Institutions and International Relations Question Term Paper

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By way of introduction to the topic, Legro examines the general presumption that a state's sense of identity defines the parameter of its national interests, thus directing its domestic or international conduct. Rather than subscribing blindly to this fundamental precept of neorealism, Legro offers a competing theory of identity and its influence on international relations, surmising that "states become what they do as much as they do what they are, they desire what they do as much as they do what they desire" (20). It is Legro's contention that a state's distinct set of cultural norms, social values, and other markers of identity can direct governmental actions on the world stage, but that these actions will inevitably influence this identity, thus providing an entirely different contextual framework for international relations as time progresses and circumstances change.

Legro cites the example of America's divergent approaches to participation in each of the World Wars to demonstrate the fluid nature of national identity, observing that isolationist policies prior to WWI, and the failure of President Wilson's ambitious international order building agenda, should have created an identity based on self-preservation during the run-up to WWII. As Legro points out, however, the shifting ideologies and ideals which constitute America's identity directed the nation towards a more aggressive stance in terms of limiting the expansion of Nazi Germany and other forms of fascism, and "in doing so, the United States did not simply enact its identity (which rejected such a change) but instead its identity became what it believed -- and had already accomplished -- about how to deal with international society" (83). This view of a continually evolving national identity shaping the actions of a state, and those actions necessarily fueling the evolution of said identity, differs from neorealism because Legro's theory allows variables other than power dynamics and perceived threats to influence the course of international relations.

6.) How do norms, culture, and identity shape international relations, according to constructivist theory? Draw from both texts, but use concrete examples from Legro.

The concept of constructivism as it applies to international relations theory is premised on the notion that political order is the product of social change. According to Legro's appraisal of constructivist theory, the collective norms, culture, and identity of a state, which evolve continually throughout time, provide the basis for either continuity or transformation of a government's domestic and foreign policy agenda. Many leading international relations theorists share in the consensus that, "in response to the over-determination of 'structure' in neorealist and neoliberal theory, constructivists introduced the possibility of agency ... (and) that international relations is a social construct rather than an existing independently of human meaning and action" (Dunne, Kurki, and Smith 180). The constructivist view of international relations is used to explain historical movements in terms of alliances, enmity, and even economic exchange.

The long and tumultuous history of relations between the United States and England, for example, can be used to illustrate Legro's supposition that "social ideas are conceptualized not as some sort of fossilized structure but as a dynamic thing -- under formation or reformation as the agents that hold those ideas interact with others" (20). Although America fought for its independence from the British monarchy, and spent decades afterward in a struggle for autonomy against English imperialism, the decidedly anti-English cultural norms held by our forefathers have gradually been eroded as the two nations have embraced a cooperative relationship. American values like democracy and equality have spread across the globe, with England now ruled by a monarchy only in spirit, with a parliamentary government comprised of elected officials directing the U.K.'s domestic and foreign policy agenda. Now united as allies just two centuries after a rancorous revolution, the evolving relationship between America and England provides direct evidence of constructivist theory in action, as both nations have adjusted their political actions to better emulate cultural and social norms which are now shared.

Works Cited

Dunne, Tim, Kurki, Milja, and Smith, Steve. International relations theories: discipline and diversity. Oxford University Press, USA, 2007.

Ikenberry, G. John. After victory: institutions, strategic restraint, and the rebuilding of order after major wars. Princeton University Press, 2009.

Keohane, Robert O. Neorealism and its Critics. New York:…[continue]

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