Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Anarchy is what states make of it

The article by Alexander Wendt examines the social basis for realism. It is particularly critical of realist assumptions that their description of the international system arose through some kind of evolutionary process.

"Self-help and power politics are institutions, not essential features of anarchy." Sounds sort of like the claim that realism is self-fulfilling because if one player believes the others to be acting in accordance with realism then he will act in the same way.

Wendt is particularly concerned with identities, because he finds no explanation in realism for why structurally similar "objects" have different meanings. As an example, why is one entity a friend and another a foe, when they are superficially similar entities.

Wendt's explanation is that "Actors acquire identities...Identities are inherently relational." This has implications for the security dilemma. Wendt considers a hypothetical first position for states, in which their own nature, and the nature of the other states is unknown. It is only through the initial interactions that States would determine who is a selfish predator, and who is a potential ally.


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