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Power shift in International Relations: The decline of the West and the future of International Order IR3207

This course looks at how major changes come about, and their impact on international affairs. Is the West in decline and are we heading toward a new world order? These are questions you will seek to answer.

At the beginning of the 21st century the world was on the cusp of a golden age of international peace and prosperity guaranteed by American power and underwritten by an ever-expanding world market dominated by the West.

9/11 and the financial crisis of 2008 followed, leaving the United States (US) in decline, Europe in tatters, and the balance of power shifted southwards and eastwards to Asia and China.

A new world disorder appeared in the making. Renewed tensions between Russia and the West, Middle East conflicts, and the uncertainties from BREXIT in the UK, and the election of Trump in the US appeared to make the international system less stable. The Liberal international order itself seems under threat.


Prerequisite: A course that you must have ordinarily attempted all elements of before you are permitted to register for another particular course.

If taken as part of a BSC degree, you must have attempted the course below first before you take this course.

Topics covered

Main topics of the module include:

  • Key concepts in international relations
  • Drivers for change in international politics (war, revolutions)
  • Historical background on the rise of the West in 19th and 20th century
  • Recent developments that have affected key great powers - US, China, Russia, and regions in the Middle East
  • The consequences of the power shift for international security and so called ‘Liberal International Order’.

Learning outcomes

If you complete the course successfully, you should be able to:

  • Outline key concepts and theories used to explain dynamics of change in international relations.
  • Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of various theories and arguments.
  • Apply relevant concepts and theories to empirical cases and recent developments.
  • Engage in informed debates on power shift and the rise and decline of great powers.
  • Produce written analyses on questions related to power shifts in international relations.


Unseen written exam (1.5 hrs).

  • Mid-session Essay (50%)
  • Final Exam (50%).

Essential reading

  • Baylis, J., S. Smith, S. & P. Owens, P. (eds), The Globalisation of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, 8th edition, OUP (2019).

Course information sheets

Download the course information sheets from the LSE website.