The term "complex interdependence" was claimed by Raymond Leslie Buell in 1925 to describe the new ordering among economies, cultures and races. The very concept was popularized through the work of Richard N. Cooper (1968). With the analytical construct of complex interdependence in their critique of political realism, "Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye go a step further and analyze how international politics is transformed by interdependence" (Crane & Amawi 1997: 107-109). The theorists recognized that the various and complex transnational connections and interdependencies between states and societies were increasing, while the use of military force and power balancing are decreasing but remain important. In making use of the concept of interdependence, Keohane and Nye (1997: 122-132) also importantly differentiated between interdependence and dependence in analyzing the role of power in politics and the relations between international actors.
From the analysis, complex interdependence is characterized by three characteristics, involving (1) the use of multiple channels of action between societies in interstate, transgovernmental, and transnational relations, (2) the absence of a hierarchy of issues with changing agendas and linkages between issues prioritized and the objective of (3) bringing about a decline in the use of military force and coercive power in international relations.
Nye and Keohane thus argue that the decline of military force as a policy tool and the increase in economic and other forms of interdependence should increase the probability of cooperation among states. The work of the theorists surfaced in the 1970s to become a significant challenge to political realist theory in international politics and became foundational to current theories that have been categorized as liberalism (international relations), neoliberalism and liberal institutionalism. Traditional critiques of liberalism are often defined alongside critiques of political realism, mainly that they both ignore the social nature of relations between states and the social fabric of international society. With the rise of neoliberal economics, debates, and the need to clarify international relations theory, Keohane (2002: 2-19) has most recently described himself as simply an institutionalist, nothing purpose for developing sociological perspectives in contemporary International relations theory. Liberal, neoliberal and neoliberal institutional theories continue to influence international politics and have become closely intertwined with political realism.
Multiple channels that are present in complex interdependence are "connect societies, including: informal ties between governmental elites as well as formal foreign office arrangements." The second type is "informal ties among nongovernmental elites where contact usually happen either face-to-face or through telecommunication. The last type is "transnational organizations" which include organizations such as multinational banks or corporations. A simpler way of thinking of these concepts is by condensing them by calling them interstate, transgovernmental and transnational relations. Therefore, these channels can be a way of communication for states and are a big part of complex interdependence.