Security and Culture, or, Why NATO Won't Last

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

van Ham, Peter (2001) Security and Culture, or, Why NATO Won't Last , Security Dialogue 32(4): 393–406.

Culture has made a comeback in International Relations theory. For a long time, it was discredited as a soft, unmeasurable and (perhaps therefore) unscientific ingredient in the study of global politics. Realist thinking in which cultural aspects hardly played a role dominated the discipline of strategic studies, which dealt with military relations between states. Today, however, students of security studies are more interested in the role of norms, values, and culture, having agreed among themselves that the concept of security should be contested and made ‘insecure’. Constructivist scholars now argue that ‘ideas and discourse matter’, and that norms, values, and identity heavily influence political life. Thus, since NATO and the transatlantic relationship are often construed as a ‘community of values’, differences between European and US notions of domestic order and the ‘good society’ can no longer be discarded as trivial, strategically irrelevant factors. On the contrary, cultural differences among allies will make cooperation in the security field more complicated, spoil the convivial atmosphere, and eventually undermine the notion of a unified ‘West’ founded on shared interests as well as shared values.

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