Constructivist Perspective: Barnetts Analysis of

Such institutions themselves create identities such as the notion of the Arab world itself. Institutions provide stability not because they prevent conflict through force, but because they create “relatively stable expectations and shared norms among actors that occupy set roles” (Barnett 1995:491).

However, the League of Arab States, established after World War II, did not provide such stability because there was a constant conflict between ideas of Arab sovereignty and nationalism. On one hand, Arab states were desperate to defend their legitimacy in the eyes of the rest of the world community. Part of their claim to nationhood rested on the idea of being uniquely Arab, unlike the colonial powers that formerly occupied the region. But responsibilities owed to other Arab state actors were unclear and were frequently in conflict (Barnett 1995:497). However, despite such factionalism and friction, attempts at achieving unity, for economic, political, and ideological reasons continue to be negotiated, even today

Constructivism is essential to make sense of the Gulf region. Frequently, outsiders complain that an Arab states refusal to acknowledge Israel or grand democratic liberties to its citizens seems irrational in the extreme: understanding the profound importance of resisting what are seen as the colonial forces of the West is highlighted in a constructivist narrative and helps to illuminate such a position. Constructivism highlights the nuances of different states positions. Today, despite the united front they may against Israel, many Arab leaders may be quietly far more anxious about the dangers posed by rival Muslim states, such as Shiite-dominated Iran. Within states, Shiite-Sunni rivalry, and longstanding historical hostilities between factions can also hold sway, and fight for dominance over the concept of Arabism.

The multifaceted and conglomerate nature of many Arab states, as well as the need to establish state legitimacy cannot be understood in purely rational terms.

Despite the name neorealism, constructivism seems far more realistic in the way that it conceptualizes the behavior of nation-states. States such as Saudi Arabia may desire to attract Western investment, yet hold true to a fairly fundamentalist concept of Islam in terms of national social policy. Governments may be internally threatened by the presence of minority religious factions, which will affect their relationships with other Gulf States, despite professions of Arab unity, as in the case of the Sunni-Shiite conflict within Iraq. How a state perceives its interests in relation to the regions recent past history of colonialism, its economic interests relative to other Arab OPEC nations, and the potential political threats posed by Arab neighbors and non-state forces such as terrorist groups will vary from state to state, and cannot be easily categorized in a black box or neorealist fashion.


Barnett, Michael N. “Sovereignty, nationalism, and regional order in the Arab states system.”

International Organization, 49. 3, (Summer, 1995), 479-510 [January 24, 2011]

Hopf, Ted. “The promise of.

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