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Risse-Kappen: Collective identity in a democratic community

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Risse-Kappen. 1996. Collective identity in a democratic community: The case of NATO. In Culture of National Security, ed. Katzenstein, pp. 357-399.

From a critical paper:

"Risse-Kappen (1996) argues that realists (or what he calls "sophisticated realists," such as Walt and presumably Morrow) do not adequately explain the formation, cooperation, and continuation of NATO. Instead Risse-Kappen proposes shared identities and norms of behavior as an explanation. ...

"In this paper, I show that Risse-Kappen's argument leaves much to be desired in the way of clarity. The mechanisms he describes may in fact be better explained by Walt and Morrow, and his argument works only when taken in conjunction with the explanations of the other two authors. First, Risse-Kappen's argument does not address how states initially identify each other as allies and form the shared norms he argues shaped NATO. Furthermore, in answering this question, his theory looks a lot like that outlined in Morrow. Second, I comment that Risse-Kappen too quickly dismisses the functioning of such mechanisms in non-democracies, and underspecifies the manner in which ideology interacts with the international system."

The problem with REALISM is that it explains anything, and therefore nothing. It can predict either American alliance with Western Europe or American unilateralism (in the Cold War), and that realism can predict either the end of NATO after 1991 or its perpetuation. Realism, therefore, makes no bold predictions. If it can explain anything, it predicts nothing. See page 364.

[from handout, with my comments]:

He posits a "liberal constructivist approach": agents are not states but individuals acting in social context, preferences of states are result of domestic structures and coalition-building process responding to social demands and external factors such as material and social structure of international system, ideas matter, and international institutions form the social structure of IR. Norms and identities are why democracies do not fight, as well as determine "otherness" that tells them who to hate (Soviets). Norms make states anticipate demands from allies and define their preferences with that in mind. Norms determine "appropriate behavior" and influence the bargaining process between allies.

In sum, democracies perceive each other as peaceful and don't fight each other. Democratic norms governing domestic decision making are why they perceive as peaceful. They form security communities of shared values. They overcome obstacles because of shared values. Norms regulate bargaining in institutions that democracies build.

RK applies this logic to understand formation of NATO and two NATO crises: Suez Canal and Cuban Missile Crisis. With Suez, US had to "coerce" allies UK/France/Israel when they broke norms of trust and confidence and betrayed community. With Cuban Missile Crisis, US more concerned with (and consulted with) allies than we think and worried about Berlin getting bombed. The US's ultimate decision shows that retaliation against Europe was main concern [but is this really inconsistent with realism? If European states give us strength in balancing USSR, then we would be concerned about any advance made by the USSR]. And now NATO is expanding and responding to new international environment [but is it really? How much does NATO still matter?]

Research on similar subjects


Risse-Kappen, Thomas (author)International RelationsAlliancesConstructivismNormsIdentity

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