Book Review: International Relations Theory and European Security

Lorenzo Cladi and Andrea Locatelli (eds.), International Relations Theory and European Security. We Thought We Knew (London, New York: Routledge, 2016). 246 pp., £90,00 (hardback), ISBN: 9781138847279.

European security and defense policies have been an object of analysis among international relations (IR) scholars for decades. However, it was the end of the Cold War that brought about a resilient cooperation on security and defense among European Union (EU) member states: beginning in the 1990s, the CFSP and the ESDP (both renamed CSDP, the Common Security and Defence Policy, by the Lisbon Treaty) emerged as key policies of European external action. The renewed military ambitions of the civilian power, as the EU as an international actor was initially understood, contributed to the creation of a number of institutions and agencies. Accordingly, in the last twenty-five years, the process of integration in the sphere of high politics (defense and security) after the remarkable integration of low politics (common market) inevitably attracted the attention of IR scholars.

Notwithstanding the considerable amount of academic literature and scholarship devoted to the topic, the EU’s foreign and security policies still constitute an empirical puzzle. The phenomenon is too complex (due to the multiplicity of actors and institutions involved) and too new (since the EU is neither a state nor a traditional international organization but a new-flanged supranational political body) to be easily grasped by a single theoretical perspective. Above all, the hybrid political nature of the EU hinders analysis, and this is particularly true for the two main traditional paradigms of IR: Realism that relies on state-centrism and Liberal-Institutionalism focused on international organizations. However, the EU is neither a cohesive political unit nor an inter-governmental organization. The peculiarity of the European integration was captured by Kenneth Waltz in 1993 (and his words are still meaningful today) when he contended that “[m]any believe that the EC [European Community] has moved so far toward unity that it cannot pull back, at least not very far back. That is probably true, but it is also probably true that it has moved so far toward unity that it can go no farther. The easier steps toward unity come earlier, the harder ones later, and the hardest of all at the end”.1

In this view, the authors adopted an original theoretical perspective, inspired by analytic eclecticism, an epistemological approach that was recently suggested by Sil and Katzenstein.2 It is particularly suitable for analyzing complex phenomena that are marked by multiple interactions in which different mechanisms and processes (drawn from different paradigms) are at play and that raise both practical dilemmas for decision-makers and academic debates. The CSDP comprises all these features. Thus, following this epistemological line, the book looks at the CSDP through the theoretical lenses of the main IR research traditions.

Analytic eclecticism applied to the CSDP could have ended up merely adding theoretical complexity to the complexity of the object of analysis. However, that risk was avoided—and this is the primary merit of the volume—for a number of reasons. First, even though the contributions differ on the theoretical perspective adopted, they are consistent on one point: in coming to terms with the CSDP, a single paradigm as a catch-all explanation is not convincing. Put differently, indulging in parsimony for theoretical elegance is not an appropriate starting point for seriously grasping the CSDP. Second, the complexity of the CSDP and the hybrid character of the European integration clearly invite a problem-driven approach rather than a theory-driven methodology based on a single paradigm. In this view, analytic eclecticism is neither a way to evade theoretical analysis nor an excuse for theoretical inaccuracy. On the contrary, its aim is to make inter-paradigmatic dialogue fruitful for investigating the causal drivers behind a complex phenomenon. Third, the book effectively uses the IR research traditions (and the possible dialogue among them) to shed light on three dichotomies concerning the drivers of the CSDP: material vs. ideational factors; national vs. systemic variables; and state vs. society interests.

Throughout the book, the relative role of—and interplay between—material and ideational variables is touched on. Even if the editors and contributors do not aim to ascertain whether a paradigm is better than others, they show how both material and ideational factors shape the CSDP. More empirical inquiries are needed, as the editors admit in the Conclusion, but it is important to stress how the volume represents a promising starting point for using the dialogue between different paradigms to explain when, how, and why material or ideational factors prevail over the others. Chapters 2, 5, 6, and 10 already do that, but the same approach can be fruitfully applied to other policies related to the CSDP. The same argument can be used for the state vs. society dichotomy to determine when, how, and why states behave as unitary actors or how societal demands (within a state) affect government decisions. From this point of view, the volume offers a resilient, original, and promising contribution to the literature on EU security and defense policies and, potentially, on the European integration in general.

However, the distinction between levels of analysis—systemic vs. national—is more ambiguous. The editors and some contributors rightfully assert that both systemic and national variables are at play in the CSDP. However, even chapters that address domestic aspects (chapter 3 and 4) concede that systemic changes, particularly the end of the Cold War, cannot be easily discharged as negligible explanatory variables. Conversely, they seem to recognize, in part implicitly, that the new security environment has been the permissive condition for European cooperation on security and defense policies. Domestic factors were decisive for the CSDP’s development but probably thanks to the opportunities offered by the new international scenario. In this case, the contribution of inter-paradigmatic dialogue between systemic and reductionist theories to grasp the CSDP are more elusive.

Andrea Carati, University of Milan


1 Kenneth N. Waltz, “The Emerging Structure of International politics,” International Security, Vol. 18, No. 2, Autumn 1993, pp.44–79 (pp. 69–70).

2 Sil R. and P.J. Katzenstein, Beyond Paradigms: Analytic Eclecticism in the Study of War Politics, Basingstoke, UK, Palgrave MacMillan, 2010.

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