Creating identity through delimitation: The discussions about lifting the EU's weapons embargo against China

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

23 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction: A Constructivist Analysis of the Embargo Discussion between the U.S. and the EU

2. Constructivism in International Relations
The Social Construction of Reality
Social Regions and Communities
Collective Identities
Identity Shaping From Within
Identity Shaping From the Outside
Identity Shaping Through Creation of the "Other"

3. "We have Europe. Now we need Europeans": Constructing European Identity
The European Need for an Identity
China's Role in the Process of Identity Shaping

4. Lifting the EU's Weapons Embargo on China: Differing Views Across the Atlantic
A Short History of the Embargo
The EU - Perspective: Why the Embargo Should Be Lifted
The U.S. - Perspective: Why the Embargo Should Stay
in Place
A Stumbling Stone for the Alliance?

5. Conclusion: Why the EU Seems to Risk a Transatlantic Rift

6. Bibliography

7. Affidavit

1. Introduction: A Constructivist Analysis of the Embargo Discussion between the U.S. and the EU

The EU's weapons embargo on China has been in place since the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. After some aspects of the embargo had been lifted in the autumn of 1990, there was no real discussion about the relevance and the necessity of it for years. In 2003, however, some European states, notably France and Germany, suggested that the embargo should be lifted in order to normalize the relationship between the EU and China and to pave the way for further economic and political ties between the two powers. Predictably, the United States has since been lobbying vehemently against a lifting of the embargo. In early 2005, the decision about lifting the embargo was postponed after massive US pressure as well as the ratification of the Chinese Anti- Secession Law in which the PRC threatened to use military force against Taiwan. Furthermore, inner- European problems with the ratification of the new constitution lead to stalling of other projects, including the Code of Conduct and the Toolbox without which the embargo cannot be lifted (see Wacker 2005: 33). The question itself has not been forgotten, however, and most analysts expect the embargo to be lifted sooner rather than later. A rift in the transatlantic relationship between the EU and the US thus seems unavoidable.

The European Union as well as the PRC emphasizes that lifting the embargo would be a symbolic move rather than the prelude to increased weapon transfers from Europe to China. The question remains, however, why the EU would "see benefit in the symbolic change of policy . . . when it would cause such anxiety in the heart of arguably their most significant true partner in the national security arena" (David Shambaugh, see Lawrence 2004: 28). One basic assumption of this paper is that the EU is not, as some critics put it, blind towards the strategic implications of a change in Chinese military power and power projection capabilities for the region and the international community. Rather, there must be different goals and aims of the European Union that outweigh the strategic doubts.

In this paper, therefore, I will analyze the question of how the EU decision process about the Chinese weapons embargo might be influenced by the need for a European identity and the quest for it. I will look at this question from a constructivist angle. Therefore, in the first part of the paper, I will deal with constructivist theory of international relations, especially concentrating on the social construction of identity and social regions.

In the second part of the paper, I will have a look at European identity, the way it has developed so far and the challenges surrounding it for the future. According to the topic of this paper, I will put special emphasis on China's stance towards European integration and the effects this might have on European identity.

In the third chapter, I will present the main arguments of the discussion about lifting the weapons embargo against China, giving both the American and the European view on the subject and analyzing how the discussion about the embargo might influence the relationship between the United States and the European Union.

In the final part, then, I will conclude the paper with a summarizing of my main ideas. Furthermore, I will discuss the relevance of constructivist theory to this problem and try to answer the main question of this paper: Is the discussion about lifting the EU's weapons embargo on China influenced by the search for a European identity?

2. Constructivism in International Relations

Constructivism as a theory has not developed from within the theory of international relations or, for that matter, from within political sciences. Rather, it is a more general meta-theory that can be used throughout all of the social sciences. International relations analysts can therefore work with its assumptions as well.

It is not without problems to talk about a constructivist theory as such: From the 1990s onwards, several sub-theories have developed from the main theory (see e.g. Fearon/Wendt 2001: 56). In the following chapters, I will therefore concentrate on the main arguments that can be found in all constructivist theories. Given the topic of this paper, I will pay special attention towards constructivist assumptions about identity and identity shaping.

2.1 The Social Construction of Reality

The main interest of constructivism lies in analyzing the construction of social actors' identities and the reasons for actors behaving and acting the way they do (see Fearon/Wendt 2001: 57). Generally speaking, constructivists assume that the world does not consist solely of material realities but rather of social constructions. Different people thus have a different perception of the world even though it apparently presents itself to them in the same way (see Berger/Luckmann 1967: 54f).

One central assumption of constructivism is that actors are deeply rooted in their environment and its social structures. All of their actions and decisions are based on their socialization into this environment and their current role in it. The actors reconfirm and recreate the norms and rules of their environment continuously through their actions. Individual action thus always takes place in a predefined social context by which it is continually influenced. There are no "pre- social functions of use" (Risse et al 2002: 17), as Rational Choice theories for example postulate. Rather, the actors' behavior is determined by their preferences. They, in turn, have developed on the basis of social norms (see Fearon/Wendt 2001: 59). There is a strong idealist notion within constructivism: Constructivists believe that the structures of human co-existence are determined primarily by shared values and not by material forces and that these shared values determine the identities of both individual and international actors (see Palan 2000: 576)

In this context, social norms are defined as „kollektive Erwartungen über angemessenes Verhalten auf der Grundlage einer gegebenen Identität“, i.e. society's expectation towards a person to act in a certain situation according to a predetermined set of rules (see Risse et al 2002: 17). Social norms do not only influence the action and behavior but also necessarily the identity of social actors. Constructivism does not deny that actors decide on the basis of their interests and preferences. These interests and preferences, however, are interpreted as socially conditioned and are therefore neither chosen rationally nor predetermined. The identity of actors is thus socially constituted; the defining factor of identity shaping is not the individual but the society (see Fearon/Wendt 2001: 57 f).

Constructivism divides between material and idealistic values (see Wendt 1999: 309, Fearon/Wendt 2001: 58). Material values are supposed to only have a minimal influence on the actors' decision making. This does not mean that material values do not matter. To what extent and with which implications they do, however, depends on the idealistic alignment and the norms of the actors: „Material factors matter at the limit, but how they matter depends on ideas“ (Fearon/Wendt 2001: 58).

2.2 Social Regions and Communities

In constructivist theory, social regions and communities (i.e. nation states, systems of states, counties etc) are constructs that originate in the human desire to identitfy with a larger unit of existence. Communities are therefore socially constructed "cognitive regions . . . whose people imagine that, with respect to their own security and economic well-being, borders run, more or less, where shared understandings and common identities end" (Emanuel Adler, see Palan 2000: 587).

Adler and Barnett identify three main characteristics of communities in the social constructivist sense. Firstly, all members of a community need to share the same values and norms, i.e. they have to have an identity that they all agree on. Secondly, the relations between different members of the community are man- sided, meaning that members do not have to know each other to accept the group as a whole and feel akin to the solidarity within the group. Thirdly, the group members need to exhibit a long- term interest in the continuance and the well- being of the group as a whole and, in extreme cases, need to value the group's continuance and well- being higher than their own (see Adler/ Barnett 1998. 31).

In the context of this paper, the first criterion seems the most important one: Communities need an identity to survive (see also Beyer 2003: 4 and Palan 2000: 588). Gerhard Wagner assesses accordingly: "Tatsächlich ist jedes Kollektiv, das in der Zeit Bestand haben will, gezwungen, eine Identität auszubilden" (2005: 18). In the following chapter, I will examine how collective identites are created.

2.3 Collective Identities

Adler and Barnett define identity as a mainly social factor which is charactarized "by the actors' interaction with and relationship to others" (1998: 47). Identity is thus "formed by social processes. Once crystalllized, it is maintained, modified, or even reshaped by social relations" (Berger/Luckmann 1967: 194). As we have heard before, communities can also have an identity. There are several characteristics of a collective identity. First of all, the individuals in the group have to identify their community as a group which differs from other groups. Secondly, the group members have to identify with the group's fate in so far as they perceive their individual fates as entwined with the group's fate.

Like every other human interpretation of reality, identity is a social construct that affects actors' interests. It does not possess any pre- imaginative material identities, i.e. it is neither naturally nor necessarily historically given. Therefore, of course, it is historically changeable (see e.g. Haunss 2001: 1 and Giessen 2001: 92). New forms of collective identities transcending national boundaries, e.g. the EU, can thus emerge without massive hindrance (see Palan 2000: 587).

Most of an actor's action and discourse is based on his or her desire to create and maintain identity (see Abdelal et al 2001: 3). Actors define themselves and others through their interactions: They act according to a role that they feel is theirs and according to roles that others feel should be theirs. There is no a priori identity, no naturally given set of behavioral patterns and characteristics of an actor. Identity has to be constructed from both the actor and his or her (or, in the case of states and state systems: its) environment (see White 2000: 68).


Excerpt out of 23 pages


Creating identity through delimitation: The discussions about lifting the EU's weapons embargo against China
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz  (Institut für Politikwissenschaft)
Hauptseminar "China in World Politics"
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
480 KB
In this paper, I will analyze the reasons for the EU's intention of lifting its weapons embargo on China from a constructivist angle: How does the discussion about the lifting affect the European process of identity shaping? What does this say about the relations between the US and the EU? And finally: Why does neither side want to give in? A highly interesting topic that sheds a new light on the transatlantic relations. Have fun reading!
Creating, China, Hauptseminar, China, World, Politics
Quote paper
Marion Klotz (Author), 2006, Creating identity through delimitation: The discussions about lifting the EU's weapons embargo against China, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Creating identity through delimitation: The discussions about lifting the EU's weapons embargo against China

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free