Master of Arts in International Relations


Students entering the University of San Diego and/or declaring a major during 2019-2020, should follow information contained in the printed course catalog (also known as the "catalog of record") published on April 1, 2019. Access the catalog of record at http://catalogs.sandiego.edu.

M.A. in International Relations Degree Requirements

  • Approval of courses by graduate director for all 30 units.
  • 11.5 units of core courses in political science and international relations at the 500-level, including each of the following options:
    POLS 535Research Design1.5
    POLS 550Comparative Politics3
    POLS 570Theories in International Relations3
    POLS 593International Relations International Travel Course 11
    POLS 595MAIR Capstone Seminar3
    Total Units11.5
  • 18.5 or more units of elective courses, including the following options: 

o   Program electives: Political science and international relations coursework at the 500-level.

o   Non-program electives: Up to 6 units of the following coursework taken outside the Master's in International Relations program with the approval of the graduate director:

o USD Graduate Courses: USD graduate-level coursework on topics related to international relations.

USD Undergraduate Courses: 300- and 400-level USD undergraduate courses in international relations.

Transfer Courses: Graduate-level coursework on topics related to international relations. Grades received from other institutions count toward the degree, but not toward the student’s grade point average (GPA) in the graduate program.   

  • No courses with a grade of "C-/C/C+," “D,” or “F” will count toward the degree (although all grades for USD courses are calculated in the GPA.).
  • No online courses may count toward the graduate degree. 

Combined Degree Program (BA/MA)

Through the Combined Degree Program, undergraduates who are completing a degree in Political Science or International Relations at the University of San Diego may apply for admission to the Master of Arts in International Relations degree program while completing the requirements for their Bachelor’s degree.

With graduate director approval, undergraduate students admitted to the combined degree program are permitted take up to 12 units of 500-level coursework to count towards the requirements for both degrees, with 500-level courses counting as undergraduate electives. USD undergraduate students are eligible to apply to the Master’s program during their junior or senior year, provided that they have a 3.5 GPA within the major, have completed at least two 300- or 400-level political science or international relations courses (including POLS 350, POLS 370, or POLS 380), and will have completed all courses in preparation for the undergraduate major before enrollment in the combined degree program. 

Students admitted to the Combined Degree Program will have undergraduate status until they complete their BA degree requirements, and will become graduate students in the semester after graduation from the undergraduate program. Combined degree students must maintain a GPA of at least 3.0 at both the undergraduate and graduate level, or be subject academic probation and/or expulsion from the graduate program. Combined degree students must complete a minimum of 18 units while they have graduate student status in order to satisfy the combined degree program requirements.


Students entering the University of San Diego and/or declaring a major during 2019-2020, should follow information contained in the printed course catalog (also known as the "catalog of record") published on April 1, 2019. Access the catalog of record at http://catalogs.sandiego.edu.

POLS 521 , POLS 529 , POLS 530 , POLS 535 , POLS 536 , POLS 550 , POLS 554 , POLS 555 , POLS 556 , POLS 557 , POLS 559 , POLS 561 , POLS 565 , POLS 566 , POLS 567 , POLS 568 , POLS 570 , POLS 571 , POLS 572 , POLS 573 , POLS 574 , POLS 575 , POLS 576 , POLS 577 , POLS 578 , POLS 579 , POLS 580 , POLS 581 , POLS 582 , POLS 583 , POLS 584 , POLS 586 , POLS 593 , POLS 594 , POLS 595 , POLS 596 , POLS 598 , POLS 599

POLS 521 | COMPARATIVE LEGAL SYSTEMS

Units: 1-3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course examines legal systems from a comparative perspective. Students will study how scholars, lawyers, and policy makers construct and manage formal and informal measures to ensure societal compliance with the law, the legal accountability of state actor, and the provision of basic rights and access to justice under the law. In the process, students will learn about key case studies and cross-national comparisons to understand the differences in legal systems employed around the world. Students may repeat the seminar for credit when the specific topic changes.

POLS 529 | LAW OF THE SEA

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course examines regimes of the sea including fisheries, seabed mining, and coastal management zones. The politics of ocean regulation will be examined with emphasis on the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. The seminar will consider Law-of-the-Sea negotiations from three perspectives: 1) the development of international law; 2) the processes of international bargaining and negotiation; and 3) the decision-making processes associated with the formulation of maritime policies in individual countries.

POLS 530 | RESEARCH METHODS

Units: 3

This seminar helps students to formulate empirical research questions and introduces basic research strategies to answer them. Through hands-on experience, students learn to develop theories and to test them using basic research designs and uni- and multivariate analyses. In the end, students should be able to conduct and to critically evaluate basic research in the field.

POLS 535 | RESEARCH DESIGN

Units: 1.5

This course is a brief introduction to the principles of research design and analysis in the field of political science and international relations. The course discusses the nature of the scholarly community, the development of middle range theories and hypotheses, conceptualizing and operationalizing variables, and testing hypotheses.

POLS 536 | RESEARCH SKILLS

Units: 1-3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course enables students to develop understanding and skills in utilizing specialized research methods and tools such as bibliographic research, data gathering, data visualization, qualitative field methods, statistical analysis, and other advanced research methods. Students may repeat the seminar for credit when the specific topic changes. Lectures may be augmented by computer lab time.

POLS 550 | COMPARATIVE POLITICS

Units: 3

This course examines the major theoretical approaches to comparative politics as well as the political histories of individual countries. It is designed to introduce students to a variety of themes central to this field, including state-society relations, state capacity, the role of institutions, nationalism, cultural/ethnic pluralism, political culture, and democracy. This course is a degree requirement.

POLS 554 | REVOLUTIONARY CHANGE

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course offers a comparative study of the revolutionary process focusing on the causes and political implications of revolutionary change. The conditions that influence the outcome of revolutions and the effects on the international system will be examined.

POLS 555 | POLITICS IN EUROPE

Units: 1-3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course surveys the political cultures, institutions, and parties of the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Foreign and defense policies, including those relating to European integration, will receive special attention.

POLS 556 | POLITICS OF AFRICA

Units: 1-3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course provides an in-depth analysis of political development in Africa. It is designed to introduce students to the challenges African states have faced during the pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial eras. Particular emphasis is placed on how different countries have sought to develop strong institutions, democratic processes, and national integration in the context of scarce resources and civil conflict. Students may repeat the seminar for credit when the specific topic changes.

POLS 557 | POLITICS IN LATIN AMERICA

Units: 1-3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course uses a variety of theories to examine the dynamics of political and economic change in Latin America. Particular emphasis is placed on the causes and consequences of cyclical economic development and recurrent waves of democratization and authoritarianism.

POLS 559 | POLITICS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Units: 1-3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course explores political developments in the Middle East with particular attention to the contemporary era.

POLS 561 | POLITICS IN SOUTH AFRICA

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course examines the major issues and challenges that face South Africa. The goal of the course is to introduce students to contemporary South African politics and to place the current political challenges into the broader historical context.

POLS 565 | POLITICS IN RUSSIA

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course offers an examination of the political institutions and forces of change in Russia and the Soviet successor states with particular attention to the difficulties of democratization, modernization, and capitalist transformation.

POLS 566 | POLITICS IN MEXICO

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course examines the trajectory of political development in Mexico from the twentieth century to the present. We will examine the Mexican revolution, the origins of the dominant party system, the transition to democracy and current prospects for democratic and economic stability.

POLS 567 | POLITICS IN JAPAN

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This class studies post-war politics in Japan focusing on political institutions, major political actors, and mass and elite political behavior. Special attention is paid to issues of modernization, the evolution of Japanese political practices and Japan’s changing democracy.

POLS 568 | POLITICS IN CHINA

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course offers an examination of politics and selected policy issues in contemporary China including political institutions, the policy-making process, and citizen political behavior. Special attention is given to prospects for political reform in China.

POLS 570 | THEORIES IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Units: 3

This core course provides an examination of realist, neorealist, neoliberal, globalist, constructivist, and normative theories of international relations and an inquiry into the relationship between theory and historical evidence. This course is a degree requirement.

POLS 571 | UNITED STATES FOREIGN POLICY

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This class offers an examination of the challenges and opportunities facing U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century, the institutional context of foreign policy decision-making, and the application of theories of international politics and foreign policy to the empirical analysis of contemporary American U.S. policy.

POLS 572 | RUSSIAN FOREIGN POLICY

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course explores foreign policy in the U.S.S.R. and its successor states focusing on competing institutions within the foreign policy establishments, changing security preoccupations, and the difficulties of realigning regional and global relationships in a structurally changed international system.

POLS 573 | CHINESE FOREIGN POLICY

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course offers an analysis of the foreign policy of the People's Republic of China. Foreign policy-making and China's relations with other international actors will be examined.

POLS 574 | U.S.-LATIN AMERICA RELATIONS

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course provides an analysis of historical and contemporary relations between the U.S. and Latin America. Policy issues examined include trade, immigration, drug trafficking, military intervention, and relations with Cuba.

POLS 575 | U.S.-MIDDLE EAST RELATIONS

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course examines the influences and interests that shape U.S. relations toward the Middle East. Rooted in the study of international relations and foreign policy decision-making, the course critically examines the past, present, and future of relations between the United States and a contested and dynamic region. Students may repeat the seminar for credit when the specific topic changes.

POLS 576 | U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course examines contemporary U.S. security policy, including military technology, nuclear strategy and arms control, recent U.S. military interventions, biological and chemical weapons, domestic security politics , the defense industry and budget, and terrorism.

POLS 577 | REGIONAL SECURITY

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course examines security dynamics in important regions of the world, such as West Europe, Latin America, East Asia, and the Islamic countries running from Northwest Africa to Southeast Asia. The course addresses issues like military technology, war, diplomatic relations within the region, political economy, drug trafficking, and terrorism, among others. Students may repeat the seminar for credit when the specific topic changes.

POLS 578 | TRANSNATIONAL CRIME AND TERRORISM

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course focuses on how the law enforcement community has responded to the unprecedented increase in crimes and terrorist acts that cross international borders. The course examines those factors that have led to this increase in transnational crime and terrorism, the types of crimes that pose the greatest threat to lawful societies, the responses that have been developed to combat transnational crime, and the extent to which transnational crime threatens the national security interests of the United States and the world community.

POLS 579 | INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL BOUNDARIES AND BORDER POLITICS

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course provides an examination of international political boundaries, border politics, and related policies, including trade, economic development, migration, law enforcement and security, and international diplomacy. This course considers comparative border dynamics of various regions, such as U.S.-Mexico, U.S.-Canada, China-Russia, India-Pakistan, Spain-Morocco, and the European Union.

POLS 580 | INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL ECONOMY

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course examines the international and national political strategies affecting economic growth and global distribution of wealth.

POLS 581 | POLITICS OF DEVELOPMENT

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course examines the challenge of development, and the domestic and international institutions and policies that seek to promote development around the world. A course subtitle may be modified to reflect a focus on a particular country (e.g., The Politics of Development: South Africa). Students may repeat the seminar for credit when the specific topic changes.

POLS 582 | INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS

Units: 1-3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course considers theoretical foundations, historical development, and applications of human rights in differing parts of the world. The seminar will focus on contending approaches to human rights.

POLS 583 | INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course offers an examination of the development of contemporary intergovernmental political organizations with emphasis on the United Nations system and the functional agencies. The future of supranationalism will be investigated with particular attention to the European Communities.

POLS 584 | INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL GOVERNANCE

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course examines the policy decisions that determine human responses to environmental challenges. The course explores three foundational topics: environmental ideologies, the global commons, and natural resources valuation. Students apply these core concepts to environmental sectors, such as climate change, sustainable development, marine resources management, environmental negotiations, and conservation.

POLS 586 | POLITICS OF INTELLIGENCE

Units: 3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

This course is designed to provide students with an understanding of the history and institutional structure of the US intelligence community, the intelligence production cycle, how intelligence contributes to policymakers, how intelligence agencies are managed and controlled, the ethical debate about intelligence activities, current intelligence issues facing US policy makers, and counterintelligence concerns.

POLS 593 | INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL COURSE

Units: 0.5-3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

International travel courses come in different formats and schedules, including seminars, field studies, lectures, simulations, and short travel courses. By traveling to sites of relevance to the course topic, students have the opportunity to meet with policy makers and practitioners, visit locations of interest, and gather information in the field. 593 courses can be repeated for credit provided the topics are substantially different.

POLS 594 | SPECIAL TOPICS IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Units: 1-3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

A current issue or topic in the discipline will be the focus of the course. The course can be repeated if the topic changes.

POLS 595 | MAIR CAPSTONE SEMINAR

Units: 3 Repeatability: No

Prerequisites: POLS 550 and POLS 570

The Master of Arts in International Relations (MAIR) program at the University of San Diego hosts a capstone seminar for its graduating students to prepare and present a major research project. This capstone seminar is designed to allow students to integrate the knowledge obtained from their course of study in the program and apply that knowledge to the analysis of contemporary issues in international relations. Research topics are determined by the students in consultation with the capstone instructor and other faculty members who serve as external advisors on the student’s project. Students present their work at a formal symposium that is open to the public. The final paper and presentation produced for this seminar allow students to fulfill the main learning objectives of the MAIR program, and help to orient them towards a career in international affairs. Students must have completed at least 24 units prior to enrollment in the MAIR Capstone Seminar.

POLS 596 | SHORT COURSE IN IR: SPECIAL TOPICS

Units: 0.5-1.5 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

Short courses come in different formats and schedules, including academic seminars, professional workshops, and short travel courses. They allow the department to offer courses on topics and/or on schedules that would not be suitable for three units and they give students greater options and more flexibility in load management and scheduling. 596 courses can be repeated for credit provided the topics are different.

POLS 598 | INTERNSHIP IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Units: 0.5-3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

Students can receive credit for internships with the government, nongovernment agencies, corporations, and other suitable entities involved in international relations. Students are required to have a writing component in the internship. Students must have completed at least 15 units in the program and have an overall GPA of 3.33 to request an internship for credit. Internships for credit must be approved by the graduate director.

POLS 599 | INDEPENDENT STUDY IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Units: 0.5-3 Repeatability: Yes (Can be repeated for Credit)

Directed research can be conducted under the supervision of one of the permanent graduate faculty members in the Department. Students must have completed 15 units in the program and have an overall GPA of 3.5. Project proposals must be approved by a faculty sponsor and the graduate director.