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Omkar Pawar asked: What is functionalist approach in international relations?

Arpita Anant replies: A functionalist approach to international relations emphasises the importance of specific issues or problems, mainly technical in nature, in engendering the need for cooperation among nations. According to David Mitrany (1943), cooperation among technical experts in a functional area will result in the creation of an international agency that will push nations to cooperate rather than wage war. Cooperation in one functional area will have ‘ramifications’ in other functional areas.

A variation of functionalism, namely neo-functionalism, became an idea to reckon with due to the experience of the post-World War II integration of Europe. As explained by Ernst B. Haas (1958), over and above technical issues, it is political parties, interest groups, and the views of political elites that influence cooperation. A spill-over from one functional area to another is also likely but conditional on the additional factors.

Other prominent scholars who developed the theory along neo-functionalist lines are Philippe C. Schmitter, Joseph S. Nye and Robert O. Keohane.

The contemporary significance of the theory lies in the fact that increasingly multilateral cooperation is taking functional forms. However, the ramifications and/or spill-over to other functional areas are circumspect.

Posted on April 03, 2017