Role Conceptions and the Politics of
Identity in Foreign Policy
Department of Political
Science, University of Stockholm
I Understanding Foreign Policy in Post-Cold War Europe
Effective foreign policy rests upon a shared sense
of national identity, of a nation-state's `place in the
world', its friends and enemies, its interests and
aspirations. These underlying assumptions are embedded in
national history and myth, changing slowly over time as
political leaders reinterpret them and external and
internal developments reshape them. [Hill &
Wallace 1996: 8]
But foreign policy, most broadly defined, is
central to people's sense of national identity, and to an
understanding of their nation's purpose, role and values.
A nation, and an administration, without a realistic and
well articulated foreign policy, which explains the
bewildering present and illuminates the uncertain future,
is rudderless. [Howell 1997: 26]
There seems to be agreement between many foreign
policy practitioners and theoreticians that perceptions
of identity are of importance as a psychological frame of
reference in international relations (Prizel 1998: 2).
The problem is how we conceptualise this relationship
between identity and foreign policy. How, when and why do
cultural norms and values matter in foreign policy? How
does one operationalise the theoretical linkage between
identity and foreign policy in the empirical analysis?
These enigmas came to the fore in the late 1980s when
the delineation between `self' and `other' became
increasingly ambiguous with the end of the bipolar
division in Europe. Curiously, it seems as if academics
hurried to proclaim the `crisis of national identity'
long before the practitioners themselves started to
problematise the implications of the end of the Cold War
on their own self-images (Wallace & Niblett,
This paper is concerned with the analysis of stability
and change in foreign policy perceptions in post-Cold War
Europe. Given the dramatic changes on the European scene
in the last decade, the question is raised how the actors
- the foreign policy-makers themselves - interpret and
perceive the functions and roles national foreign policy
fulfil in this new, more complicated and unfamiliar
The concept I use to operationalise
and `bridge' perceptions of identity, on the one hand,
with foreign policy behaviour on the other, is by
focusing on role conception. A role conception is
a set of norms expressing expected foreign policy
behaviour and action orientation. It can be thought of as
a `road map' that foreign policy-makers rely on to
simplify and facilitate an understanding of a complex
political reality (cf. Goldstein & Keohane 1993: 3).
The source material used in this study to analyse role
conceptions consists of foreign policy speeches,
documents and interviews. The intention is to compare
role statements from three states: Britain, France and
Thus, this paper is an attempt to outline a conceptual
framework that focuses on the reasoning of national
foreign policy-makers and their understanding of
international relations in post-Cold War Europe. The
analytical framework emphasises how cognitive and
cultural factors motivate and legitimate decisions that
relate to the general direction of foreign policy. Whilst
immediate situational factors are important in
understanding the daily flow of foreign policy decisions,
it is here argued that broader foreign policy approaches,
especially regarding European integration, are bound up
with a sense of identity in foreign policy.
The theoretical framework is generated
with a particular empirical puzzle in mind. For more than
a quarter of a century, the EU member states have
declared their aspiration to achieve a common `voice' and
European identity in foreign policy - what was labelled
as the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) in the
Maastricht treaty. How are these processes of foreign
policy cooperation and intense interaction between
foreign policy-makers affecting perceptions of identity
and interest? Whatever happened to the realist notion
that states are seeking to preserve national independence
in foreign policy, thus giving rise to a logic of
diversity rather than conformity between states? 
More specifically, I am interested in
how foreign policy is perceived by policy-makers given
that the state is embedded in both domestic and European
institutional contexts that generate roles. In the
sections that follow, I will outline a perspective of the
foreign policy-maker situated in a boundary position from
which s/he mediates between two contexts of foreign
policy-making: the national and European. In this view,
the foreign policy-maker is both subject to
norm-conforming social structures and involved as an
agent in (re)constructing identities and interests, some
of which may be `imagined' beyond the state. 
II Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity
Collective identities express ideas about membership
within a social group. As such, they provide a system of
orientation for self-reference and action (Ross 1997:
42). Culture is in this paper interpreted as the broad
context in which individual and collective identities are
linked producing shared meanings that influence the
framing of political action. In foreign policy, the
concept of culture could be characterised as `broad and
general beliefs and attitudes about one's own nation,
about other nations, and about the relationships that
actually obtain or that they should obtain between the
self and other actors in the international arena'
(Vertzberger 1990: 268).
The politics of identity refers to a particular
set of ideas about political community that policy-makers
use and drawn on to mobilise a sense of cohesion and
solidarity to legitimate the general thrust of foreign
policy. As a consequence of its articulation and
institutionalisation in the political culture, it may
become internalised in the cognitive framework or
prism through which foreign policy-makers
interpret the political reality.
Identity constructions are, however, contextually
dependent and develop and change over time. As Ignatieff
(1998: 18) puts it, `'National identity is not fixed or
stable: it is a continuing exercise in the fabrication of
illusion and the elaboration of convenient fables about
who `'we'' are.'' Just as it evolved in particular
historical circumstances, current transformations
internally and externally to the state have an impact and
may lead to re-definitions of identity and foreign policy
interests. In many states, the end of the Cold War and
the deepening of European integration have sparked off
debates about different conceptions of a national and
In this section, the influence of socio-cultural
dynamics on foreign policy is considered in two
institutional contexts. In the first domestic
context, I elaborate on the interconnection between
national identity and foreign policy by drawing on the
literature of nationalism, social psychology and
cognitive studies in foreign policy analysis. In the
second context, I discuss the `Europeanisation' of
foreign policy from a social constructivist perspective
that emphasises how state interaction and processes of
socialisation may affect perceptions identity in foreign
National Identity and Foreign Policy
National identity is closely linked to different
conceptions about sovereignty and statehood. It has since
the early nineteenth century promoted the idea that the
source of individual identity and loyalty lies with `a
people' the nation, which is seen as the source of
sovereignty which the state, in turn, is founded on.
Membership of a political community is
institutionalised spatially within territorial states
(Krasner 1988). The framing of foreign policy
follows as a consequence of the political community being
recognised as a sovereign state in the international
system. Wallace (1991: 65) has called this the `grand
strategy' definition of foreign policy `'that
foreign policy is about national identity itself: about
the core elements of sovereignty it seeks to defend, the
values it stands for and seeks to promote abroad.''
According to Breuilly (1993: 2), nationalism is a
political doctrine built upon three assertions to
legitimise state power.
- There exists a nation with an explicit and peculiar
- The interests and values of this nation take
priority over all other interests and values.
- The nation must be as independent as possible. This
usually requires at least the attainment of political
A sense of belonging appears to be closely
interrelated with membership of a political community
that seems to offer protection from external threat
(Clarke 1993: xi; Garcia 1993: 13). Both identity and
security are relational concepts that imply the existence
of an `other' against which the notion of a collective
self and conditions of insecurity are articulated
(Lipschutz 1995: 217). In social psychology and
identification theory, the dynamics of national identity
are assumed to be closely intertwined with perceptions of
If there has been a general identification made
with the nation, then there is a behavioural tendency
among the individuals who made this identification and
who make up the mass national public to defend and to
enhance the shared national identity. [Bloom 1990:
However, this loyalty and attachment that the state
may enjoy from its population is not simply emotional,
but to some extent functional. It is functional in the
sense that an identification with the nation-state relies
on it being enhanced and protected. The state will
probably not remain stable if it does not fulfil basic
requirements of security and welfare (cf. Flynn 1995:
Nonetheless, the `institutionalisation' of national
identity that takes place through various forms of
political socialisation tends to make identity
constructions relatively resistant to change. It
reinforces certain practices and rules of behaviour which
explain and legitimise particular identity constructions
(cf. March & Olsen 1998: 7; see also Almond, Powell
& Mundt 1993: 46). Political socialisation is a
necessity according to Giddens (1985: 221) given that the
state itself is an unnatural social construct:
`'nationalism helps naturalize the recency and
contingency of the nation-state through supplying its
myths of origin.'' If the idea of the state fails to be
supported by society, the state itself lacks a secure
foundation (Buzan 1991: 78).
Foreign policy with all the symbolic trappings of
sovereignty and statehood plays a significant role in the
socio-political imagination of a collective identity (cf.
Anderson 1991). Foreign policy speeches often reveal
subjective we-feelings of a cultural group that are
related to specific customs, institutions, territory,
myths, and rituals. These expressions of identity
indicate how foreign policy-makers view past history, the
present, and the future political choices they face.
By virtue of our geography, our history and the
strengths of our people, Britain is a global player.
As an island nation, Britain looks outward
Our task has to be to shape these strengths and
give them definition within a foreign policy that is
clear and stated. [Tony Blair 1997]
We have to tell our people that we are now a
normal country, nation, and we have to take part in
developments. We are, therefore, more convinced that
European integration is the best for us and for Europe as
a whole. [Wolfgang Sch�uble, interview November
If sufficiently internalised, these accounts of
national identity may become part of the political
culture and `national style' of a state's foreign policy.
Culture represents a unified set of ideas that are
shared by the members of a society and that establish a
set of shared premises, values, expectations, and action
predispositions among the members of the nation that as a
whole constitute the national style. [Vertzberger
These cultural norms and values could be interpreted
as a national `ideology' or belief system in foreign
policy, in the sense that ideas about who `we' are serves
as a guide to political action and basic world views (cf.
J�nsson 1984: 42-3; Little & Smith 1988). Thus, this
conceptual lens through which foreign policy-makers
perceive international relations tends to set the norm
for what is considered by themselves as `rational'
It is however important to stress that socio-cultural
sources of foreign policy are dynamic and may be subject
to change, not least because the state itself contains a
range of different social groups with varying interests
and identities. The concept of political culture does not
assume that everyone in a society necessarily support its
institutions at all times, nor interpret national
identity in identical ways.
There may well exist `credibility gaps' in a political
culture, giving rise to competing interpretations of
historical myths and meanings. Germany after the Second
World War is probably the most dramatic example of this,
whilst the meanings of the British nation have become
increasingly contested at the end of this century. In
these debates, it is noticeable how different political
elites attempt to portray themselves as guardians of the
national identity. Changes in the predominant idea of the
nation are likely to have significant foreign policy
implications. As Bloom (1990: 81) concludes, `'[a]
government's foreign policy may thus be dictated by
internal domestic realities as much as by the actual
nature of its international relations.''
Europeanisation of Foreign
Many scholars seem to argue that the arena of
international relations is changing in Europe as a
consequence of different processes of formal and informal
integration. Transnationalism and transgovernmentalism
have become commonplace features in this system (Wallace
1994). In combination with the end of the Cold War, these
characteristics appear to create a different setting for
the functioning and scope of foreign policy - moving away
from a Hobbesian European system towards a Grotian
European society. Buzan (1995: 205) describes this order
as `mature anarchy.' 
By the term mature anarchy, I mean a system of strong
states (in terms of high levels of sociopolitical
cohesion), embedded in a well-developed international
society (a dense network of mutually agreed norms, rules
and institutions [...] In one sense, the model represents
a fusion between liberal and realist visions of the
international system: It keeps states as the basic unit,
but contains the security dilemma within a
liberal-inspired ``non-violent conflict.''
Some observers go further and argue that a new
`post-modern' system is arising not from the ashes
of destructive wars but from popular revolutions
that put an end to the balance-of-power system in Europe.
In such a post-modern system, core ideas of the state,
such as sovereignty, security and national identity, are
attributed with new meanings (Cooper 1996). This view
implies a different understanding of nationalism as a
political doctrine and challenges the assumption that
states strive to maintain their national independence in
Wendt (1992: 400) describes European integration as a
process leading towards `a `'cooperative'' security
system, in which states identify positively with one
another so that the security of each is perceived as the
responsibility of all.' This perspective is reminiscent
of what Deutsch (1957) and his associates conceptualised
many years ago as a `security community': a transnational
region in which the positive identification and
interaction between the members would lead to a decline
of military force and a rise in the expectancy of
German policy-makers frequently
express thoughts along these lines given their historical
record in Europe. 
Die Fortf�hrung des europ�ischen
Einigungsprozesses ist deshalb immer zugleich auch aktive
Sicherheitspolitik f�r Europa. Krieg zwischen Staaten
ist im Westeuropa unsere Tage undenkbar geworden. [Werner
This is hardly a contentious statement and is
supported by a majority of European politicians. The
interesting question is rather how deep this `sense of
community' is felt within the European Union and how it
may be affecting foreign policy perceptions.
What makes the Deutschian perspective particularly
stimulating is the recognition that different
social-communicative processes between states may affect
and shape their identities and interests. High levels of
interaction between states encourage the development of a
growing `we-feeling' and common `role-identity' (Deutsch
1957: 5-7). This mutual responsiveness and compatibility
of interests may, according to a social constructivist
understanding, make possible new repertoires of action
and behaviour. As Barnett (1993: 275) argues,
``Institutions generate their stabilizing properties once
actors consistently adopt a particular role conception
and modify their behavior according to each other's
roles, behaviors, and expectations.''
The concept of `security community' is currently
experiencing a renaissance in the academic literature.
The concept has been refined and emphasises the
socio-cognitive imagination of a common destiny and
identity within a transnational region. Adler and Barnett
(1998: 30) distinguish between `loosely' and `tightly
coupled' security communities according to (i) their
depth of trust; (ii) the institutionalisation of their
governance system; and (iii) the degree of anarchy in the
`Tightly coupled' pluralistic security
communities..., possess a system of rule that lies
somewhere between a sovereign state and a centralised
regional government. This system is something of a
post-sovereign system, comprised of common supranational,
transnational and national institutions, and some form of
a collective security system. [Adler 1997: 255]
Social constructivism stresses how
state actors are embedded in national and international
structures that are both normative and material, but
remains vague about the actual conditions favouring
shared transnational identities. It appears crucial,
however, that a process of social learning is initiated,
i.e., that the actors involved begin to reassess their
fundamental beliefs and values (complex learning). One
factor that is regularly singled out as essential in the
initial stages of a social learning process is the
intensity of interaction among the participants in a
The high density of multilateral interactions and the
continuous communication and adjustment (coordination
reflex) within CFSP point at certain qualitative new
features of solidarity between EU members. Transparency,
consultation and compromise are norms underpinning the
CFSP framework. As the former British Foreign Secretary,
Malcolm Rifkind (1996) expresses it: ``consultation and
co-operation are now instinctive.'' Thus, the foreign
policy cooperation between EU member states could be
interpreted as the beginnings of a learning process where
the actors involved increasingly perceive themselves as a
The aspirations proclaimed in both the Maastricht and
Amsterdam treaties of a European identity and a common
foreign policy might be seen as a distinctive re-framing
of foreign policy. As Hill and Wallace (1996: 6) note,
the CFSP `have moved the conduct of national foreign
policy away from the old nation-state national
sovereignty model towards a collective endeavour, a form
of high-level networking with transformationalist
The commitment to reach common positions in the CFSP
is foremost based on the build-up of mutual trust,
increased communication and the political will among its
members. On this level, it is noticeable that a
`Europeanisation' of foreign policy has taken place
even among larger states, as witnessed by a former
European Correspondent and Political Director of the
... the foreign policy process has become
Europeanised, in the sense that on every international
issue, there is an exchange of information and an attempt
to arrive at a common understanding and a common approach
compared to how things were in the past, where
most issues were looked at in isolation without
addressing the attitudes of other member states or a
European dimension. [Pauline Neville-Jones,
interview January 1996]
Trust is essential to intersubjective understandings
and the development of a supranational identity: ``Trust,
shared identities, and familiarity encourage further
contact, further integration, an expansion of the number
of topics viewed as appropriate for discussion, and the
development of common definitions of problems and
appropriate actions'' (March & Olsen 1998: 27; see
also J�nsson 1993: 213).
Yet, at the same time, it is important to stress that
the CFSP is largely declaratory and by no means
represents an integrated common European foreign
policy. Intergovernmentalism predominates in the second
pillar of the EU indicating that the actors involved
still, to some extent, regard their interaction in a
strategic and self-interested manner. The important point
to make here and to explore further in the empirical
analysis is that norms agreed on the European level do
not by necessity have a constitutive effect on the
identity of the actors involved. In other words, there is
no automatic spill-over of European norms inevitably
becoming internalised and leading to intersubjective
understandings (cf. Checkel 1998: 23).
Given the theoretical discussion in the previous
section on national identity and foreign policy, it is
here suggested that reference to transnational practices
and a European supranational identity will be accepted
more easily among a broader public if these are in some
way framed as compatible with a national identity. This
in turn encourages further processes of social learning.
It is, however, a fine balancing act for foreign
policy elites to articulate views of European integration
that are seen by the broader public not as a threat to
national identity (zero-sum), but an enhancement of
multiple identities (cf. Bull 1977: 254). Thus, it will
be interesting to explore in the empirical analysis
whether different views of how to build a European
foreign policy can be understood in terms of how these
ideas resonate with particular national identity
constructions in foreign policy.
III Foreign Policy Role Conceptions in Europe
The analytical framework constructed in this paper is
intended to be applied to a comparative study of British,
French, and German foreign policy since the end of the
Cold War (1990-99). The empirical material consists
primarily of foreign policy speeches, documents and
interviews, which focus on three dimensions of
political-security relations in Europe.
- ideas of a European order
- approaches to foreign policy cooperation and
integration in the EU
- bilateral relations (Anglo-German, Anglo-French,
By exploring foreign policy-makers' perceptions
towards these three dimensions, it is argued that we may
be able to unravel underlying cognitive structures of
expected foreign policy behaviour.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this paper, the
concept of role is advanced as the methodological
tool by which we may capture the elusive relationship
between identity and foreign policy. The concept of role
provides an analytical link between
identity-constructions and foreign policy behaviour. Role
conceptions suggest how norms and values become
operationalised in terms of verbal statements about
expected foreign policy behaviour. Role provides an
essential link between agent and structure, as it
incorporates how foreign policy behaviour is both
purposeful and shaped by the institutional context. As
Hollis & Smith (1990: 168) assert, ``Role involves
judgement and skill, but at the same time it involves a
notion of structure within which roles operate.''
Holsti introduced the concept of
role to foreign policy analysis in a seminal article
first published in 1970. A number of interesting attempts
have been made since to develop the concept of role in
foreign policy analysis. 
There does not, however, exist a developed role theory per
se which has been systematically developed and
applied in FPA. Thus, in the sections that follow, I will
outline the component parts of the role analysis that
this study builds on.
The Boundary Position of the Foreign
Foreign policy-makers are depicted in this study as
agents collectively representing the state as a social
actor in foreign policy (cf. Katzenstein 1996). This
means that I assume that role conceptions have a social
origin and that the state is the role-beholder.  The analysis
deviates from a strict interpretation of instrumental
rationality and methodological individualism that would
imply that action in foreign policy is simply based on
the maximisation of power and security interests.
Rational theory tends to ignore endogenous dynamics
and focus on material utility maximisation, while a
reflective approach emphasises the impact of cultural
practices, norms and values on perceptions of interests
(Keohane 1988). The two approaches reflect different
logics of how human behaviour and intentionality are
interpreted: rational instrumental action (logic of
expected consequences) and rule-based action (logic of
appropriateness) (Checkel 1998: 4).
The notion of `role' rests on the analogy with the
theatre, in which an actor is expected to behave in
predictable ways according to a script. A reflectivist
perspective would imply that norms and values constitute
the `script' that shape behaviour. Yet, the approach
adopted in this study falls on the middle ground between
rational and reflectivist understandings of how the
actors in foreign policy are reasoning. As March and
Olsen (1982: 12) point out,
...the two logics are not mutually
exclusive. As a result, political action is generally
explicable neither as based exclusively on a logic of
consequences nor as based exclusively on a logic of
appropriateness. Any particular action probably involves
elements of each. Political actors are constituted both
by their interests, by which they evaluate their
anticipations of consequences, and by the rules embedded
in their identities and political institutions. They
calculate consequences and follow rules, and the relation
between the two is often subtle. 
The culture-bound prism through which foreign
policy-makers view the world and consider their interests
does not preclude strategically motivated action in a
bounded rational sense. Yet, it tends to demarcate the
limits for what is perceived and defined in the first
place as acceptable and viable goals and interests in
foreign policy: `'culture does not impose a cognitive map
upon persons but provides them with a set of principles
for map-making and navigation'' (Ehrenhaus, quoted in
Vertzberger 1990: 270). The actors in foreign policy are
thus not simply confined to acting according to the roles
prescribed in a script (rule-based behaviour). Indeed,
they may be actively involved in reconstructing the
identities within these structures through their
interaction with other international actors.
In Europe, the agents of foreign policy are positioned
at the intersection of transnational processes and
domestic structures. Although, they are national agents
of foreign policy, they find themselves in a boundary
position from which they mediate between two worlds of
foreign policy-making: one in the national capital
the other centred in Brussels. Whilst foreign policy role
conceptions are primarily shaped within the broader
political culture of a state, the interaction and elite
socialisation taking place on the European level may
influence and change their perceptions. Actors learn
and are socialised into playing roles through
interaction within both domestic and international
institutional contexts (Barnett 1993: 275). As I will
discuss below, this may give rise to role conflicts in
The Concept of Role
`Role' is a concept that initially was developed in
sociology and social psychology to denote an actor's
characteristic patterns of behaviour given a certain
position.  In
international relations theory, a role has mainly been
deductively conceived of in the singular as a
general role - denoting `role-expectations' within a
system of balance of power. In this view, the sources of
roles are predominantly systemic (Rosenau 1990: 213;
Walker 1987: 271).
The reason why Holsti's work in the 1970s was seen to
be breaking new ground on the conceptualisation of role
in foreign policy was that he adopted an inductive
approach to explore what role conceptions policy-makers
themselves perceived and defined. His findings indicated
that the practitioners of foreign policy expressed
different and more roles for themselves in foreign policy
than the ones stipulated by academics (Holsti 1987: 28).
Importantly, this seems to suggest that roles have
multiple sources and that roles are not exclusively
generated by the international distribution of power. As
Barnett (1993: 278) points out, ``The state's survival is
rarely at stake but the government's domestic standing
frequently is, so it is possible that domestic-generated
roles will have greater force than roles dictated by
power considerations.'' To understand the various roles
that a state conceives for itself, we need to be aware
that these roles evolve as a consequence of the state's
presence within a multitude of institutional contexts.
The concept of role can be used in different ways to
explain or understand foreign policy. It is a broad
concept that carries different connotations. Briefly, we
may want to distinguish between (i) role expectation;
(ii) role performance; and (iii) role conception.
(i) The first refers to roles that other actors or
groups prescribe and expect the role-beholder to enact.
In the comparative study undertaken here of Britain,
France and Germany, role expectations are
only accounted for in terms of the bilateral relations
between the three states. Yet, the way in which foreign
policy-makers themselves perceive role expectations
arising from the alter is important to note. For
instance, since re-unification, German policy-makers
frequently mention how they experience pressure to play a
more active role in foreign and security policy.
Nowadays, we have much more responsibility. Our
partners, our friends, expect much more of us, to be more
active, since we don't have the restrictions anymore, as
far as the inner German conflict is concerned. [interview,
Ministry of Defence, October 1997]
Germany has to be willing to function on the same
basis as everybody else, as regards the use of its armed
forces and security matters. We cannot have the most
powerful member of the Community claiming that it cannot
operate like everybody else. [Douglas Hurd,
interview December 1995]
(ii) Role performance encompasses the
actual foreign policy behaviour in terms of decisions and
actions undertaken - the outcome. The question of whether
role conceptions indeed influence states to act in
certain distinctive ways is explored in two case studies.
In the first case, I study British, French and German
foreign policy actions regarding the disintegration of
Yugoslavia and the instability in the Balkans until the
Dayton Agreement was signed. In the second study, I
analyse the negotiations in the 1996 Intergovernmental
Conference of the positions Britain, France and Germany
adopted regarding the future development of the CFSP
(which resulted in the Amsterdam treaty).
(iii) The main focus in this study resides, however,
on the normative expectations of a certain kind of
foreign policy behaviour expressed by the role-beholders
A national role conception includes the
policymakers' own definitions of the general kinds of
decisions, commitments, rules, and actions suitable to
their state, and of the functions, if any, their state
should perform on a continuing basis in the international
system or in subordinate regional systems. [Holsti
To reiterate a point made earlier, actors do not
passively act according to a script but are actively
involved in categorising themselves. They may often act
with reference to a particular role which furnish them
with an action orientation. When it is communicated and
expressed in speeches, it points to the intention of an
actor, if not necessarily the final outcome of an action
(performance) (cf. Graber 1976). As Ebba Eban once so
eloquently put it,
What statesmen and diplomats say is often as vital
as what they do. It would not be far-fetched to go
further and declare that speech is an incisive form of
action. [quoted in Le Prestre 1997: 14]
A role conception embodies a mixture of values and
descriptions of reality that may be partial or general
and more or less manifest. As a cognitive construct, a
role conception may become intersubjective and thus
relatively stable over time, as policy-makers are
socialised into and internalise these role conceptions.
As these national role conceptions become a more
pervasive part of the political culture of a nation, they
are more likely to set limits on perceived or politically
feasible policy alternatives, and less likely to allow
idiosyncratic variables to play a crucial part in
decision making. [Holsti 1987: 38-9]
As a belief system, role conceptions have the function
of `organizing perceptions into a meaningful guide for
behavior' (Holsti 1963: 245). As the British diplomat,
Robert Cooper (1996: 8) asserts, `[t]hinking about
foreign affairs - like any other kind of thinking -
requires a conceptual map which, as maps do, simplifies,
the landscape and focuses on the main features.'
The literature on belief systems suggests that the
dynamics and impact of new information are largely
determined by whether the structure of a belief system is
`open' or `closed'.
The `belief system' of the practitioner is a
deep-rooted legacy of experience and political culture,
but it is also an organic set of attitudes which is
capable, within limits, of self-transformation.
[Hill 1988: 30]
New information tends to be interpreted and adopted in
view of pre-existing beliefs. Yet, their centrality may
alter in the light of new information, which can bring
prior beliefs into `cognitive dissonance.' This can be
seen as a process of learning, giving rise to new
definitions and understandings of a role conception (cf.
Goldmann 1988: 25; Hermann 1990: 10-11).
Role conceptions are broad categories that allow a
certain flexibility of interpretation, depending on the
extent to which they have become formally
institutionalised with a specific guide to action.
Barnett (1993: 275) distinguishes between position
and preference roles: the former providing an
actor with well-defined and detailed guides to action,
while the latter contains greater flexibility of
interpretation as to the meaning of a role.
A certain amount of discretion in interpreting roles
appears indispensable to accommodate the potentially
conflicting roles that different institutional contexts
generate. This is where we find the foreign policy-maker
in the boundary position mentioned earlier, mediating
between various demands and expectations that arise from
different institutional contexts. Given the ever
increasing interdependence and multilateralism that
characterise European international relations, it is
reasonable to assume that this mediating role between
different institutional contexts becomes more demanding.
A role conflict may be said to exist when role
conceptions in the overarching role-set are incompatible
with one another. As pointed out above, the salience and
centrality of a role conception do vary depending on the
situational context and time.
Two potential role conflicts stand in focus in this
study. The first focuses on whether the strengthening of
a European identity and development of a Common European
Security Policy is perceived by policy-makers as
contradictory to NATO and the transatlantic relationship.
The second centres on the possible tension that may exist
between the domestically generated drive for national
independence in foreign policy and the explicit political
commitments made by EU members to speak and act in unison
in international affairs.
Two considerations need to be added to this discussion
of role conflicts. The first point to highlight is that
foreign policy-makers may not wish to officially
acknowledge role conflicts. German foreign policy-makers,
for example, tend to avoid acknowledging potential
role-conflicts in case that would involve privileging a
particular institution or set of relationships in favour
of another. According to Ash (1996: 92), this Sowohl-als-auch
(as-well-as) approach to foreign policy means that German
foreign policy-makers `choose not to choose.' Finally,
the second addendum to make is that national and European
role conceptions are not by necessity oppositional
Again, if we look at Germany, the language of European
integration seems well integrated among the political
elites and helps define the state's goals and definitions
German interests can't be different from European
interests, because German interests are integration into
Europe; adhesion and enlargement of the European Union;
and creating structures in Europe that are stable and
that can meet, and prepare Europe in the global world. [interview
with a CDU official, October 1997]
Yet, this does not preclude that German foreign
policy-makers are also guided by self-interest. As
Hedetoft (1998: 3) observes,
Germany serves its own interests and visions of
itself and its future best by embedding its political
actions and discourses in the framework of Europe. For
the same reason, Germany can come across and represent
itself as a relatively insignificant country, shying away
from political and military leadership, paying its moral
dues etc., but in very real terms still being an
extremely influential country with great political and
The Analysis of Role
Conceptions in Europe
The role analysis of British, French and German
foreign policy builds partly on role typologies found in
earlier studies. 
Yet, it is important to stress that it also differs in
significant ways from previous research.
Firstly, the domain is confined to Europe rather than
a comprehensive analysis of role conceptions within the
global international system. The foreign policy speeches
and parliamentary debates reviewed are primarily
addressed to audiences within Europe, thus, raising
issues of particular concern to this geographical region.
Secondly, the concept of role is extended beyond the
`national' to include an analysis of how foreign
policy-makers may express `we-feelings' and a `common
role-identity' on the European level.
Thirdly, given the theoretical framework on identity
and foreign policy informing this study, the empirical
analysis combines both induction and deduction - a
research approach that Layder (1998: 19) calls `adaptive
theory': ``adaptive theory attempts to combine an
emphasis on prior theoretical ideas and models which feed
into and guide research while at the same time attending
to the generation of theory from the ongoing analysis of
What follows below are some examples
of role conceptions I am presently elaborating on in my
comparative analysis of Britain, France, and Germany.
Themes of a role conception are observed in the empirical
material when a foreign policy-maker speaks of
commitments, duties, functions, responsibilities, which
indicate expectancy of a certain kind of foreign policy
behaviour. Six role conceptions are sketched out:
regional collaborator, leadership, ally, promoter of
security, bridge/mediator and independent.  These role
conceptions are examined in relation to the meaning and
understanding policy-makers attach to them.
Regional Collaborator. Similar to Holsti's
(1987: 23) definition, this role conception contains
`far-reaching commitments to cooperative efforts with
other states to build wider communities,' focusing in
particular on the commitments expressed to cooperate
within CFSP. Depending on the depth of commitment to
collaborate and the extent to which the CFSP becomes
institutionalised, this role conception could be seen to
be evolving from a preference to position role.
Furthermore, it tends to reveal underlying conceptions of
`Europe' as a political community.
Europe does not yet have the single coherent world
vision, the deep-rooted instincts of a national foreign
policy. That is not to the discredit of the European
Union. But it is one more reason why we should see CFSP
as a complement to our national foreign policies, an
increasingly robust complement, but not a replacement. [Malcolm
Leadership. The themes of this role conception
refer to perceived duties and special responsibilities
that the government should champion and take a leading
role in pursuing in its relations with other states. This
role indicates the state's self-image of its range of
influence and how it relates to power.
It should be noted that a leadership
conception might be considered a collective exercise with
another state - forming a `core' in pursuing a policy.
This is evident in the case of Germany, where
policy-makers are careful of expressing any notion of a
national leadership that could give rise to fears of
German hegemony or isolation. 
Thus, reference to a leading role in promoting European
integration is, for example, expressed as a collective
European effort, particularly with France:
... no single country can lay claim to leadership
in Europe, at least not in terms of power. But in terms
of ideas and their tenacious pursuit, a number of nations
can and must lead the process of European unification. [Karl
Lamers 1994: 10]
Ally. Commitments to support and cooperate
closely with another state indicate perceptions of a
`special relationship' and strategic partnership. This
role conception is particularly interesting to study in
terms of the bilateral relations between the three
states, as it communicates the depth of trust essential
to collective identity formation.
Demokratie, Weltoffenheit und Toleranz, das mu�
das europ�ische Gesicht Deutschlands ausmachen. F�r
diese innere Achse kommt der festen und engen Verbindung
mit Europa und gerade mit Frankreich besondere Bedeutung
Das deutsch-franz�sische Verh�ltnis ist auch der
Katalysator f�r die in der Gemeinschaft bestehenden
Interessenunderschiede. [Klaus Kinkel 1995: 25]
However, the language of being a close ally may not be
reserved for a partner within CFSP, which has
consequences for how `tightly coupled' a security
community will be.
Britain's relationship with the US has been
fundamental to our foreign policy throughout this
We have stood shoulder to shoulder in NATO. We
were the core of the successful coalition in the Gulf
It is right for us to be close and for that
relationship to work for the fundamental principles we
both believe in. [Tony Blair 1998]
Promoter of security. This category includes
general statements referring to commitments and
responsibilities to work towards security and peace in
Europe. An initial comparison between Britain, France and
Germany indicates that the three states tend to emphasise
different contents of this role conception. Taking pride
in their military resources and past, Britain and France
are inclined to refer to military responsibilities to
reduce threats to European security.
We need strong defence, not just to defend our
country, but for British influence abroad. Today, whether
in Bosnia or the UN peace-keeping forces, or in any of
the negotiations on disarmament and the reduction of
weapons of mass destruction, sound defence is sound
foreign policy. It is an instrument of influence. [Tony
Germany, on the other hand, tends to stress the
civilian power approach with non-military instruments at
its disposal, frequently with reference to its own
geopolitical position in the centre of Europe.
Als Land an der Ostgrenze der Gemeinschaft hat
Deutschland ein besonderes Interesse daran, die
Reformprozesse in diesen L�ndern zu stabilisieren und
langfristig unumkehrbar zu machen. [Wolfgang
Ishinger 1993: 63]
Bridge/Mediator. Statements suggesting that the
state is particularly suited and capable of conducting
diplomacy which fosters reconciliation between adversary
parties indicate the role of bridge/mediator. I have
combined bridge and mediator into one broad role
conception, though there is a difference between the two
in regard to the degree of active/passive intervention. A
bridging role is, in contrast to mediator, more
instrumental in facilitating communication between states
and regions. This role conception frequently appears in
speeches on the theme of transatlantic relations and the
construction of a `European Security and Defence
Strong in Europe and strong with the US. There is
no choice between the two. Stronger with one means
stronger with the other.
Our aim should be to deepen our relationship with
the US at all levels. We are the bridge between the US
and Europe. [Tony Blair 1997]
Independent. This role conception expresses
commitments to retain independence of action in foreign
policy and to defend national/European interests.
References to this role can be found in French speeches,
which perhaps is not surprising given the Gaullist
tradition and preoccupation with France's political
uniqueness and status in the world. However, in the
1990s, it mostly appears as an assertion against American
hegemony. Interestingly, this role conception tends to be
framed in a European discourse as an ambition to create a
more autonomous European foreign policy as a powerful
global player, transferring to the EU the ambitions it
once cherished for itself.
L'Europe doit mettre un terme � son impuissance.
Elle doit s'affirmer comme l'un des acteurs majeurs du
monde, d'un monde multipolaire qu'il nous faut construire
en achevant d'effacer Yalta.
Pour cela, l'Europe doit �tre en mesure
d'assurer, sur son sol, la paix et la s�curit�. Elle
doit contribuer � la stabilit� du monde, comme le
commandent son histoire, le niveau de son d�veloppement
et ses int�r�ts. Elle doit, en un mot, assumer ses
responsabilit�s en mati�re de d�fense et se doter
d'une v�ritable Politique �trang�re et de s�curit�
commune. [Jacques Chirac 1996]
IV Concluding Remarks
The role conceptions outlined above indicate that the
categories in the typology are partly overlapping and not
mutually exclusive. As Holsti found in his extensive role
analysis, foreign policy-makers tend to conceive of
several roles concurrently. 
As I have argued in the paper, this indicates that roles
may be generated not only from international systemic
forces, but from the dynamics found within regional
transgovernmental institutions and domestic politics.
Given this multiplicity of roles a state may perceive for
itself, it is difficult to assume a priori exactly
which role a state may wish to play at a particular time.
In Europe, perhaps more than anywhere else in the
world, states are embedded in numerous institutions and
networks which influence perceptions of foreign policy
ideas and interests. The European Union can be described
as a `tightly coupled security community' with the CFSP
becoming an increasingly institutionalised part of it.
But does that indicate that Britain, France and Germany
share a collective European identity and common role
conceptions in foreign policy?
This question can of course not be answered until the
empirical work of this research project is finished. It
requires a more in-depth analysis of the understandings
and meanings British, French and German foreign
policy-makers attribute to roles and whether these
perceptions converge. In the content analysis of
speeches, I firstly examine whether political leaders
perceive and discuss interest and influence in a national
or European discourse. Secondly, I note what type of
contents a particular role conception tends to be
attached to (military, political/diplomatic,
The stability of the EU as a foreign policy actor is
dependent on the member states modifying their behaviour
according to each other's roles and expectations. The
more the `Europeanisation' of foreign policy becomes
formally institutionalised within the EU, the more
foreign policy perceptions will be influenced by position
roles. In contrast to a preference role, a position
role increases the predictability of foreign policy
behaviour and stable expectations. Yet, it provides the
policy-maker with less scope of interpretation and thus
less flexibility in managing potential role conflicts. It
certainly undermines the notion of national independence
in foreign policy.
With an in-depth analysis of the contents of role
conceptions, we may be able to trace evolving changes in
how the broad operational framework of foreign policy is
interpreted. In a temporal perspective of ten years, I
attempt to explore how combinations of different role
conceptions at various times tend to cluster as a
`role-set' in foreign policy. A role-set may be
interpreted as a school of thought that predominates
among policy-makers and brings a certain stability to
foreign policy. Not least, it tends to illuminate
different approaches and understandings of European
integration in foreign policy.
Importantly, it is probably at this juncture in the
analysis of role-sets that we most incisively will be
able to capture the interconnection between
European/national identity and foreign policy in terms of
motivation and legitimation. It will, therefore, be
interesting to probe the extent to which the
contestedness of national and European identity is
related to stability and change in the overarching
role-set in foreign policy.
Adler, E. (1997), Imagined (Security) Communities:
Cognitive Regions in International Relations. Millennium:
Journal of International Studies, vol 26, no 2.
Adler, E. & Barnett, M., eds. (1998), Security
Communities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Almond, G., Powell, G. B., & Mundt, R. ( 1993), Comparative
Theoretical Framework. New York: HarperCollins
Anderson, B. (1991), Imagined Communities.
London: Verso Books.
Ash, T. (1996), `Germany's Choice.' in M. Mertes, S.
Muller & H. Winkler, eds., In Search of Germany.
New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.
Barnett, M. (1993), Institutions, Roles, and Disorder:
The Case of the Arab States System. International
Studies Qarterly vol 37 no 3.
Blair, T. (1998), `Britain's Role in the EU and the
Transatlantic Alliance.'Speech at the Associated Press,
London. 15 December.
------- (1997), `The Principles of a Modern British
Foreign Policy.' Speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet,
London. 10 November.
Bloom, W. (1990), Personal Identity, National
Identity and International Relations. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Breuilly, J. (1993), Nationalism and the State.
Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Bull, H. (1977), The Anarchical Society: A Study of
Order in World Politics. London: Macmillan.
Buzan, B. (1991), People, States & Fear: An
Agenda for International Security Studies in the
Post-Cold War Era. Hemel Hemstead: Harvester
------- (1995), Security, the State, the New
World Order, and Beyond. in R. Lipschutz, ed., On
Security. New York: Columbia University Press.
Checkel, J. (1998), Social Construction and
Integration. Arena Working Paper no 14.
Chirac, J. (1996), Speech at the WEU parliamentary
assembly, Paris 3 December.
Clarke, M., ed. (1993), New Perspectives on
Security. London: Brassey's.
Cooper, R. (1996), The Post-Modern State and the
World Order. London: Demos.
Deutsch, K. et al (1957), Political Community in
the Northern Atlantic Area. Princeton: Princeton
Edstr�m, B. (1988), Japan's Quest for a Role in
the World: Roles Ascribed to Japan Nationally and
Internationally 1969-1982. Doct. diss. University of
Stockholm: Institute of Oriental Languages.
Flynn, G. (1995), French Identity and Post-Cold War
Europe. in G. Flynn, ed., Remaking the Hexagon: The
New France in the New Europe. Boulder: Westview
Garcia, S. (1993), Europe's Fragmented Identities and
the Frontiers of Citizenship. in S. Garcia, ed., European
Identity and the Search for Legitimacy. London:
Goffmann, E. (1959), The Presentation of Self in
Everyday Life. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Goldstein, J. & Keohane, R., eds., (1993), Ideas
& Foreign Policy: Beliefs, Institutions, and
Political Change. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Giddens, A. (1985), The Nation-State and Violence.
Cambridge: Polity Press.
Goldmann, K. (1988), Change and Stability in
Foreign Policy: the problems and possibilities of
d�tente. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Graber, D. (1976), Verbal Behavior and Politics. Urbana:
University of Illinois Press.
Hedetoft, U. (1998), Germany's National and European
Identity: normalisation by other means. AICGS Research
Report No. 8. The Johns Hopkins University.
Hermann, C. (1990), Changing Course: When Governments
Choose To Redirect Foreign Policy. International
Studies Quarterly vol 34 no 1.
Hill, C. (1988), The Historical Background: Past and
Present in British Foreign Policy. in M. Smith, S. Smith
& B. White, eds., British Foreign Policy:
Tradition, Change & Transformation. London: Unwin
Hill, C. & Wallace, W. (1996), Introduction:
actors and actions. in C. Hill (ed.), The Actors in
Europe's Foreign Policy. London: Routledge.
Hoffmann, S. (1966), Obstinate or Obsolete? Daedalus
Hollis, M. & Smith, S. (1990), Explaining and
Understanding International Relations. Oxford: Oxford
Holsti, K. (1987), National Role Conceptions in the
Study of Foreign Policy. in
S. Walker (ed.), Role Theory and Foreign Policy
Analysis. Durham: Duke University Press.
Holsti, O. (1963), The Belief System and National
Images: A Case Study. Conflict Resolution vol VI
Hoyer, W. (1997), `Die au�en- und
sicherheitspolitische Handlungsf�higkeit der EU und die
gesamteurop�ische Sicherheitsordnung.' Speech at
`Sicherheitspolitischen Tagesseminar,' K�ln 22 February.
Howell, D. (1997), Britannia's Business. Prospect January.
Hurd, D. (1995), Interview in London 12 December.
Ignatieff, M. (1998), Identity Parades. Prospect
Ishinger, W. (1993), `Zentrale Fragen der Gemeinsamen
Au�en- und Sicherheitspolitik f�r die Bundesrepublik.'
Arbeitspapiere zur Internationalen Politik 78., K. Kaiser
& H. Maull (eds)., Bonn: DGAP
Jackson, J., ed. (1972), Role. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
J�nsson, C. (1984), Super Power: Comparing
American and Soviet Foreign Policy. London: Frances
------- (1993), Cognitive Factors in Explaining Regime
Dynamics. in V. Rittberger & P. Mayer, eds., Regime
Theory and International Relations. Oxford: Clarendon
Katzenstein, P. (1996), Introdction: Alternative
Perspectives on National Security. in Katzenstein, ed., The
Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World
Politics. New York: Columbia Universtity Press.
Keohane, R. (1988), International Institutions: Two
Approaches. International Studies Quarterly vol
32, no 4.
Kinkel, K. (1995), Deutschlands Rolle in Europa. in Europas
politische Agenda f�r die neunziger Jahre.
G�tersloh: Bertelsmann Stiftung.
Krasner, S. (1988), Sovereignty - An Institutional
Perspective. Comparative Political Studies vol 21
Kupchan, C. & Kupchan, C. (1991), Concerts,
Collective Security, and the Future of Europe.
International Security vol 16.
Lamers, K. (1994), `A German Agenda for the European
Union.' London: Federal Trust, Konrad Adenauer
Layder, D. (1998), Sociological Practice: linking
theory and social research London: Sage Publications
Le Prestre, P. ed. (1997), Role Quests in the
Post-Cold War Era: Foreign Policies in Transition.
Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
L�tourneau, P. & R�kel, M-E. (1997), Germany: To
Be or Not to Be Normal? in P. Le Prestre, ed., Role
Quests in the Post-Cold War Era: Foreign Policies in
Transition. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University
Lipschutz, R. (1995), Negotiating the Boundaries of
Difference and Security at the Millenium's End. in
Lipschutz, ed., On Security. New York: Columbia
Little, R. & Smith, S., eds. (1988), Belief
Systems and International Relations. New York: Basil
Macleod, A. (1997), Great Britain: Still Searching for
Status? in P. Le Prestre, ed., Role Quests in the
Post-Cold War Era: Foreign Policies in Transition.
Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
March, J. & Olsen, J. (1998), The Institutional
Dynamics of International Political Orders. Arena
Working Paper no 5.
Neville-Jones, P. (1996), Interview in London 16
Mead, G. (1934), Mind, Self, and Society.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Prizel, Y. (1998), National Identity and Foreign
Policy: Nationalism and Leadership in Poland, Russia, and
Ukraine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rifkind, M. (1996), `Common Foreign and Security
Policy.' Speech at the `Institut Francais des Relations
Internationales,' Paris 5 March.
Rosenau, J. (1990), Turbulence in World Politics.
Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Ross, M. (1997), Culture and Identity in Comparative
Political Analysis. in M. Lichbach & A. Zuckerman, Comparative
Politics: Rationality, Culture and Structure.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sch�uble, W. (1997), Interview in Bonn 12 November.
Searing, D. (1991), Roles, Rules, and Rationality in
the New Institutionalism. American Political Science
Review vol 85.
Thumerelle, C. & Le Prestre, P. (1997), France:
The Straitjacket of New Freedom. in P. Le Prestre, ed., Role
Quests in the Post-Cold War Era: Foreign Policies in
Transition. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University
Vertzberger, Y. (1990), The World in Their Minds:
Information Processing, Cognition, and Perception in
Foreign Policy Decisionmaking. Stanford: Stanford
Walker, S., ed., (1987), Role Theory and Foreign
Policy Analysis. Durham: Duke University Press.
Wallace, W. (1994), Regional Integration: The West
European Experience. Washington: The Brookings
------- (1991), Foreign Policy and National Identity
in the United Kingdom. International Affairs vol
67 no 1.
------- (1990), The Transformation of Western
Europe. London: Pinter.
Wallace, W. & Niblett, R., eds. (forthcoming), Concepts
of European Order.
Wendt, A. (1992), Anarchy is What States Make of It:
The Social Construction of Power Politics. International
Organization vol 46.
------- (1994), Collective Identity Formation and the
International State. American Political Science Review
vol 88, no 2.
Wish, N. (1980), Foreign Policy Makers and Their
National Role Conceptions. International Studies
Quarterly vol 24.
paper contains empirical material mainly from Britain and
Germany as the research on French foreign policy is as
yet at an early stage.
is based on the assumption that agency and structure are
Kupchan & Kupchan (1991: 132) who talk of `mitigated
 As a
German policy-maker argues, ``The Germans tend to look
forward and try to emancipate themselves from their
history'' (interview, Ministry of Defence, November 1997)
the complexities of analysing socialisation and learning
- see Checkel (1998: 15-18).
See for example, Barnett 1993; Edstr�m 1988; J�nsson
1984; Le Prestre 1997; Rosenau 1990; Walker 1987; Wish
This does not mean that any two foreign policy-makers
share exactly the same perception or image about foreign
policy and international relations. Yet, it is suggested
that beliefs and ideas are formed within a cultural
context and that their prominence and legitimacy are
dependent on them being more broadly shared at a
also Searing (1991) for a similar view which suggests
that roles combine and provide a vital link between the
See for example, Goffmann (1959); Jackson (1972); Mead
For example, Holsti 1987; L�tourneau & R�kel 1997;
Macleod 1997; Thumerelle & Le Prestre 1997.
It should be noted that this is work in progress and does
not represent conclusive results. The empirical section
serves as an exemplar of a role analysis.
This is evident in the repeated rejection of the American
offer of `Partners in Leadership' (Bush in 1989; Clinton
in 1994), as this would imply a strong bilateral
relationship with Germany assuming a European leadership
role. Given the preoccupation in both Britain and France
to exercise a leadership role, the American overtures to
the Germans were of some concern to British and French
policy-makers at the time.
Holsti (1987: 28) found an average of 4.6 role
conceptions per state.
[Date of publication in the ARENA
Working Paper series: 15.2.1999]