Le Notes #39: Role theory in International Relations – Holsti’s national role conception

This post summarizes K. J. Holsti’s attempt to systematically construct role theory in International Relations.

In Note #38, I’ve discussed ontological security theory, which extends the argument that states do not only seek physical security, but also security of the “self”. However, an interesting question pops up: How do states create the “self”? In the previous post, I’ve presented two viewpoints. Mitzen puts an emphasis on how other states view the state in question, which means a state’s relations often defines its role. It’s like that popular piece of self-help wisdom, “You are who you hang out with.” On the other hand, Steele argues for a more self-driven approach: the self is defined by the state by reflecting on what it is. To draw an analogy to daily life, this is like what we hear among more liberal circles, “You are you and nobody can change that except you.”

Role theory, which has been developed in social psychology and anthropology, serves as a useful tool to understand how the “self” comes into being. To do this, I go back to the seminal text of the application of role theory in International Relations, K. J. Holsti’s National Role Conception in Foreign Policy [paywall].

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Le Notes #38: Ontological security theory in International Relations

This post serves as an introduction to the emerging canon of ontological security theory in International Relations.

Have you ever noticed why some states supposedly act “irrationally”? North Korea has long been touted as an example of an irrational actor. Despite having been punished multiple times by the international community for violating non-nuclear proliferation and being a general threat to both South Korea and Japan, it doesn’t seem like Kim Jong-un will relent anytime soon.

Or how about the United States, who despite having agreed to international conventions regarding the prohibition of torture and has long been seen as a champion for democratic values, suddenly allowed the use of torture in interrogating terrorists? Why do states contribute to humanitarian operations if it actually costs them?

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Le’ Notes #37: A very short introduction to Clausewitz

This post briefly covers Clausewitz’s main ideas on war, with specific reference to Books 1 and 2.

If you have (or are) studying war, the name Clausewitz will always pop up, and for good reason too. His treatise, On War, is one of the foundational texts in the study of war. In it, Clausewitz tries to create a sort of grand theory of war. So, what’s his theory of war? In this post, I’ll go through Clausewitz’s main ideas that make up his (unfinished) theory of war.

Before we go further, I’ll be taking most of the quotations from the Howard and Paret translation, as this is considered the academic standard of all On War translations. There are two versions of the Howard-Paret translation: the first being the original version (1976) and the second being the Everyman’s Library version (1993). Since I have the 1993 version, I’ll be using that as a reference. Note that the major difference is just the page numbering.

On War consists of eight books; however, for those who aren’t studying to become military commanders, you mostly need to be acquainted with Books I and II. These contain the essence of Clausewitz’s thoughts on war. However, if you have the time or are planning to further your understanding on Clausewitz, I suggest you read Bernard Brodie’s guide on how to read On War, present in the Everyman’s edition on page 775. It’s a really nifty study guide.

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Le’ Notes #36: Neoclassical Realism – a short introduction

This post introduces the basics of Neoclassical Realism based on my reading notes. Prior knowledge of Realism is preferred.

When you first walk into any Introduction to IR (or IR Theory 101) class, the first school of thought the professor bombards you with will most likely be Realism. Building upon the assumption that international politics reflects the darkest side of human nature, it proceeds to view the world with pessimism. This is reflected in tales of international politics as told by Thucydides and later, Hans Morgenthau in his classic, Politics Among Nations (1948).

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Le’ Notes #35: Political Philosophy – The Apology by Plato

This post covers Plato’s Apology and its relevance to political philosophy.

“Mankind can hardly be too often reminded, that there was once a man named Socrates, between whom and the legal authorities and public opinion of his time, there took place a memorable collision.” – John Stuart Mill, Essay on Liberty

J.S. Mill referred to the Apology, a speech delivered by Socrates prior being sentenced to death in an Athenian court. It is considered one of the fundamental texts that make up political philosophy (at least the Western canon) and asks some of the foundational questions that make up political philosophy.

We’ll look at what the Apology covers and why it is important to political philosophy.

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Le’ Notes #34: In search of political legitimacy

This post discusses Weber’s and Alagappa’s theories of political legitimacy.

The centrepiece of any political system is legitimacy. Political leaders who do not possess legitimacy, well, are deemed unworthy of assuming any political authority. At the surface, it is simple to relate the two. A legitimate leader has authority; an illegitimate leader has no authority. However, what exactly is “legitimacy”? Where does it come from? What does it consist of? How can it be lost?

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Le’ Notes #33: The bureaucratic polity and consociational democracy

This post takes a look at two political systems which once described several countries in Southeast Asia: the bureaucratic polity and consociational democracy.


The political development of countries in Southeast Asia began after a long period of colonisation. Except for Thailand, after escaping from colonial rule, the newly decolonised countries had to devise their own political system. The way they achieved them differed significantly from one another. Although many of these countries practice some form of democracy — say, Malaysia’s consociational (or some may say, ethnic) democracy — the type of democracy is shaped by unique cultural, social, and economic factors.

This time, I’ll look at two political systems that have been present in Southeast Asia: the bureaucratic polity, which once described Thailand and Indonesia; and consociational democracy, which once described Malaysia.

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Le’ Notes #32: Intelligence, the basics

This post covers the basics of intelligence: what it is, why it’s important, and how it works.

What is intelligence?


When the word “intelligence” is brought up, you might have vivid images of a savvy English spy, drinking a martini (“Shaken, not stirred”) and conversing with a drop-dead beauty while surreptitiously listening in to the big bad mob boss on the other side of the club. Most likely, the word is associated with espionage and sabotage, the work of CIA spooks in third world countries like Jason Bourne (Bourne series) or Michael Westen (Burn Notice). But that is often the exception, rather than the norm. Most of the time, intelligence analysts are quietly sitting behind a computer and staring at a screen, occasionally yawning and adjusting his buttocks, waiting for a ping to come up. Covert action, like depicted in Hollywood movies, are also included in the activities of intelligence, but they arguably make up a very small piece of the overall pie.

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Le’ Notes #31: Theoretical interpretations of Indonesia’s politics

This post discusses the theoretical interpretations of Indonesian politics from the New Order to the ongoing Reformasi era.

The first leg of my journey starts with understanding the different theoretical interpretations of Indonesia’s political system. Most of the scholarly work on Indonesia is focused on the New Order: its genesis, peak, and violent crumble. The market for Indonesian history is practically saturated with New Order stuff with a bit of Sukarno on the side and the colonial and ancient times (the lattermost nobody really cares about at this point, but is slightly important nonetheless). In this summary, I’ll go through the various schools of interpretation, which were mostly conducted by Western academics.

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