Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 06/2008

Strategic Culture and the English School: Conceptualising Strategic Adjustment in the Nordic Region

April 2002

Finnish Institute for International Affairs


The Nordic region seems to be in the midst of a thorough transformation-process, involving all of the countries in the region as well as the key institutional players. The aim of this paper is to define some of the key concepts needed for understanding and explaining this process. In particular, the paper focuses on sketching a method for differentiating between structural and cultural sources of strategic adjustment. The concept of structure connects the discussion to structural realism, while the concept of culture is linked to the theoretical debates within IR about strategic culture and international society. The method outlined in the paper borrows from Max Weber’s use of ideal types and scientific realists’ use of iconic modeling. The paper argues for ontological clarity in dealing with causal mechanisms (at the level of the real) that are used to explain grand strategies (at the level of the actual) and their empirical referents such a military doctrine or alliance choices. Three ideal types of strategic culture – realist, liberal, and revolutionary – are suggested as a hermeneutical tool for evaluating the potential effects of causal powers of strategic cultures within strategic thinking.