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Constructing International Politics I Alexander Wendt ~ J o h n J. Mearsheimer’s “The False Promise of International Institutions”’ is welcome particularly in two respects. First, it is the most systematic attempt to date by a neorealist to address critical international relations (IR) theory.‘ Second, it reminds neoliberals and critical theorists, normally locked in their own tug-of-war, that they have a common, non-realist interest in the institutional bases of international life.3”False Promise” is likely, therefore, to spur productive discussions on all sides. Unfortunately, it will be hard for most critical theorists to take seriously a discussion of their research program so full of conflations, half-truths, and misunderstandings. However, to some extent misunderstanding is inevitable when anthropologists from one culture first explore another. A dialogue between these two cultures is overdue, and ”FalsePromise” is a good beginning. Critical IR ”theory,” however, is not a single theory. It is a family of theories that includes postmodernists (Ashley, Walker), constructivists (Adler, Kratochwil, Ruggie, and now Katzenstein), neo-Marxists (Cox, Gill), feminists (Peterson, Sylvester), and others. What unites them is a concern with how world politics is ”socially c~nstructed,”~ which involves two basic claims: that the fundamental structures of international politics are social rather than strictly material (a claim that opposes materialism), and that these structures Alexander Wendt is Associate Professor of Political Science at Yale University For their exceptionally detailed and helpful comments I am grateful to Mike Barnett, Mlada Bukovansky, Bud Duvall, Peter Katzenstein,Mark Laffey, David Lumsdaine, SylviaMaxfield,Nina Tannenwald, Jutta Weldes, and the members of the Yale IR Reading Group. 1. JohnJ. Mearsheimer,”The False Promise of International Institutions,” International Security, Vol. 19,No. 3 (Winter 1994/95).Subsequent references appear in parentheses in the text. 2. Other efforts include Robert Gilpin, ”The Richness of the Tradition of Political Realism,” International Organization, Vol. 38, No. 2 (Spring 1984),pp. 287-304, and Markus Fischer, “Feudal Europe, 800-1300,” International Organization, Vol. 46, No. 2 (Spring 1992), pp. 427466. 3. On neoliberalism and critical theory, see Robert Keohane, “International institutions: Two approaches ,” International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 4 (December1988),pp. 379-396, and Wendt, ”Collective Identity Formation and the International State,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 88, No. 2 (June 1994), pp. 384-396. Mearsheimer treats collective security as a third form of institutionalism, but this is unwarranted. Collectivesecurity is an approach to international order, arguable on either neoliberal or critical grounds, not a form of institutional analysis. 4. This makes them all ”constructivist” in a broad sense, but as the critical literature has evolved, this term has become applied to one particular school. Znternational Security, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Summer 1995),pp. 71-81 0 1995by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 71 International Security 20:l I 72 shape actors’ identities and interests, rather than just their behavior (a claim that opposes rationalism). However, having these two claims in common no more makes critical theory a single theory than does the fact that neorealism and neoliberalism both use game theory makes them a single theory. Some critical theorists are statists and some are not; somebelieve in scienceand some do not; some are optimists and some pessimists; some stress process and some ~tructure.~ Thus, in my reply I speak only for myself as a “constructivist,” hoping that other criticaltheorists may agreewith much of what I say. I address four issues: assumptions, objectiveknowledge, explaining war and peace, and policymakers’ responsibilities. Assumptions I share all five of Mearsheimer’s ”realist” assumptions (p. 10): that international politics is anarchic, and that states have offensive capabilities, cannot be 100 percent certain about others’ intentions, wish to survive, and are rational. We even share two more: a commitment to states as units of analysis, and to the importance of systemic or “third image” theorizing. The last bears emphasis, for in juxtaposing ”structure” to ”discourse”and in emphasizing the role of individuals in “critical theory” (p. 40), Mearsheimer obscures the fact that constructivistsare structuralists. Indeed, one of our main objections to neorealism is that it is not structural enough: that adopting the individualistic metaphors of micro-economics restricts the effects of...