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Sunday, 2 November 2008

Strategic Culture in analyzing security in the post-Cold War

[Explain the relevance of strategic culture in analyzing security in the post-Cold War]

By: Ahmad Syah Ejaz Bin Hj. Ismail




            In deciding the outcome of war, one must also took into account the aspect of various elements in precipitating an enemy action. This element varies differently from various aspect and cultures. Mankind had studied warfare through cultural approaches as fundamentals in determining the future outcome of a war. Cultural approaches to these strategic studies have existed in a range of forms for hundreds of years and these literatures on strategic studies have been written by classical scholars such as Thucydides, Sun Tzu and Clausewitz.


            The reasons why it is important for International Relations scholars to study Strategic Culture was that it will provides the basis for an academic enterprise aimed at developing cumulative knowledge about strategic culture itself and of all types and as a means for discerning trends relevant to the varied cultural contexts that one nations are likely to encounter. In another words, this knowledge of Strategic Culture is to provide the policy makers the fundamentals information about approaches, [1]“ways of war”, and strategic doctrine of a particular nations or leaders and how an actor could behave in crisis situations. Moreover if it were adopted in analyzing securities issues in the Third World Nations, it can be used to determine the role of state elites or “leaders” in shaping its security issues such as threats and circumstances which will lead to change.


            A strategic cultural analysis can therefore assist in considering how to respond to developments like the post-Cold War period by exploring different pathways by which new types of threats arises and devise a range of intervention strategies to suit the particular circumstances




            In the past the concept of strategic culture has been applied in a variety of ways and to a range of countries (e.g. Japan, Germany), regions (e.g. Scandinavia, Pacific Ocean) and security institutions (e.g. NATO) in order to examine the main aspects of their security policies. It has been the case that by applying the notion of strategic culture to certain case studies scholars tries to explain continuity and change in national security policies. In addition, academics involved in the study of strategic culture attempt to create a framework which can give answers as to why certain policy options (and not others) are pursued by states[2].


            The most recent works which coined the concepts of Strategic Culture was in the 1970s, when an American political scientist by the name [3]Jack Snyder explains the strategy of the Soviet Union which concludes that the Soviets did not behave according to the rational choice theory. Through the Rand Corporation report – The Soviet Strategic Culture: Implication for Limited Nuclear Options, Snyder defined Strategic Culture as “the sum total of ideas, conditioned emotional responses, and patterns of habitual behaviour that members of a national Strategic Community have acquired through instruction or imitation”[4].


            However after the failure of US scientist to predicts world leaders behaviour by adopting the Strategic Culture fundamentals based on rational-actor paradigms and game theoretical modelling in analysing superpower relations, a number of scholars came to the conclusion that each country had its own way to interpret, analyse and react to international events[5]. This brought the question of a state/ national culture back to the agenda and created a new wave of literature which focused on the development of a new tool of analysis, notably that of strategic culture.


            The definition of strategic culture acknowledges that strategic culture is a product of a range of circumstances such as geography, history and narratives that shape collective identity, but one which also allows it a role in enabling and constraining decisions about security[6]. [7]Three distinct areas where strategic culture can contribute to policy making are: 1) in analysis of threats; 2) in considering the cultural context where conflict is underway; and 3) in negotiations aimed at inducing a peaceful relation.


            In this paper, I will discuss the importance of strategic culture at inducing a peaceful relation among nations and between state elites and its peoples in the post-Cold War period and how the fundamentals of strategic culture which varies from one country to another will determine the behaviour of the uni-polar world that is dominated by the United States in changing the political order of the post-Cold War period.


Strategic Culture in analyzing security in the post-Cold War


            Securities studies during the Cold War focused almost exclusively on military defence and deterrence, particularly the East-West conflict[8]. According to David Baldwin, during the Cold War, security studies were composed mostly of scholars interested in military statecraft. But with the end of the Cold War and the military standoff between the superpowers, scholars have challenged the assumptions underlying security studies[9]. Thoughts on the points which only emphasized the protecting of state sovereignty and territorial integrity from an external military threat have been attacked for being to narrow and need a revision at the expense of other areas. These areas posed as a new elements as in the studies of strategic culture as fundamentals of the security problems.


            Barry Buzan through his renowned works People, States and Fear broadened the scope of security to encompass, in addition to the military dimension such as economics, the environment and society. The assumptions of Realism that had underpinned the national security debates of the Cold War have been subjected to re-evaluation[10]. Essentially, this deepening entails moving away from the state as the sole focus of security, or referent object, and embracing among others individuals and identity as possible alternative referents.


            As the Cold War and bipolar structures of the post-war international systems began to unravel during the late 1980s, there were grounds for thinking that security was developing into the preferred concept for dealing with high politics in the emerging post-Cold War international systems[11].


            For an examples personal beliefs and characteristics that have shaped state policies in the past include the spiritual beliefs of leaders, their perceptions of themselves and their opponents, concepts of personal or national honour, intellectual rigidity or adaptability, respect for others or the lack thereof, deceitfulness or openness, risk acceptance or tolerance, aggressiveness or caution, and maliciousness or sympathy[12]. An individual element alone was wide enough to be used as fundamentals elements in determining and precipitating a certain act by a leader in a particular issue concerning security studies in the post-Cold War period.


            According to Ken Booth, security comes from freeing (emancipation) of people from constraints. These constraints can be structural which are the way the international system operates as well as constraints created by the elite in power[13]. The question of which actors within a state have the power to determine what constitutes a security questions is one addressed by the Copenhagen School. The Copenhagen School that introduced society as a referent object (societal security) to complement the state and it is also the one which addressed the question of what is and is not a security issues, and this work has become known as securitization[14].


            The securitization refers to a two stage process that makes an issue a security issue. First, an actor (usually the elite) has to couch the issue as an existential threat and later emphasized the issues to the audience until they accept it as a security issues. After the end of the Cold War, it is common the securitization concept arises from a motion by the state elite or the government which is privileged to securitize a certain issues. For an example terrorism issues which beleaguered the Indonesian government after the terrorist attack on [15]October 12, 2002 in Bali, President Suharto then adopted a draconian law to suppress it which this action were backed up by the Indonesian people after Suharto’s interpretation of the events. As such this will lead the audiences (Indonesian people) to recognize terrorism as a threat and requires and extraordinary measures from the elite (Suharto regime) to counter it.


            In the post-Cold War period, the field of security studies has undergone some important changes. In addition to broadening security to encompass economics, the environment, and society, it has also deepened to ask what unit (the individual, the state, and the international system) is to be secured. This has raised the prospects that security comes not from power or order, but from emancipation[16]. For an example when we discussed about human security which was defined by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as safety from chronic threats as hunger, disease, and repression. This also includes protection from sudden harmful disruptions on the patterns of daily life whether in homes, in jobs or in community[17]. As such any efforts to liberate a particular individual which were beleaguered by poverty is considered an emancipation efforts from threats that will provide an individual security by the government in power.


            The security studies literature that seeks a broadening and deepening of security studies in the post-Cold War era is therefore much more relevant to the third world that its strategic predecessor, and vice versa. This statement is in parallel with the belief that strategic culture will be defined in progressive models that seeks a stable equilibrium in the post-Cold War period and will contribute most to the efforts of nation buildings which will later influenced the determination of state security issues. During the Cold War, most of the security studies have assumed a Eurocentric view of the international systems. Security was seen through the lens of the two superpowers which were the United States and the USSR. This then lead them to seek a global alliance with the new developing nations and any interest shown in particular region was determined by the impact of the global balance of power. But in the post Cold War, with the non existence of the dual power, securities issues were then seen in the perspective of a nation building and its development. Hence Amitav Acharya’s conclusion that “the end of the Cold War should serve as a catalyst for the coming of age of Third World security studies”. Security is thus equated with maintaining order.


            The new paradigm change on the issues of security in the post-Cold War period also will effects how the dominant power of the American government to perceive new threats which will arises and this will effects the security issues of the other nations. For the United States, the new threats will fall into [18]four broad categories:


     Threats posed by nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, including dangers associated with the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons as well as those associated with the large stocks of these weapons that remain in the former Soviet Union;


     Regional threats, posed primarily by the threat of large-scale aggression by major regional powers with interests antithetical to the United States, but also by the potential for smaller, often internal, conflicts based on ethnic or religious animosities, state-sponsored terrorism, or subversion of friendly governments;


     Threats to democracy and reform, in the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere; and


                       Economic threats to the United States security, which could result if they fail to build a strong, competitive and growing economy.


            The end of the Cold War produced an even greater temptation to recast the international environment in America’s image. In the post Cold War, the United States is the only remaining superpower with the capacity to intervene in every part of the globe[19]. American government will identify “new security challenges” to include the “proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the growth of ethnic nationalism and extremism, international terrorism, and crime and drug trafficking”[20].


            It may well be that access to weapons of mass destruction is greater now than during the Cold War. Some analysts make a strong case for an increased post-Cold War terrorist threat, classifying groups with ethnic, religious or millennium (apocalyptic) motivations for seeking to acquire and use chemical, biological, radiological or possibly nuclear weapons to inflict mass casualties and disruptions[21]. Where the Cold War rested on East-West military and ideological rivalry, the initial post-Cold War optimism posited more collective and cooperative security arrangements and an opportunity for new security thinking.


            In the post-Cold War, the economic well being of a nation’s citizens posed a fundamental objective of a modern state. The economic well being value can be subsumed by the core value of political independence which allows the state to choose its own political and socioeconomic system without external constraints, at least in theory[22]. A viable economic health is an extricable part of national security in the post-Cold War. It provides the means to neutralize some of the domestic sources of conflict, makes the state less vulnerable to external pressure and penetration, and make possible the allocation of necessary resources to counter internal and external threats.[23]


            The elusive quality of economic security becomes apparent immediately after the collapsed of the Communist idea when ones try to apply the idea to the dominant mode of economic organization in the system: capitalism[24]. According to Barry Buzan, the collapse of the Cold War strengthens the predominance of welfare over warfare motives for economic nationalism, a development particularly to be welcomed in the case of the Soviet Union and with considerable scope in the United States[25].


            [26]Henry Kissinger says it best when he emphasized the new roles of American dominance where the fulfilment of America’s ideals will have to be sought in the patience accumulation of partial successes. The certitudes of physical threat and hostile ideology characteristics of the Cold War are gone. The convictions needed to master the emerging world order are more abstract (and needed a strategic culture approach).




            The events of September 11 and the subsequent war on terrorism have prompted renewed attention to the role of culture in shaping state (and non-state) behaviours. It may indeed be possible looking at the current changes in political graph; there may be a need to develop scope conditions within which strategic culture could have a stronger impact on security policy.


            In the post-Cold War, the strategic cultural dilemmas define new directions for foreign policy and demand the reconstruction of historical narratives. These changes will include and abrupt and fairly dramatic reorientations of security policy behaviour that would appear to be possible and strategic cultural models must be more reflective of the conditions that draw out such changes.


            While Snyder had made a strong case for the influence of strategic culture in Soviet nuclear policy, the post-Cold War period had present a strong case for broader aspects of studies that share a strong bonds of culture, societal values, religion, ideologies, economic cooperation and etc. These elements were broad enough to include a non-state actor which operates across territorial boundaries where identities may be formed in the realm of cyberspace which still can influenced state/ non-state behaviour that might posed a latent threat to security issues.


            In the post-Cold War, the studies of Strategic Culture would be defined in a new roles or also known as progressive models which will operates on the basis of assumptions about the sources, influences, and implications of identity that have a high potentials in being a policy tools especially in regards of state security. Strategic culture would be defined in a model that speaks to concern in key policy and major powers would tailor their security policies to accommodate the cultural differences among the nations that were trading with them. This can be explained through the progressive models that explore external-internal linkages and their impact on discrete, strategic choices which will represent avenue for theoretical advancement[27].



1.                  Muthiah Alagappa, The National Security of Developing States, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS), Malaysia, 1987;

2.                  Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy, Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 1994;

3.                  John Baylis, et all, Strategy in the Contemporary World – An Introduction to Strategic Studies, Oxford University Press, 2005;

4.                  Barry Buzan, People, States & Fear, Pearson Longman, 1991;

5.                  Lawrence Sondhaus, Strategic Culture and Ways of War, Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2004; and

6.                  Alan Collins, Security and Southeast Asia, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies – ISEAS, 2003.

[1] Darryl Howlett, 2005.

[2] Margaras, 2004.

[3] Lawrence Sondhaus, Strategic Culture and Ways of War, Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2004, p. 10.

[4] Ibid. p. 12.

[5] Margaras, 2004.

[6] Darryl Howlett, 2006.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Alan Collins, Security and Southeast Asia, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies – ISEAS, 2003, p. 2.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Alan Collins, 2003, p. 3.

[11] Barry Buzan, People, States & Fear, Pearson Longman, 1991, p. 13-14.

[12] John Baylis, et all, Strategy in the Contemporary World – An Introduction to Strategic Studies, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 175.

[13] Alan Collins, 2003, p. 3.

[14] Ibid. p. 5.

[15] Ibid. p. 6.

[16] Ibid. p. 7.

[17] Alan Collins, 2003, p. 4.

[18] Les Aspin, Secretary of Defense, 1993.

[19] Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy, Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 1994, p. 805.

[20] Rebecca Johnson, 2005.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Muthiah Alagappa, The National Security of Developing States, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS), Malaysia, 1987, p. 2.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Barry Buzan, 1991, p. 235.

[25] Ibid. p. 262.

[26] Henry Kissinger, 1994, p. 836.

[27] Jeffery S. Lantis, 2006.

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