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Use Of Role Theory To Understand The Change In Us Foreign Policy After The Terrorists Attacks

2462 words - 10 pages

Terrorism has been a longstanding feature of International Relations (IR) but only in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States has the issue come to the forefront. In an attempt to understand how terrorism affects state foreign policy behaviour (FPB), this essay will use role theory to posit that US Foreign Policy (USFP) was shaped by the aforementioned attacks, providing a platform from which to launch the Global War on Terror (GWOT) and giving terrorists the over(reaction) they so desired. It will be postulated that a sociological approach using role theory is well suited to analysing why US Foreign Policy shifted in the wake of 9/11 and sought a unilateral approach, hence rendering terrorism capable of triggering role change as well as being triggered by role-conception.

For the purposes of this essay, role theory will be defined as a state-level theory, linking agent and structure; focusing on how states conceive and adopt roles; and how policymakers’ decisions are constituted by role-conception and critical events such as 9/11 (Maull 2011). Role-conception is defined as: ‘the normative expectations that the role-beholder [ego] expresses towards itself’ and role expectation: how other actors (alter) expect ego to act (Elgström et al. 2006). Ego’s identity is, amongst other factors, constituted through the roles it conceives itself to play and identity affirmation reliant on role-playing by states (Harnisch et al. 2011; McCourt 2011). The term terrorism will be defined in US specifications as: ‘premeditated, politically motivated [emphasis added] violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents’ (US Code Title 22 §2656f). Al Qaeda will be referred to as a religious terrorist organisation falling into the subcategory of ‘radical tendency’ which stems from the broader Islamic Salafi (an idiom suggesting ‘proper religious adherence and moral legitimacy’) movement: whilst Salafis (the followers of said code) are in agreement that spreading the aforementioned behaviour is important, the manner in which they spread this is widely disputed, with Al Qaeda employing the violent approach (Wiktorowicz 2003).

The change in USFP post-9/11 terrorist attacks can be explained by the reorientation of US decision makers’ role-conception: neoconservative politicians were able to manoeuvre themselves into a position so as to ‘influence the US role formulation in the direction of their view’ in a moment of crisis (Robinson 2006). The neocons’ minority views were lifted by 9/11, and combined with Bush’s conception of US role as neither ‘dormant’ nor ‘unresponsive’ but taking a leading role in the GWOT signalled a change in role from a soft-power and multilateral approach towards plurilateralism (and if necessary unilateralism) in favour of using military means: ‘Given the goals of rogue states and terrorists, the US can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the...

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