Change on the level of recurring policy practices 62 

In document From Guilt to Responsibility and Beyond? : Change in German Strategic Culture after the End of the Cold War (Page 74-78)

2.2. Existing accounts of strategic cultural change 52 

2.2.3. Change on the level of recurring policy practices 62 

Hilpert’s account differs from the above three in one crucial respect, namely, that it shifts the focus from ideational structure to agency. She shows how German participation in the ISAF operation in Afghanistan (2002-2014) – understood as an external challenge – changed some of the strategic practic- es of the Federal Republic on the level of civil-military relations, military doc- trine as well as procurement.170 In terms of strategic cultural change, she ar-

170 Hilpert, Carolin 2014, Strategic Cultural Change and the Challenge for Security Policy. Germany

gues in particular that “the most prevalent patterns of change are the exter- nal challenges which are seized by political entrepreneurs to forge new prac- tices. Though there have also been other reasons for change, it has been ded- icated agents seizing windows of opportunity and using external threat- related challenges that have been the most successful at gradually adapting the German way of warfare.”171 Importantly, for Hilpert, “(o)nly in combina-

tion with practices, the final institutionalization of repeated patterns of be- haviour, will I be able to truly assess change”.172 This is because while “fac-

tors, which have the potential to change German strategic culture may mere- ly evoke a new, altered rhetoric, without leading to any changes in how things are actually done.”173

The analytical shift in focus from ideational structure to agency and prac- tice reflects the most recent criticism voiced toward the Gray-Johnston di- chotomy. For instance, Neumann & Heikka argue that that the definition of most the current strategic culture literature is based on an outdated defini- tion of culture. Instead, they suggest a definition of strategic culture as the ‘dynamic interplay between discourses and practices’.174 What this implies is

a co-constitutive understanding between strategic discourse and practice. It seems that bringing the discussion about practices into the realm of strategy is a way for them to break out of the methodological impasse of trying to ex- plain the relationship between cultural ideas and cultural behaviour, which according to Neumann & Heikka is an outdated way of looking at strategic culture.175 This argument reflects the ‘practice turn’ in IR, the general argu-

ment of which is that when we find ourselves in problematic situations, we try to apply a practical form of inquiry to find appropriate ways to deal with the problem. As Hellmann has argued in terms of how pragmatism relates to beliefs, “(e)xperience (that is, past thoughts and actions of ourselves as well as others), expectation (that is, intentions as to desired future states of the world we act in as well as predictions as to likely future states), and creative intelligence merge in producing a new belief.”176 He further specifies that

while “beliefs are rules for action, language is a tool for coping with the world rather than for representing reality or for finding truth.”177 Hence, what this

implies is that pragmatists categorically reject the view that our beliefs would somehow correspond with the reality ‘out there’.

While I find that the study of practices is useful in an attempt to capture the different aspects of strategic cultural change, the approach falls short in

171 Ibid., p. 3. 172 Ibid., pp. 8-9. 173 Ibid, p. 8.

174 Neumann & Heikka 2005, p. 9. 175 Ibid.

176 Hellmann, Gunther 2009, µPragmatism in International Relations’, International Studies Review,

Vol. 11, No.3, (Sep., 2009), p. 639.

some crucial respects, the details of which will be discussed below. However, a couple theoretical and conceptual clarifications need to be made before that. First, it needs to be noted that while I have argued that strategic culture needs to be understood as a set of ‘responses’ to the internal and external security and defence policy challenges rather than a ‘tendency’ to think or act in a certain fashion, these responses do not always follow the most ‘practical form of inquiry’, as will become clear in the course of the empirical chapters. Second, for the concept of strategic culture to make any sense the relation- ship between strategic thought and action needs to be one which has a mean- ingful correspondence with the world within which strategic culture operates. Hence, if we agree that the ideational structure of strategic culture consists of ideas, beliefs and norms then these have to have a meaningful correspond- ence with strategic action and strategic practices because without it there can be no meaningful correspondence between strategic culture and the reality ‘out there’. Moreover, even if we followed the line of argument that the reality ‘out there’ becomes meaningful only through our efforts to make sense of it, it needs to be noted that culture is the very domain of human thought and action which either enables or constrains us in finding practical solutions or otherwise to the problems we face and hence in our very ability to make sense of whatever may be ‘out there’. In other words, and following Gray, the fact that we are ‘encultured beings’ sets limits to how we are able to experi- ence the past and what we can expect of the future. This, however, also means that there necessarily exists a reality ‘out there’ which is not exhausted by our experiences of it.

Hence, the point is not whether what we believe is ‘true’ in terms of the reality ‘out there’ but rather that what we believe makes sense in terms of what is ‘out there’. This is why I find the pragmatist position rather problem- atic; it squeezes the diverse impact of the German past on the evolution of German strategic culture into a ‘vacuum-packed box of readily available ex- periences’ which are arguably harnessed by the political actors in the most practical way possible. Anybody who has studied the discourse on German defence and security in depth should arrive at an opposite conclusion: the German discourse on strategy, defence and security is anything but practical – it is complex, diverse, conflictual and even contradictory. It also begs the question of how one can actually be “creatively intelligent” about beliefs that relate to the lessons learned from the past. However, it needs to be noted in defence of Hilpert, that while maintaining her stance on practices Hilpert seems to recognize the problem of combining the theory of pragmatism with the concept of strategic culture as she criticizes Neumann and Heikka for completely abandoning the motivations of the actors: norms, ideas and be- liefs.178 Indeed, if strategic discourse is not based on norms, ideas and beliefs,

then what?

I agree with Hilpert that, in terms of change, identifying a practice as an institutionalized pattern of behaviour is a strong analytical move because in this way we might be able to observe the result of the process of change as an ‘institutionalized political outcome’. Yet it is absolutely imperative to under- line a fact which Hilpert does not discuss, namely, that not all processes of

strategic cultural change lead to practices which can be coined as institu- tionalized patterns of behaviour or which can be detected as ‘observable outcomes’. However, and contra Hilpert, this does not mean that these pro-

cesses would be unable to bring about change just because it seems that they are lacking a clearly definable empirical referent (for instance the evolving relationship between German guilt and German behaviour in German strate- gic culture) or that they would be inconsequential in terms of policy out- comes. What this means, however, is that we need to attempt to make these processes manifest in some empirical fashion. For example, a detailed de- scription of the substance of the process itself (e.g. the evolving relationship between guilt and responsibility) with the help of an existing analytical cate- gory (e.g. categories of guilt) is a viable method at arriving at a point where these processes become more intelligible, and hence more ‘observable’. How- ever, it is crucial to note that the explanatory power of these processes does not reduce itself to the results of our observation efforts, because while these observations may be valuable, they do not exhaust the realm of where and when these processes might become empirically manifest.

The other issue I have with Hilpert’s account is the fact that she criticizes the existing accounts of German strategic culture179 for being too obsessive

about ‘high politics’ and for stopping the discussion on the decision to send troops to other countries and argues for an approach that shifts the analytical focus to operative-strategic level because “(s)trategic culture influences not only whether forces will be sent, but also how these forces have to behave once they are in a foreign country.”180 While this criticism has its merits to a

degree, it remains unclear how a conception of a political practice as an insti- tutionalized pattern of behaviour remains somehow external to the realm of ‘high politics’. Even if a particular process of change was triggered as bottom- up, i.e. as a ‘grass-roots’ process, it becomes an institutionalized practice in terms of strategic culture only when it becomes in contact with ‘high politics’, because in order to be institutionalized, it requires political legitimacy. Hence, norms matter more in terms of strategic culture than what Hilpert is willing to admit. Related to this is the fundamental question whether change understood in terms of strategic practices unfolding as institutionalized pat- terns of behaviour is sufficient for an explanatory account of strategic cultur- al change. As I have attempted to argue, an explanatory account of strategic cultural change needs to go beyond the notion of observable strategic prac-

179 Hilpert specifically refers to the writings of Dalgaard-Nielsen, Duffield, Longhurst, Lantis and Ber-

ger, see ibid., p.9.

tice to grasp the essence of change. And even so, even with its flaws, Hilpert’s account is a valuable analytical addition to the empirical study of strategic culture and strategic cultural change, in particular.


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