Korea and Vietnam.”

11. Conquer /ˈkɒŋ.kər/ [conqueror; conquest] to take possession or control of a group of people or foreign land by force

“Armies rarely invade and conquer another country in the 21st century.”

12. Conservative /kənˈsɜː.və.tɪv/ [conservativism] emphasising the importance of preserving traditional cultural and religious values, and generally opposing sudden change

“The conservative government in the UK is  historically the government of the middle class.”

13. Conspiracy /kənˈspɪr.ə.si/ [conspire; conspirator] a secret plan made by two or more people or government in order to do something illegal or against another’s wishes

“Some people believe that September the 11th was a false flag conspiracy.”

14. Constitution /ˌkɒn.stɪˈtʃuː.ʃən/ [constitutional] especially in relation to the rights of the people, this is the set of political principles by which an organisation or state or is governed

“Americans are very adamant about protecting their constitution.”

15. Current Affairs /ˌkʌr.ənt əˈfeəz/ political news about events happening now

“Are you keeping up-to-date with current affairs?”

16. De Facto /ˌdeɪ ˈfæk.təʊ/ existing in fact, whether intended, legal or accepted

“These are the de facto laws of the country, and you must follow them.”

17. Decolonisation /diːˌkɒl.ə.naɪˈzeɪ.ʃən/ [decolonise] when a country that was previously controlled by another country (a colony) becomes politically independent

“There was a wave of decolonisation after the Second World War.”

18. Despot /ˈdes.pɒt/ [despotism; despotic] a ruler who has unlimited power over the people they govern, and who often uses that power unfairly and cruelly

“You could say that Vladimir Putin is a despot.”

19. Diplomacy /dɪˈpləʊ.mə.si/ [diplomat; diplomatic] the attempted management of relationships between countries through envoy, ambassadors and diplomats

Diplomacy is very important if we wish to have a peaceful world.”

20. Dispute /dɪˈspjuːt/ an official argument or disagreement, particularly one between two countries with a common border

“There has been a border dispute for the last few years between India and China.”

21. Dynasty /ˈdɪn.ə.sti/ [dynastic] a period in history when a country is ruled by a series of rulers or leaders who are all from the same family

“China’s history can be divided into numerous dynasties.”

22. Dystopia /dɪˈstəʊ.pi.ə/ [dystopian] a very unfair society in which there is a lot of suffering

“Some people think that we are already living in a dystopia with how unequal the world is.”

23. Elite /iˈliːt/ [elitist; elitism] the richest, most powerful and best-educated people in a society

“Only the elite have any chance of becoming Prime Minister in the UK.”

24. Embassy /ˈem.bə.si/ a building that represents a country, placed in a foreign country

“You must visit the embassy to collect your visa before travelling to Thailand.”

25. Empire /ˈem.paɪər/ [emperor] a group of countries ruled by a single person or government

“Building an empire was very important to the British and the Spanish.”

26. Espionage /ˈes.pi.ə.nɑːʒ/ [spy] the discovering of political or military secrets

“Most countries conduct espionage on other countries to learn secrets.”

27. Ethnic /ˈeθ.nɪk/ [ethnicity] relating to a particular race of people

“The ethnic majority of China is by far the Han.”

28. Expansion /ɪkˈspæn·ʃən/ [expand; expanded] increasing in size, number or importance

“British expansion is what made its empire so successful in the 19th century.”

29. Expedition /ˌek.spəˈdɪʃ.ən/ [explore; explorer] an organized journey for a particular purpose

“Many explorers would organise expeditions into the unknown in order to map the world.”

30. Faction /ˈfæk.ʃən/ a group within a larger group, usually one that has slightly different ideas

“Terrorist groups often have many factions and cells.”

31. Federal /ˈfed.ər.əl/ [federation] the system of having a central government as well as a regional one, such as in the US

“The US government is a federal one, in which each state is additionally governed by a governor.”

32. Foreign Policy /ˌfɒr.ən ˈpɒl.ə.si/ a government’s regulations on dealing with other countries such as in matters relating to trade or defence

“China and the US need to improve their foreign policy to avoid conflict.”

33. Global /ˈɡləʊ.bəl/ relating to the whole world

“COVID-19 became a global virus, a pandemic.”

34. Globalisation /ˌɡləʊbəlaɪˈzeɪʃən/ [globalised] the process in which businesses or other organisations expand their influence and operate on an international scale

“The world has become more and more globalised, particularly since the invention of the internet.”

35. Governance /ˈɡʌv.ən.əns/ [govern; governed] the way that countries or organisations are managed and the systems which are required to do this

“The rules of governance in Saudi Arabia are very strict.”

36. Hegemon /ˈheɡ.ɪ.mɒn/ [hegemony; hegemonic] a country or group that is very powerful and that is therefore able to extend its control to others

“The USA is the de facto hegemon of the sovereign-state system today.”

37. Hijack /ˈhaɪ.dʒæk/ to take control of an aircraft or other vehicle using violence

“The plane was hijacked by a small team of terrorists.”

38. Hostile /ˈhɒs.taɪl/ [hostility] being aggressive or unfriendly towards another person or country

“The two countries are being very hostile to each other of late.”

39. Idealism /aɪˈdɪə.lɪ.zəm/ [ideal; idealistic] the belief that a better world can be achieved even if the steps to get there seem unrealistic to others

Idealism is a worthwhile venture if we wish to achieve peace.”

40. Imperialism /ɪmˈpɪə.ri.ə.lɪ.zəm/ [imperial; imperialist] when a country rules one or many other countries, often having used force to achieve dominion over them

“The Scramble for Africa was one of the most energetic periods of imperialism.”

41. Indenture /ɪnˈden.tʃər/ [indentured] (historical) a formal agreement that someone will work for a particular length of time in order to learn a job or receive reward

“The man was indentured for a contract of 25 years.”

42. Independent /ˌɪn.dɪˈpen.dənt/ [independence] not influenced or controlled by other people, countries, events or things

“Many new countries are formed through struggles to achieve independence.”

43. Institution /ˌɪn.stɪˈtʃuː.ʃən/ a large and important organisation

“Universities are some of the largest institutions in the country.”

44. Insurgency /ɪnˈsɜː.dʒən.si/ when a group of people try to take control of their country by force

“Terrorist organisation plot and scheme numerous insurgencies to advance their cause.”

45. Landlocked /ˈlænd.lɒkt/ having no coast; surrounded by the land of other countries

“Many states in the USA are completely landlocked.”

46. Left-Wing /ˌleft ˈwɪŋ/ relating to the idea that wealth and power should be shared between all parts of society, as is aligned with the political left

“I am much more liberal and left-wing than my brother.”

47. Liberalism /ˈlɪb.ər.əl.ɪ.zəm/ [liberal; liberalist] the political belief that there should be free trade and personal freedom, and that changes in society should be made but gradually

“Many theories have been developed from the basic ideas of liberalism.”

48. Mercantile /ˈmɜː.kən.taɪl/ related to business and trade

“Societies have become increasingly mercantile as the centuries progressed.”

49. Meritocracy /ˌmer.ɪˈtɒk.rə.si/ [merit; meritocratic] a social system or organisation in which people obtain power and success because of their abilities rather than money or social position

“Do we live in a democracy, a plutocracy or a meritocracy?”

50. Militancy /ˈmɪl.tən.si/ [militant; military] being active, determined and willing to use force

“It will take harsh militancy to quash this rebellion.”

51. Nation /ˈneɪ.ʃən/ [national; nationalist] a large group of people living in one area with their own government, language, traditions, etc, also known as a country

“I am very proud of my nation and all it stands for.”

52. Native /ˈneɪ.tɪv/ someone who was born in a particular place or country, or relating to someone’s country or place of birth

“The natives were practically wiped out when the USA was originally settled.”

53. Peace /piːs/ [peaceful] freedom from violence and war

“Liberals believe that peace can be achieved, while realists generally do not.”

54. Periphery /pəˈrɪf.ər.i/ [peripheral] the less important part of a group

“Many indigenous people are at the periphery of their own society.”

55. Phenomenon /fəˈnɒm.ɪ.nən/ [phenomena; phenomenal] something that exists and can be sensed, particularly something interesting or out of the ordinary

“There have been many phenomena in recent history, but none so key as September the 11th 2001.”

56. Pragmatism /ˈpræɡ.mə.tɪ.zəm/ [pragmatic; pragmatist] dealing with a problem in a sensible way, rather than following fixed ideas, theories or rules

“I’m pleased to see you being so pragmatic about your recent misfortunes.”

57. Precursor /ˌpriːˈkɜː.sər/ something that happened before something else, especially something which had influence over it

“That event in particular was the main precursor for war.”

58. Primitive /ˈprɪm.ɪ.tɪv/ an early stage of development for human society, with people living usually without machinery or a writing system

“The indigenous American societies were primitive compared to the invading Europeans.”

59. Prisoner of War /ˌprɪz.ən.ər əv ˈwɔːr/ a member of the army who was caught by the enemy during a time of war

“There were thousands of POWs during WW2.”

60. Privatisation /ˌpraɪ.və.taɪˈzeɪ.ʃən/ [private; privatised] the act of selling industries or services that were previously owned by the government to private corporations

“Services have become increasingly privatised in the UK over recent years.”

61. Progressive /prəˈɡres.ɪv/ [progress; progression] new and modern ideas or systems which encourage change in society

“Your stance is quite progressive; have you considered getting into politics?”

62. Prosperity /prɒsˈper.ə.ti/ [prosper; prosperous] being successful and having a lot of money

“The prosperity of an individual is usually a measure of their success.”

63. Ransom /ˈræn.səm/ demanding a large sum of money in exchange for a prisoner’s freedom

“The terrorists held the prince to ransom for a sum of $2 million.”

64. Realism /ˈrɪə.lɪ.zəm/ [real; realist; realistic] a way of being based on facts and possibility, rather than on hopes and ideals

“The theory was developed from branches of realism.”

65. Reciprocal /rɪˈsɪp.rə.kəl/ [reciprocate; reciprocity] two groups behaving in the same way or agreeing to assist each other and give each other a particular advantage

“The two embassies managed to negotiate reciprocal arrangements.”

66. Regime /reɪˈʒiːm/ a governing system or method of government

“The current regime must be ousted as it is only increasing inequality.”

67. Region /ˈriː.dʒən/ [regional] an area or part of the world

“I live in the farthest region from the capital.”

68. Resource /rɪˈzɔːs/ [resourceful] a useful or valuable quality or possession

“The USA is very efficient at taking others’ resources.”

69. Reunification /ˌriː.juː.nɪ.fɪˈkeɪ.ʃən/ [refunify] when a country that was temporarily divided into smaller countries is joined together once more

“The reunification of east and west Germany was a day for celebration.”

70. Rights /rɑɪts/ the basic rules of justice and freedom that all people should be allowed

“A human has inalienable rights that should never be removed.”

71. Right-Wing /ˌraɪt ˈwɪŋ/ the conservative or reactionary section of a political party or system

“Governments around the world are becoming increasingly right-wing.”

72. Rule /ruːl/ [ruler; ruled] the period of time when a particular person or group controls a country

“The Ming rule in China lasted for many decades.”

73. Sanction /ˈsæŋk.ʃən/ an official order which is taken against a country to make it obey international law, such as the stopping of trade

“Trump placed numerous sanctions on China in the recent trade war.”

74. Settle /ˈset.əl/ [settler; settled] to choose to live somewhere else, especially permanently

“The USA was settled in numerous waves of migrants from Europe.”

75. Slave /sleɪv/ [slaver; slavery; enslave] when a person is legally owned by someone else

“Europeans forcibly took millions of slaves from West Africa to the Americas.”

76. Socialism /ˈsəʊ.ʃəl.ɪ.zəm/ [social] the belief that everyone is equal and should share equally

“The UK’s welfare system was founded in socialism, but has become increasingly capitalistic.”

77. Sociopolitical /ˌsəʊsiəʊpəˈlɪtɪkəl/ the differences between groups of people relating to their social class and political beliefs

“This is an interesting sociopolitical investigation of the topic.”

78. Soft Power /ˈsɒftˌ paʊər/ the use of a country’s culture and influence to persuade others to do something instead of using military power

“The USA is much more successful at soft power than China as its culture is more appealing.”

79. Sovereignty /ˈsɒv.rɪn.ti/ [sovereign] a country’s ability to control its own system of government

“One could argue that the concept of sovereignty was born at the Treaty of Westphalia.”

80. Sphere of Influence /sfɪər əv ˈɪn.flu.əns/ the area of a country, region or organisation in which the power or interests of one country are of greatest importance

“China’s sphere of influence has extended throughout Southeast Asia.”

81. Stability /stəˈbɪl.ə.ti/ [stable] when an economy, company or system can continue regularly and successfully without unexpected change

“Global stability is incredibly important if we ever wish to achieve peace.”

82. State /steɪt/ a country or its government

“The UK is a country which is divided into four states.”

83. Status Quo /ˌsteɪ.təs ˈkwəʊ/ the present situation or condition

“The wealthy will do everything in their power to maintain the status quo.”

84. Strategy /ˈstræt.ə.dʒi/ [stratagem; strategise] the skill of achieving success in war, politics, business, industry or sports

“It will take careful strategy and planning to win this war.”

85. Submerge /səbˈmɜːdʒ/ to cover or hide something completely

“Many languages are submerged beneath the dominant, standard dialect.”

86. Succession /səkˈseʃ.ən/ [succeed] when someone automatically takes an official position after someone else, such as a monarch or president

“The line of succession from one king to the next is not something that can be easily changed.”

87. Surveillance /səˈveɪ.ləns/ [survey] when the police, army or private investigators watch someone or something because of a crime that may have happened

“Countries are always attempting to improve their surveillance systems for matters of espionage.”

88. System /ˈsɪs.təm/[systemic] a set of connected things or devices that operate together

“Many people wish to tear down the system of governance we have and start again.”

89. Tension /ˈten.ʃən/ [tense] a feeling of fear or anger between two groups of people who do not trust each other

Tensions have been increasing between the USA and China in recent years.”

90. Territory /ˈter.ɪ.tər.i/ [territorial] an area that is considered to belong to or be connected with a particular person or country

“Many countries have disputed territories, usually around the coastline.”

91. Trade /treɪd/ [trader] buying, selling or exchanging goods and services

“For globalisation to work, countries must be able to trade freely with each other.”

92. Treaty /ˈtriː.ti/ an agreement between two or more countries which has been approved and signed by the leaders of those countries

“The Treaty of Westphalia is considered to be very important to international-studies theory.”

93. Unification /ˌjuː.nɪ.fɪˈkeɪ.ʃən/ [unify] bringing together or combining people, places or things

“Will there ever again be unification of the North Korean and South Korean people?”

94. Union /ˈjuː.nj.ən/ [unionise] the act or the state of being joined together

“Many unions have been formed over the centuries in an attempt to protect workers’ rights.”

95. Utopia /juːˈtəʊ.pi.ə/ [utopian] a perfect society

“It is hard to imagine a true utopia when you have grown up on this planet.”

96. Vagrant /ˈveɪ.ɡrənt/ a poor person who does not have a home or job and who moves around

“The number of vagrants on the streets of New York is palpably increasing.”

97. Vote /vəʊt/ [voter] to express a choice or opinion, usually by marking an official paper

“Will you be voting at the next general election?”

98. War /wɔːr/ [warring; warmonger] fighting between two or more countries

War is inevitable in the sovereign state system that pervades today.”

99. Westphalia / westˈfālyə/ a former province of northwestern Germany

“The Treaty of Westphalia is a critical turning point in history.”

100. Withdraw /wɪðˈdrɔː/ [withdrawal] to cease being involved in a particular situation, responsibility or organisation

“To end this war would only take the withdrawal of one side.”

To reference this reader:

Academic Marker (2022) English for International Studies. Available at: https://academicmarker.com/academic-guidance/vocabulary/subject-specific-vocabulary/English-for-international-studies/ (Accessed: Date Month Year).

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