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International Relations: Constructivism and Cosmopolitanism Essay

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Updated: Oct 22nd, 2020

One of the important aspects of modern-day international relations theories is how countries build good relationships through gaining affection and esteem of one another. In situations where national interests of different states collide, mechanisms are needed to avoid or mitigate conflicts. A way to develop such mechanisms is to establish respect and possibly liking between nations. The critical approach to studying how respect and liking are established requires considering many factors such as political positions of rulers and governments, principles of sovereignty, historical background, cultural legacy and influence, interaction patterns, and so on. The basic premise is that states care about their reputation and the way their interests, position, and intentions are perceived abroad.

Diplomats in the 21st century with its abundance of information and high speed of the information flow are struggling to find ways to create a favourable image of their countries. What has been particularly emphasised by researchers is that these images are a powerful factor in international relations that is capable of outweighing rational considerations and thorough negotiations (Villanueva 2010). It has been observed that the way a nation is looked upon by other nations depends to a large extent on the way it internalises “cosmopolitan values such as tolerance, friendship and respect for each other” (Villanueva 2010, p. 45). The construction of cosmopolitan values thus becomes a significant diplomatic task. There are various philosophical approaches to this issue.

International relations theory has been largely influenced by the ideas of rationalism, which is a complicated combination of views and stands, including primarily realism, problem-solving approach, and liberal institutionalism. Rationalism has been challenged by reflectivism which is based on social constructivism and has been associated with movements and ideas such as feminism, environmentalism, political ethics, and metaethics. The theories referred to as reflectivist challenge the basic premises found in rationalism such as the power struggle or the influential concept of anarchy of the international system (Jackson & Sørensen 2016). The fields of culture and identity are more important under the reflectivist paradigm. The paradigm thus operates within the complicated framework of difficultly measured phenomena such as soft power and nation branding. An example of the modern theoretical development is the cosmopolitan phenomenon of international institutions. According to Wendt (1992), due to their cosmopolitan vision and agenda and their critical, reflective operation and processes, such institutions are able to transform state interests.

With the growing influence of the reflectivist approaches and discourses, diplomacy struggles with the theoretical framework, bringing about the notion of cosmopolitan constructivism. The notion encompasses a wide range of theories, combining normative concepts such as countries’ striving for allying themselves with one another with the cosmopolitan politics, constructivist international relations theories, and multilateral diplomacy. Cosmopolitan constructivism has been claimed to promote peace and friendly relations among countries as it is based on the principles of the world-citizen view of nations and pursuing the international common good. According to Spieker (2014), a major advantage of the notion is that it seeks to globally establish inclusive common interests.

However, cosmopolitan constructivism does not fail to recognise that countries may have interests in the spheres of the military, politics, global or national economy, and culture than collide with the interests of other countries in the same spheres. It is rather acknowledged that foreign policies cannot be entirely cosmopolitan constructivist as they cannot pursue universalistic principles every time and in every aspect. Advocating for the adoption of cosmopolitan constructivist approaches, framework, and principles to the entire mechanism of international relations decision making is hard to imagine in the modern world.

However, it is argued by political scientists today that cosmopolitan constructivism should be more widely considered by governments and other actors in international relations, and that its values should be more widely applied and embedded in national diplomacies. The disadvantage of these diplomacies nowadays is that much effort labelled “cultural diplomacy” or “public diplomacy” is aimed in one way or another at persuading, convincing, manipulating, gaining support, winning liking and favourable attitudes, and selling national brands (Villanueva 2010). The effort is based on conventional national interests that can be described in the framework of sovereignty and security. The major advantage that is offered by the values of cosmopolitan constructivism is that they are based on the principles of diversity, cultural exchange, goodwill, and international peace.

It has been noticed by researchers that creating a friendly international environment requires revisiting the purposes of diplomacy. Previously defined as the profession of managing relations among governments aimed at protection of national interests and widening the international influence of a state, democracy is rather understood today as the combination of activities pursuing the goal of building a peaceful global community where the interests of international common good are the priority (Kaldor 2003). It can be said that the paradigm is shifting from negotiations of different parties to collaboration with shared objectives and values. In terms of this understanding of diplomacy, cosmopolitan constructivism is the concept that offers the most appropriate solutions because it acknowledges in its very core that the highest goal of international relations is building enduring friendly relationships by encouraging nations and societies to learn from each other with shared cosmopolitan values.

Reference List

Jackson, R & Sørensen, G 2016, Introduction to international relations: theories and approaches, Oxford University Press, New York.

Kaldor, M 2003, ‘The idea of global civil society’, International Affairs, vol. 79, no. 3, pp. 583-593.

Spieker, J 2014, International relations theory, John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Villanueva, C 2010, ‘Cosmopolitan constructivism: mapping a road to the future of cultural and public diplomacy’, Public Diplomacy Magazine, vol. 2011, no. 1, pp. 45-56.

Wendt, A 1992, ‘Anarchy is what states make of it: the social construction of power politics’, International Organization, vol. 42, no. 2, pp. 391-425.

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