This introductory chapter points out various aspects of the problem of stability in international politics. In line with established usage in international relations theory, it will refer to autonomous centres of decision-making in international affairs as ‘international actors’. The sphere of international politics is often perceived to be a conspicuously less stable environment than the average domestic political system. Precisely because they are so conspicuous, manifestations of conflict and disorder in international politics have been studied more extensively than the phenomenon of relative system stability. But even the structure of the international system usually displays considerable overall stability over long stretches of time. In analysing international politics, one very important thing has to be remembered. This is that the international system has no physical reality. Ultimately, the international system exists exclusively in the mind. It is what people think it is. It is a mental construct, resting entirely on shared assumptions.
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