Anarchy is what states make of it by Alexander Wendt NOTES
We should not necessarily treat interests and identity as given. Although Wendt agrees with a statist view,
he argues that an important field of research should treat state interests and identity as the dependent
variable. Wendt concedes that there are those who study how first and secondimage factors affect state
identity and interests; he wants us to study how anarchy affects state identities and interests.
Realism's shortcoming is its failure to do this (although Wendt agrees that realist game theory is entirely
appropriate in situations where we can assume that identities are constant, at least in the short term).
Neoliberalism's failure is that it has sought to explain cooperation by focusing on process, but it has not
sufficiently accounted for systemic variables. Constructivism's failure is that it gets too bogged down in
epistemological debates without looking enough at how identities are formed in practice.
In short, we need a combination of neoliberalism and constructivism that will study how the system affects
state identities and interests.
Wendt argues for a constructivist approach to the concept of selfhelp. He argues that international
institutions (here the institution is selfhelp) can change state identities and interests.He argues that the
concept of selfhelp as defined by realists (and mainly by Waltz) originates from the interaction of the units
in the system, and not from anarchy. This conception conflicts with the structural, deterministic arguments
that realists advance in which anarchy is the key explanatory variable that drives interactions.
Wendt says that states interact with each other and, based on the results of that interaction, can become
characterized by selfhelp, but this result does not necessarily need to follow. Whatever is observed, self
help or not, is defined by process, not structure.
Wendt says that neorealism and neoliberalism cannot account for changes in the system, but normsbased
constructivisim can (threats are socially constructed). A major difficulty in this piece is the issue of how
states behave in the first period before they have any priors.
This article explores "three ways in which identities and interests are transformed under anarchy [Y]: by the
institution of sovereignty [X1], by an evolution of cooperation [X2], and by intentional efforts to transform
egoistic identities into collective identities [X3]." I gather that Wendt doesn't intend for these three variables to tell us everything that anarchy does to identity. Instead, he is looking at three different things that can
happen under anarchy to affect identity. The strong implication is that there is more to it, and we need to
theorize about it.
Before getting into that, Wendt argues that the system does not create selfhelp idendities. An anarchic
system is only a permissive cause of such an identity. He suggests one possible sufficient cause of self
help identities. If a predatory state emerged, it would force other states to respond. But even this depends
on the prior identity; if the predatory state emerges into a system that already has a strong collective
security identity, then it would be defeated without changing the dominant identity. So, think NATO. Realism
would predict that, with the Soviet threat gone, the alliance will break up as states become suspicious of
one another. But Wendt would seem to suggest that a collective identity can continue.
After making all this argument as background (and using up twothirds of his pages), he then turns to the
three independent variables that can effect a change in state identities and interests under anarchy.
X1: Sovereignty. Sovereignty is a norm, and it has been selfenforcing so far (look what happened to Hitler
and Napoleon when they went against it). It has changed our interests, so that we think we need to defend
territorial boundaries (even when letting a piece of territory go might be better for our security).
X2: Evolution of cooperation: Europe's long experience with cooperation during the cold war may have
fundamentally changed its identity, creating a "European" identity that will persist despite the collapse of the
Soviet threat and the renewed vigor of Germany.
X3: Intentional efforts to egoistic identities into collective identities: Gorbachev, recognizing that the USSR
was losing the security battle, sought instead to proactively change its identityand the identity of its
adversaryinto a cooperative identity. He did this by sending signals that he had changed (e.g. developing
weapons that are only useful for defense) and by treating the West as the it, too, had ch