Constructivist Perspective: Barnett's Analysis of the Arab Essay

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¶ … constructivist perspective: Barnett's analysis of the Arab state system

For many years, neorealism, or the 'black box' theory of nation-state behavior, dominated international political theory. Neorealism views state actors as pursuing national interests in a unified and direct fashion and stresses the importance of military and economic power in determining state behavior. "An international system is stable (i.e., in a stable equilibrium) if no state believes it profitable to change the system," according to neorealists (Barnett 1995: 487). However, according to constructivist theories of international development, the identity of state actors is an eternally changing cultural, political, and social problem (Hopf 1998: 176). According to constructivists, there are no a priori state interests, and power is not simply defined in economic and military terms (although these are understood to have an impact on geopolitics (Hopf 1998: 177). State identity must be situated and contextualized, and thus constructivists often conceive of the international political order as far more volatile than neorealists.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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This idea of that the international political order is the product of a negotiation of social meanings seems particularly relevant to the Middle East, where apparently illogical actions by some state actors can be understood as a cultural product, rather than a purely tactical negotiation of power. Additionally, many non-state actors and forces (such as clans, terrorist organizations, and the influence of Islamic sects) can impact the evolution of policy. According to Michael Barnett's 1995 article, "Sovereignty, nationalism, and regional order in the Arab states system," "if Arab leaders were reluctant to treat each other as sovereign entities, frequently challenging one another's authority and territorial basis of existence, it was because of the presence of a rival institution of pan-Arabism that allocated potentially contradictory roles and behavioral expectations" (Barnett 1995: 484). The 'elastic' concept of Arab nationalism has battled, ideologically, with the idea of national sovereignty. According to constructivism, the fact that "nations are understood as having a shared identity, past, and future, and nationalism is a political movement that demands a correspondence between the nation and political author" makes it a thorny issue for the Middle East, as national unity and coherence seldom exists within current state borders, much less between all Arab nations (Barnett 1995:484).

Barnett notes that even neorealist analysts in the region admit that ideological concepts have an impact upon the politics of the Middle East. "the ability to manipulate one's own image and the image of one's rivals in the minds of other Arab elites," and the breakdown of Pan-Arabism after the Arab defeat during the 1967 war suggests that a narrow neoliberal understanding of Arab state actions cannot be supported with existing historical evidence (Barnett 1995:489). The great value, Barnett says, in using a constructivist approach is its emphasis on relationality, versus a 'black box' concept. 'Pan-Arab' institutions that facilitate cooperation arise not out of a perfectly rational calculation of mutual state interests,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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