This introduction sets out the development of International Relations (IR) theory and its applicability to the G20 and global governance. The chapter contends that IR theory is a field of scholarship which aspires to consider and guide practical action in respect to world politics. IR theory is therefore best seen as a ‘practical discourse’ involving specific types of systematic assumptions about how the world works. In doing so, this body of theory considers broader questions of power, a wider range of political problems and limits as well as interrogating the ethical issues involved in world politics. This introduction to the volume sets out what IR theory is, what the main elements of the declared purpose and operation of the G20 are and broadly articulates why considering IR theory is important to the future of the G20.
Realist International Relations theory focuses its account of world politics on the power of states and the ways in which they can act to assure their security and national interests. Realist scholarship contends that global cooperation and governance is conditioned and limited by the actions of powerful states. This chapter considers the current and future significance of the G20 by contending that realism can explain some of the key design features of the G20. In particular, the chapter argues that the informal and non-legal nature and limited membership of the G20 is consistent with realist conceptualizations and purposes. As such, realists conceive of the G20 as a specific form of governance best characterized as an informal concert of states. Therefore, the realist contention is that the G20 is best seen as being primarily a limited crisis committee, despite desires to widen and deepen its agenda.
This volume has shown that the overriding virtue of IR theory as a body of thought is its capacity to reflect on world politics in multiple ways and thereby see various political drivers and dynamics in operation. This concluding chapter considers the reoccurring themes and the points of contention evident in the volume and thereby highlights some important issues facing the future of G20 studies and the G20 as a part of the broader arrangements of global governance.