Debating IR

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


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Jonathan Berman on Writing Security by David Campbell

I'll admit I've been a fan of constructivism since I took Persaud's Human and Global Security class last semester. Especially enlightening was reading David Campbell's WRITING SECURITY which analyzed the Cold War from a constructivist point of view. Instead of talking about US foreign policy and its concern with things like second-strike capability, the tank gap, or even the missile gap that worried analysts back in the 1950's and 1960's, Campbell takes the position that US foreign policy was concerned more with defending the identity of the US rather than defending the US from the material threat of the Soviet Union.

Documents like the NSC-68, which influenced US foreign policy greatly, talk more about the conflicting values of the Soviet Union and how they differed from the US's basic founding principles than strategy. According to the NSC-68 the US is the protector of freedom and liberty while the USSR is a force for evil and slavery that needs to be resisted. More importantly, the NSC-68 and other discourses analyzed by Campbell show that there was a conscious desire to create a "self" (represented by the US) and an other (represented by the USSR). The self was good and needed to be protected from the other. In the case of the Cold War things like socialism and homosexuality threatened the US’s core identity (the US's self) as a capitalist, moral society. (The US government in the 50’s and 60’s actually ferreted out homosexuals in the government because they were a supposed "security threat").

After reading Campbell’s book it is easy to see how the Cold War could have turned out differently. For example, what if the US viewed the Soviet Union’s refusal to leave Eastern Europe after WWII in the context of Russian history, where Russia had repeatedly been invaded and was naturally seeking a buffer for its security? Maybe the USSR’s actions would not be viewed as so scary. However, what if we look at the Soviet Union’s refusal to leave Eastern Europe in the context of its ascribed identity as being evil, the embodiment of slavery, and destined to clash with the US? In this case, it easily understandable how the US might have been apt to believe the USSR was expansionistic and seeking to gain power in order to clash with the US.

In the end, I believe that these two examples highlight the importance of perception in international relations. In this case, the US’s perception shaped how it interpreted Soviet actions. Documents like the NSC-68 helped create a certain social reality that made the US interpret Soviet actions in a certain light. If Campbell’s work is true it is easy to see how liberals and realists have gone wrong. The US's actions were based on the US’s self-interest for sure but those interests were a product of the US’s identity as the leader of the "free world" and the "free market" which the USSR was diametrically opposed to. If we were thange the US’s identity then we would change its interests and therefore change its foreign policy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this. I've been having some trouble understanding the book, although I do get a sense of the overall theme. But this summary has been helpful.

11:46 PM  
Blogger spastrick said...

Its funny, I'm reading this book for Persuad's Class and find this. Good insight!

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Campbell's epistemology and ontology are both more post-positivist than those of constructivists such that he is probably better labelled a poststructuralist. Moreover, his reliance on Derridean discourse analysis and deconstruction and his emphasis on Butlerian performativity reinforce this assessment.

3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No matter what others say, I think it is still interesting and useful maybe necessary to improve some minor things

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He's not a construtivist.

5:13 PM  

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