In the field of international relations, “mutual construction” refers to the idea that over time, interactions influence the ideas, beliefs, and norms that shape the international system through constructivism. It implies that past interactions amongst states give rise to factors, i.e. the pattern of norms, beliefs, and ideas, that will influence future interactions between the two states. Constructivism is a system that raises alternative definitions of many themes crucial to international relations theory. As a social theory, Constructivism looks at the principle of world politics and the field of international relations through a social lens, rather than the rational lens realism and liberalism look through. Realism and liberalism look at material power as “the single most important source of influence and authority in global politics (pg.104).” Under the constructivist argument, material and discursive power are vital for a full understanding of world politics. Through the influence of ideas, beliefs, norms, and identities, Constructivism disagrees with the ideology of realism and liberalism because it “assumes actors and structures mutually constitute each other; anarchy must be interpreted to have meaning; state interests are part of the process of identity construction; power is both material and discursive; and change in world politics both possible and difficult (pg.106).”
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As a social theory, constructivism has many unique insights to it, along with many weaknesses. These insights and weaknesses are all seen in the emphasis of norms, beliefs, and identities that come out of past interactions between states that constructivism focuses on for its understanding of world politics. Since “mutual construction” looks at past interactions between states, the norms, beliefs, ideas, and identities that come out of these interactions will have major significance for future interactions between the two states. Take the norms that will eventually influence the interactions between the two states. Finnemore and Sikkink go through what is called a norms cycle to explain how the rise of and development of norms will influence future interactions.
Through a pattern of norm influence, the authors say it has been found, “…independently in work on social norms in U.S. legal theory, quantitative research by sociology’s institutionalists or “world polity” theorists, and various scholars of norms in IR (pg.110).” In short, the norm life cycle works like this—norm emergence occurs by someone who pushes for the norm to be accepted; the norm cascade happens once the tipping point has been reached as more countries start to accept the norm and the higher it’s chance of universal acceptance gets; finally, norm internalization occurs where the acceptance of the norm becomes internalized and becomes so commonplace that it is subconscious behavior at this point. The norm cycle is a unique insight into constructivism because it can spark a massive change within a state or between two states.
Another element of constructivism that is both a weakness and a unique insight is the idea of feminism in terms of International Relations. J. Ann Tickner discusses the feminist perspective of international relations and the role of feminism in terms of international politics. Tickner observes that when you look at the field of international politics, the field is generally one dominated by privileged, western, white men. She goes on to say that, “…feminist standpoint theory has suggested that if we start thinking from marginalized lives, we are likely to get less partial and distorted accounts, not only of their lives, but of the whole social order…Feminists have long held a deep skepticism about the claims to universality of knowledge that…is based largely on certain privileged men’s lives and men’s experiences (pg.126).”
This statement contributes to the unique identity of feminism in international relations in explaining that these women did not want to just know how this field impacted men and how men shaped the lens in which we view international relations. That said it is also important that one must recognize the weakness that comes with understanding international politics. Because Feminism in IR is a new concept, not many of the assumptions of international relations are well known within the field. Now women in IR are taking initiative to unpack prior IR theories and look at them under a feminist lens.
Balance of Power Theory is the idea that a state’s national security becomes more stabilized as military capability across numerous states is distributed so that no one state has the opportunity to dominate all the others. Under balance of power theory, there are many core assumptions that present themselves. The first of these assumptions is that power is measurable and because of such, one could reasonably explain how much power a state has. Another assumption made under the theory is that if there is an imbalance of power, then there will be more of a chance for instability and conflict. Without a steady increase in stability, the number of dominant actors would not increase either, which is another assumption made towards the balance of power theory. One final assumption made towards balance of power theory is that all states seek to increase their power. While many of these assumptions align with realist thought, the final one aligns rather closely with the concept of realism.
The concept of realism can be traced back to around 400-500 BCE thanks to Thucydides and his interpretation for the cause of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides equated the cause of the war to the Athenian rise of power, which made Sparta fearful. This effect, typically called the Security dilemma, says that because Athens made themselves more secure in their military power, Sparta felt less secure in their own, thus sparking the Peloponnesian war. The logical reasoning that comes out of Thucydides analysis of the war can be seen in many of the more modern ideas of realist thought, which plays a large role in the Balance of Power theory. The most latter of the assumptions can easily be seen in Thucydides logic. The security dilemma that came out of the Peloponnesian war reflects the latter of the assumptions because Athens was sought out ways to become more powerful, which sparked fear in Sparta to raise their power and prevent Athens from gaining more such power. Another thought under realism that can be applied to the same assumption is Morgenthau’s second principle of realism—central interest defined in terms of realism. This principle reflects the idea of realism in terms of balance of power theory because it states that all states are selfish, which is what is being implied under the assumption of states seeking more power.
Another assumption that can be discussed in terms of realist thought is that power is measurable. This assumption actually refutes the ideas of classical realism and Morgenthau’s third principle; which is that interest defined in terms of power has no fixed meaning. To be able to measure power, power has to have a fixed meaning that can be applied universally. However, the circumstances and political/cultural climate of a state can be drastically different from another country. Morgenthau says, “…yet the kind of interest in determining political action in a particular period of history depends upon the political and cultural context within which foreign policy is formulated (pg. 43).” Therefore, if power has to be measurable universally, but all states will not have the same circumstances under which power is defined and applied, it cannot be measurable; effectively refuting the assumption that all states can fit under the same definition of power. Morgenthau goes on to explain that states cannot fit under the same definition of power because power ensures that the control of man over man is maintained and established. In my opinion, very little of these assumptions are realistic. The most realistic assumption there is, is that imbalances lead to instability and conflict simply because, if a disagreement amongst actors is intense enough, it can lead to major war and conflict.
Walt and Pape both write about the balance of power theory as contribution to our understanding of the idea. However, their articles challenge the idea of balance of power theory by going against the idea that states are balancing against power in terms of military capability. Walt argues that states forming alliances are doing so more for a balance against a threat rather than a balance against a power. Balancing behavior is states joining together to protect themselves from states that could pose a major threat. They do so as a risk to their own survival if they fail to prevent a hegemon from becoming to strong and to increase the new member’s influence due to the weaker side needing more assistance (pg 203). Bandwagoning behavior examples the balance against a threat by aligning themselves with that threat in order for self-preservation through appeasement or to reap the benefits of that power’s victory.
Pape’s article challenges the traditional understanding of balance of power theory by aiming that balance at the United States in a way that does not target their military strength to make it more complicated to use that power. This concept is known as soft balancing and can be done through internal balancing or external balancing. Internal balancing is a state’s decision to independently enhancing their economic or military growth to ensure independent reliability against global hegemon (pg213). External balance is the cooperation of states to organize an alliance against a hegemon.
On January 8, 1918, President Wilson addressed Congress with his Fourteen points outline and explanation that the United States entered the WWI out of moral obligation and call for peace. In his speech, he states, “We entered this war because violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible unless they were corrected and the world secure once for all against their recurrence…It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression (pg. 100).” Wilson’s fourteen points were a strategic advantage to promote world peace and ensure national security through balance of power amongst nations. As two major powers, Wilson thought it was the job of Europe and the United States to promote the balance of power.
Wilson’s fourteen points are significant to the field of international relations because his main goal of the fourteen points was promoting world peace on a global scale to promote diplomacy and forming strong alliances between the states. This is resembled in the first and final point. He says for his first point, “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view (pg100).” This first quote resembles how he is hoping to promote diplomacy through the strategic nature of the fourteenth point and the public understanding of the international functions. His final point says, “A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike (pg101).” This point is the introduction to his League of Nations strategy to have permanent peace, obtainable by making the League of Nations the foundation of the diplomatic structure and achieving the world peace he’s striving for.
Yet, ironically enough the main proponent of his fourteen points, the League of Nations, was a big weakness of his fourteen points. His fourteen points, because it focused so much on balancing power and world peace, it failed to place any blame on Germany after causing major damage and loss. Certainly, the redistribution of the lands captured by Germany back to their rightful rule—i.e. evacuating Russian territory, evacuating and restoring Belgium, freeing French territory, the safeguarding of the peoples of Austria-Hungary, etc— was a notable strength of his fourteen points. However, his dealings with Germany he discusses did not suit the needs of the other allied powers, causing major opposition to the Fourteen Points as a whole. At the end of his address, in regard to Germany, he says, “We have no jealousy of German greatness, and there is nothing in this program that impairs it.
We grudge her no achievement or distinction of learning or of pacific enterprise such as have made her record very bright and very enviable. We do not wish to injure her or to block in any way her legitimate influence or power. We do not wish to fight her either with arms or with hostile arrangements of trade if she is willing to associate herself with us and the other peace- loving nations of the world in covenants of justice and law and fair dealing. We wish her only to accept a place of equality among the peoples of the world— the new world in which we now live…(pg101).” Wilson’s handling of Germany was not the way many wanted, and his appeal to ethics and fairness failed through his attempt to try and get Congress, the Allied Powers, and the people of the United States and Germany to agree and implement his system for world peace. Wilson seemed to ignore the duress and stress the war caused for civilians from multiple countries and that many individuals wanted justice and retribution for the harm and damage Germany caused.
Constructivism, Law and Peace. (2020, Dec 16).
Retrieved December 10, 2022 , from
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