Theory of Social Constructivism. The United Nations Security Council in Libya

Seminar Paper, 2014

15 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1 Introduction

2 Theoretical frameworks
2.1 Core assumptions of social constructivism
2.2 Powers and functions of the UN Security Council

3 Empirical Example
3.1 Multilateral intervention in Libya
3.2 Explaining actions in Libya by means of social constructivism

4 Conclusion

1 Introduction

The United Nations (UN) in international relations is considered to be a supranational organization. Currently the UN consist of 193 Member States and it stresses out four main purposes, which are maintaining peace and security, developing friendly relations amongst states, helping states to work together and being a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations (cf. Additionally the UN is seen as a collective security system, which offers states to settle down any disputes and for solving social, economic, humanitarian and ecological problems on international level (cf. Gareis/Varwick 2006: 85). According to this purposes, the UN has acted and authorized multilateral interventions in many states, which were affected by conflicts. The Libyan conflict in 2011, as an example, was one of the cases where the UN has responded to. The actions and the multilateral intervention in Libya leaves questions. How does the UN shape the behavior of its Member States and why does the UN act in general? The theory of social constructivism by Alexander Wendt, can provide an explanation to these questions. The theory defines balances of power between states and explains the behavior of states. Furthermore it claims that international relations are social and the international system is constituted by ideas (cf. Jackson/Sorensen 2006: 162). But the main question which shall be discussed in this term paper is therefore: „ How can the theory of social constructivism explain the actions by the United Nations Security Council in Libya? “

First of all core assumptions of social constructivism has to be discussed in order to explain further analysis of this term paper. After the illustration of the core assumptions of social constructivism, the powers and functions of the UN Security Council shall be described, because the Security Council, as one of the most important main body of the UN, is the only executive body that act regarding any threat of peace and security. Thereafter the situation in Libya, as the empirical example have to be mentioned. What exactly happened in Libya and what did the UN especially the Security Council do? Altogether with the core assumptions of social constructivism, the theoretical knowledge of the Security Council and the information of the Libyan conflict, the main question shall be answered. At the end the conclusion shall summarize the term paper´s outcome of the analysis.

2 Theoretical framework

2.1 Core assumptions of social constructivism

In order to explain actions by the United Nations Security Council, core assumptions of social constructivism has to be described first. The initial point of this theory is that interaction between states in the international system is characterized by anarchy (cf. Jackson/Sorensen 2006: 168). States are seen as the primary actors, which are self-organized units constructed from within by discursive practices of individuals and social groups (cf. Copeland 2006: 4). First of all, what exactly is meant by anarchy in the international system? According to Grieco anarchy is: „… the absence of a reliable central authority to which they can appeal for protection or the redress of grievances “ (Grieco 1997: 164). Because of anarchy, states can break commitments and contracts and may use violence against other states in order to reach their goals (cf. Grieco 2000: 165). Taking anarchy as a starting point, there is also the assumption of a lack of trust among states and thus creating a self-help-system (cf. Viotti/Kauppi 1993: 48 and Waltz 1997: 62). Under the assumption of a self-help- system, the primary goals of all states are survival and security (cf. Vogt 1999: 43).

However, in the theory of social constructivism, anarchy does play a role, but must not necessarily lead to a self-help-system. The argument by Wendt is that whether there will be a self-help-system or not depends on the interaction of states (Jackson/Sorensen 2006: 168) and in addition he claims that „ Anarchy is what states make of it “ (Wendt 1992: 395). With this claim, Wendt explains it with the first encountering of two actors, which he calls them „ ego “ and „ alter “ . Decisions depend on how either „ ego “ or „ alter “ respond to the first gesture or behavior towards the other actor. Social threats are therefore constructed by the actions that occur during the interaction of two actors or states (cf. Wendt 1992: 404f. and Fierke 2006: 169). In addition three „ cultures of anarchy “ are distinguished and in each „ culture of anarchy “, states play certain roles towards each other. These are „ Hobbesian “, „ Lockean" and „ Kantian “ culture. In the „ Hobbesian “ culture, states cast each other in the role of enemy where in the „ Lockean" culture, states see themselves as rivals and in the „ Kantian “ culture, states play the role of friends (cf. Copeland 2006: 6). But what if one of the states behave or act aggressively? Wendt calls such an action a „ predation “ . If, according to Wendt, one of the two actors, is predatory (the actor predisposed by aggression) the other one must either define its security in a self- help terms or pay the price. Wendt further argues, if such predation occurs, the predatory state would force others with whom it comes in contact to defend themselves. States will form defensive alliances and go into a „ Hobbesian “ culture. If the predatory state attacks any member of a collective (in this case the defense alliance), they will act upon the principle of „ all for one, one for all “ , even, as Wendt stresses out, there is no threat to other members of the collective (cf. Wendt 1992: 408). The action of this principle is related to the assumption of „ cooperative security system “, in which states perceive security as the responsibility of all. National interest of security becomes therefore an international interest (cf. Wendt 1992: 400).

Another core assumption of social constructivism is that the world is socially constructed (cf. Wendt 1992: 397f.) Given that, the self-help-system is also socially constructed under anarchy (cf. Wendt 1992: 395). As the world in social constructivism is defined as socially constructed, this means it is a world of human consciousness. And that consciousness is constituted of thoughts, beliefs, ideas, concepts, language, discourses, signals, understanding and signs among human beings, especially groups of human beings, such as states (cf. Jackson/Sorensen 2006: 165). The world, by social constructivism, is seen not only as socially constructed but also as an „ideational structure“, where ideas always matters. And it is the ideas that provide broad orientations for state behavior, which are sets of distinctive beliefs, principals and attitudes (cf. Jackson/Sorensen 2006: 165f.). Copeland, for example, explains that the „ideational structure“ would shape the very way that states define themselves and therefore it becomes their identity. And this „ideational structure“ would lead actors to redefine their interests and identities in the process of interacting. He also argues that the global politics is guided by the intersubjectively shared norms, ideas and values and the role of those shared ideas and norms are shaping and constraining the behavior of states (cf. Copeland 2006: 3). This means that shared beliefs (consisting of ideas and values) are telling how states understand the world and explain why they act like they do and when interacting with one another they know what they can expect from each other. Jackson and Sorensen are going further in detail and elucidate that identity and interests are defined by norms of behavior embedded in international society.

These norms are transmitted to states through international organizations and those organizations shape their national policies (cf. Jackson/Sorensen 2006: 169). Assuming this, it means that all those shared norms, values and ideas are embraced in international institutions or organizations, which also contain the collective knowledge of states that embody such institutions. This is what Wendt means with „ Anarchy is what states make of it “ . States are therefore the ones whose behavior depend on which shared norms, values and ideas they have (thus creating their own identity) and how they interact with one another. And they are the ones who can create such institutions that shape their national interests and international behavior. In the following chapter the powers and functions of the UN Security Council shall be explained next.

2.2 Powers and functions of the UN Security Council

According to Article 7, paragraph 1 of the UN Charter, the UN has six main organs. Those main organs are: The General Assembly (GA), Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Secretariat, International Court of Justice (ICJ), Trusteeship Council (TC) and the Security Council (SC) (cf. Opitz 2002: 15). The SC is the executive organ of the UN and has to function continually (cf. Sands/ Klein 2001: 40). Furthermore the SC has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security under Article 24 of the UN Charter and in addition it has to deal with immediate and serious crisis (cf. Gray 2010: 633f. and Wallenstein/Johansson 2004: 30).The arising questions concerning the maintenance of peace and security are when does the SC has to maintenance peace and security and what exactly does maintenance of peace and security mean? These questions shall be answered after a closer description of the SC and an explanation of how the SC work. According to Article 23 of the UN Charter, the SC consist of 15 members. Those 15 members are distinguished of „permanent members“, namely United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China, who have the right of veto (cf. Sands/Klein 2001: 41) and ten „non-permanent members“ without the right of veto. „Non-permanent members“ are elected for two years by the GA and are not immediately eligible for re-elections.


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Theory of Social Constructivism. The United Nations Security Council in Libya
University of Bamberg
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theory, social, constructivism, united, nations, security, council, libya
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Christian Graf (Author), 2014, Theory of Social Constructivism. The United Nations Security Council in Libya, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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