Why Am I
Prof. Kelli Erickson
Introduction to International Relations 103B
Why Am I a Constructivist
The three theories of international relations, realism, liberalism, and constructivism, work in different ways to explain the workings of the world. This paper seeks to justify what makes me a self-designated constructivist. In examining the development of conflicts throughout the history by the taking a look the era of the World Wars as well as the more recent events of terrorism and the rise of China, I attempt to explain with the best arguments of each IR theory in my opinion, what it was that caused these conflicts, and adjudicate at the end why constructivism does in my opinion the best overall job in doing so.
One of the greatest conflicts the world has ever seen will forever remain WWI, as it resulted in a dramatic change in all history to come.
Realists find Germany mostly at fault for WWI conflict. The combination of unification, rise in power, added to their precarious geographic situation, and Germany’s own fear about Russia’s rapidly increasing economy” led Germany to engage in a preventative war. Since the international system in realism is anarchic and of self-help nature, state actors constantly try to survive. Therefore the strategic logic of preventive war traces its origins in the desire to hold up the decline in relative power compared to a rising adversary and the future threat power shifts might display. Hence, Germany feared Russia might use its increasing powers in a coercive way once it had built up its military capability. WWI thus was motivated by a closing window of opportunity for Germany created by relative decline.
Liberals consider “bad” domestic politics arising in major European countries as the cause of war. The “Institutional weakness [within countries] contributed to fragmentation and faulty coordination of policy and lead against liberal desires for a stable, effective and preferably democratic government. For Instance, the iron and rye coalition running the German government excluded deliberately the socialist leaders from major decision resulting in political disturbance. All in all leaders thought that such domestic cleavages could only be overcome by war.
Constructivist logic argues that “social darwinism and the spread of hypernationalist ideologies” exalted in a “persuasive believe among European leaders” - the cult of the offensive. This cult sparked “need for rapid mobilization and secret military planning” and therefore created a downward mobilization spiral causing WWI.
Out of the three theories Realism is for me the most convincing one due the strongest evidence throughout the pre-war process. For instance, Germany’s war planning already happened from 1911-1913. This did not only included to post-pone the war until the navy established enough to fight and the Kiel canal was build but also the preparation of the German economy towards war by building up money as well as food reserves. Even more obvious is the fact that Germany kept Austria from attacking Serbia during the Balkan crisis since Russia would lure into combat by helping his ally and Germany was not yet ready to fight. All of those measures served to expand Germany’s relative advantage. For liberalism and constructivism on being the stronger theories controverts the fact that leaders knew war could even increase the chances of social revolutions in their countries due to dissatisfaction with the course of the war or the actual regime what already colonial conquests in the past can underline.
World War II presents somewhat similar argumentation.
The Strongest argument for realism is in my opinion preventive war again. “Hitler said that Russia was the ultimate target and that it had to be attacked before 1943-1945 when Germany’s power relative to Russia’s would peak.” Therefore John Mearsheimer’s argument on aspiration towards increasing security and hence power comes once more into affect.
For liberalists, the inability to balance power before WW I lead towards the establishment of the League of Nations, a collective security organization in which nations pool their military. However, the failure of exactly this organization evoked the outbreak of WWII as with the disruption of the League also the interdependence necessary for peace stopped. Because the US and the USSR, the two powers required to create the preponderance of the organization, never joint the nation the efforts of the nation turned futile. Additionally the disarmament without credible security commitments of individual states led to more not fewer security fears
Because ideas of identities shape political, cultural or economic life external relations are influenced. Therefore, for constructivists clashing identities of Europe’s major powers compared to Germany’s National Socialism evoked “purely a war of ‘Weltanschauungen.’” Whereas Germany saw the Western democracy as fertilizer for a Marxist regime the Soviet Union was directly opposed to National Socialism since the relationship with a “Jewish, communist regime could only be a state of war.”
Since different ideologies were present during the Interwar Period and WWII the constructivist theory is the decisive one for me. First Hitler used everything his power to destroy the Soviet Union. Therefore the “Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 was a tactical decision to facilitate the destruction of the Soviet Union by having them as ally against the West and then turn against the Soviet Union itself.” Additionally, evidence proves that war could have turned out differently if the Nazis would have not been put in power. A group around Ludwig Beck, former Army Chief Staff, opposed Germany’s decision to go to war with Britain and France, because they are “Germany’s ideological allies against the greatest ideological threat in the system: the Soviet Union” and “united by a common European identity.” To prevent conflict with those countries he informed them with covert messages about Hitler’s battlefield plans.
Although the realist as well as the liberal argument seem reasonable and evidence can be found there is one obvious counterargument for each to accentuate why a clash of ideologies is more convincing. Since preventive war is about avoiding a higher-cost future one “cannot explain Germany’s leaders’ decision to wage a war of annihilation” against ethnicities who do not conform to the standards of the Aryan race. This type of war is highly expensive and drains resources which could have been used to fight a rising adversary. Therefore preventive war should be excluded.
In my opinion, the breakup of the League of Nations was also influenced by the different ideologies states were following. Why would have Germany, which was taken over by Adolf Hitler in 1933 otherwise have left the League close after that?
The conflicts of today are somewhat different. One of the greatest “issues” facing us today is the rise of China. In studying China the concern is more focused on what the potential for future conflict looks like, as there is no war with China as we speak, at least not where America is strictly concerned. Because each theory has a prediction for what will occur instead of a retrospective argument for what the cause of the conflict was, there is an optimistic and pessimist argument for each. However, because I am discussing which theory can best explain the origins of conflict I am only taking on the pessimist.
China’s power is growing due to an economic increase in GNP what leads to more spending on its military build-up. “As a state’s capabilities grow, leaders tend to define their interests more expansively and seek a greater degree of influence over what happening around them”. Therefore realists predict that China will fight for a hegemonic position in East Asia where currently the US has prevailing preponderance. Because the US wants to secure its dominance this will result in an increasing clash of interests leading towards a security dilemma and boost the likelihood of future conflicts.
For liberalist China’s transitions towards democracy gives rise to conflicts between China and the US. China’s authoritarian regime has starts to have “an uncertain grip on power” as communists principles get mixed up with tendencies towards nationalism. An economic downturn can even spark hypernationalism. This is an unstable and dangerous combination which gives way for letting the uncertainty and frustration of China’s inhabitants turn outwards against other countries, e.g. Taiwan, instead of their own regime. Furthermore, Liberalists believe that democracies are less likely to fight each other. However, it is argued by Mansfield and Snyder that states in transition are more conflict prone than before.
Constructivist Pessimists expect conflict between China and the US based on past narratives and exogenous shocks which will harden already stiff perceptions even further. Both nations feel right to insist on their prevailing exceptions about the other one. Whereas China thinks the US keeps them from achieving their rightful place in world economy the US views China as an authoritarian regime which suppresses human rights and will try to dominate other Asian countries with their rising power. Each view can be underlined by past events. For China the bombing of the Kosovo Embassy is a mischievous attack by the US against China whereas the US is stigmatized by China’s support of the North Korean regime during the Korean War.
It is obviously quite difficult to predict what the future holds, but in a careful consideration of China, one may see that they have a lot of obstacles to overcome before they can overtake the US. China’s population is growing and aging. Its youngest generation continues to grow, with a much higher portion of young man than young women due to the one child policy, and its work force and military recruitment possibility is shrinking. Therefore China has to shift its governmental spending towards those problems and away from military build-up plans what will slow down the rise of a relative advantage. Hence, the realist approach can be excluded for now. Also Liberalism can be ruled out. Although the US and China are clashing regime types, both parties use foremost historical based facts and interventions to justify their transitive behavior against each other nowadays. For instance, China stabilizes its own regime by blaming the U.S. for their own diplomatic and economic issues based on historical events. This scapegoat theory is apparently accepted by Chinese inhabitants since the U.S. is through historical events seen as opponent and will throw off possible regime transition in the coming for future. In my opinion an actual attempt towards transition could only be achieved by China opening its regime to the establishment of human rights organizations. This is why constructivism is in my opinion the best explanation for possible conflicts between the US and China.
Another rising problem which burdens our momentary world order is the increasing number of terrorist groups. Terrorism is a conspecies of insurgency and uses unlawful punishments against mostly non-combatants to install a caliphate in power to bring political change. Looking at this definition Terrorism sounds by nature like a realist phenomenon since non-state groups are using forceful means to fight a unipolar preponderance under asymmetric conditions what leads to a security dilemma as opponents will fight back.
Liberalism focuses on globalization to explain why conflicts with radical non-state groups arise. Due to new technological developments it is possible for countries to increase their cultural and economic interdependence. Therefore societies around the globe get exposed to new ideas, such as Democratization, what can expose a threat to traditional values fueling internal hostility and the government’s fear on power redistribution bringing about conflicts between opposed parties.
Under the lens of constructivism terrorism can be best explained with Samuel Huntington’s theory of the “Clash of Civilizations”. According to him civilizations are “the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity and therefore identities themselves will become increasingly important in the near future and be one of the major reasons for conflicts.
Next to new technologies and therefore increasing communication between civilizations the fact that we live in a Western dominated world in which actors define themselves relative to it, influence the strength if cultural identities which are dominated by deep and basic differences from within each culture. Hence, culture or civilizational differences become the relevant fundament for in-group as well as out-group conflicts.
By looking at current events constructivism is in my opinion the right choice to explain conflicts between the US and terrorist organizations. Although I am aware that there are various examples in history, such as the Kosovo War, which could disprove my decision, Huntington’s clash of the cultures can explain just fine the 9/11 attack and the resulting War on Terror as well as the frictions with the Islamic State by looking at operational strategies.
The Global Jihad and foremost Al-Quaeda’s strategy is driven by a Wahhabi-salafist “globalizing” ideology: it endorse a borderless Islamic caliphate to replace today’s nation-states, and eliminate all rival religions. Jihadists see themselves as fighting a global war, defending pure Islam against the forces of decadent Western civilization and the countries it supports in the West. The extent to which this strategy works proves the power of ideas. If the desire for “cultural jihad” has been transformed into material power, then ideas are leveled with military power. This can in my opinion definitely be said for the rise of the Islamic State.
By adjudicating three out of those four cases with this theory one can easily recognize that I am a constructivist. Although there is not better explanation for me than Dale Copeland’s theory for WWI realism attempts to reduce international relations to a series of power plays and players and overlooks that the modern world, a system of state and non state actors, is oriented and adjusted through socially constructed norms and ideologies instead. Liberalism contributes for me to the overall picture why conflict evolves. However, in my opinion it is not enough to blame decreasing interdependence, because there is the still the question how it came to this. In my opinion failing interdependence and collapsing organizations can only be explained by the influence of ideologies. All in all constructivism ideologies may not fully equate to traditional power, but they play a major role in resource allocation and in the determination of the uses to which power is put.