From the CIAO Atlas Map of Europe 

email icon Email this citation

CIAO DATE: 05/03

'The Cold War is What We Make of It': When Peace Research Meets Constructivism in International Relations

Stefano Guzzini

Copenhagen Peace Research Institute
June 2002

This chapter argues that one of the lineages of present-day ‘constructivist’ research in International Relations is peace research. Indeed, the ease with which constructivism-inspired research has swept over Western and Northern Europe cannot be understood otherwise. Constructivism provides the meta-theoretical support and furthered the classical peace research criticism that the Cold War was no necessity, but politically ‘constructed’.

Peace research, as w ell as constructivism, insists that international ‘anarchy’ does not exclude the existence of an international society. In its view, anarchy has no unbreakable logic: its effects are a construct of that international society. It does not exclude that agents can learn in international society, that its rules can be amended, and that these are, in turn, related to the constitution of the roles these very agents can play in that society. In other words, international relations are the effect of political processes, not structural or historical necessities. Peace research/constructivism does not deny that ‘power politics’ can exist. This power politics is, however, not the result of invariable laws of politics, but is the compounded effect of agents who believe in such pessimistic invariable laws of politics caught in structures reflecting these beliefs. In terms of research, this meant that the Cold War lock was a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ whose extent needed to be empirically established and not axiomatically excluded from research. In political terms, the potential for détente policies was to be sorted out in step-by-step and controlled confidence- building measures and arms control, not excluded through a policy which mistook the sometimes necessary means of containment and deterrence with the ends of international politics.

Arguing for this point of encounter, even if central, comes with a series of caveats, however. First, it should not be mistaken to mean that everything there was and is to peace research can be subsumed under constructivism, or vice versa. Rather, it wants to remind constructivists that some of their political argument comes as a ‘déjà vu’ to peace researchers and that they might be well advised to also look at the rest of peace research, in particular its emancipatory tradition (Alker 1996). Inversely, peace research would gain from taking some of the particular constructivist or in deed post-structuralist insights seriously. For constructivism has been inspired by a series of developments in the philosophy of social sciences which have undermined the faith in ‘data’. Since the recourse to the ‘real world’ to question the validity of realism was alone not enough, it needed to provide an ontological base for the claim of a self-fulfilling prophecy; it needed to provide a general approach which could conceptualise learning and process in a coherent manner. If constructivists should be more aware of the analytical, practical and normative agenda of peace research, peace research, in turn, should not take the ‘déjà vu’ as an excuse to neglect the theoretical and meta-theoretical turn in the social sciences which is necessary to their own defence.

The second caveat has to do with the presentist presentation of the main claim. I will try to address mainly IR scholars, which means, as a result, that peace research is primarily seen through the lenses of the discourse in IR, of ‘realism and its critics’. Although this makes the lineage around self-fulfilling prophecies more visible, it also does some violence to the very self-conception of much peace research. I hope that this shortcoming is at least partly offset by the advantage of opening up for this encounter, and by Heikki Patomäki’s (2001) article, which, written from within peace research, can be read parallel to much of the following.