The Tale of Two Constructivisms at the Cold War's End

Vendulka Kubalkova
Content Type
Working Paper
Centre for International Peace and Security Studies
Constructivism as an approach to IR and Soviet “new thinking” as a phenomenon of the final years of the cold war barely crossed paths since constructivism was coming into existence as an approach just as the other, “new thinking”, together with its main author, Mikhail Gorbachev, were about to exit international relations. Soviet “new thinking” is associated with Gorbachev's tenure of office as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). This ran from the mid 1980s till the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. Nicholas Onuf introduced constructivism in his book World of Our Making in 1989 and it was only in 1992, a year after the formal dissolution of the USSR, that Alexander Wendt referred to “new thinking” in his article “Anarchy is What States Make of it” as “one of the most important phenomena in [recent] world politics” (Wendt 1992, 450). It is in this same article that he also used the term constructivism, a term he borrowed from Onuf. Other, freshly convert- ed constructivists followed in Wendt's footsteps and, as evidence of the strength of their new approach, they often used “the DNA of the deceased”: Soviet “new thinking” and other artifacts and stories related to the cold war, which—with its main protagonist gone—was over. “New thinking” figures prominently again in Wendt's theoretical book on constructivism, where it is probably the empirical case that he handles in a more sustained manner and devotes to it more time than to any other cases or examples (Wendt, 1999).
Cold War, Politics
Political Geography
Russia, Europe, Soviet Union