Category: Case Study


Many people have been wondering whether the USA is softening its policy toward Iran or whether this is a new norm for the United States in dealing with international security issues. In the recent past, the Obama administration has adopted a different method to handle the international security matters. The most recent one has been the historical approach toward the Iranian nuclear problem. Many questions have been raised on the current trend in the US policy toward the Iranian government. Many people claim that the Iranian nuclear deal is the start of a new norm in the US foreign policy toward Iran. This assumption is the central question that this paper seeks to address.

The new norm of the USA toward the Iranian government emerged when the Obama administration entered the office. The latter made a more diplomatic move toward the Iran nuclear deal. The new USA norm cascade was witnessed when the world governments embraced it, and they also moved forward to impose sanctions on Iran. The policy adopted toward the Iranian government is referred to as the social constructivist approach (Flockhart, 2012). The social constructivist theory put emphasis on mutual constructive decisions made by both the USA and Iran. This paper will focus on the social constructivist theory applied to the USA and Iran; it will also discuss the life cycle of norms and evaluate the current USA norm toward Iran.

Social Constructivist Theory

The social constructivist theory is believed to have emerged within the international relationship discipline just after the end of the Cold War. Before the emergence of this theory, the international relationship discipline was dominated by two main theories: the realistic and liberal theories (Flockhart, 2012). The failure of these two theories to outline effectively how and why the Cold War ended gave rise to the most famous modern international relationship theory, the social constructivist theory. It provides a framework that is applied to the understanding of foreign policies.

According to Flockhart (2012), the social constructivist theory is the idea that seeks to change the old ways of war-making, practice of rivalry by means of institutions to shift the identities and interests, and practice of actors over a given time. The theory assumes that in the society, different identities usually have various interests leading to diverse foreign policies. The social constructivist theory also emphasizes mostly the mutual constructive relationships between the parties involved in international relationships. The last argument that the theory holds is that parties involved will always take into consideration only the most appropriate actions as long as their identity is concerned. The action is always taken regardless of the cost of consequences (Flockhart, 2012).

The recent decision of the Iranian government to accept the deal that will end the nuclear weapon development in Iran has taken a social constructivist theory dimension. In social constructivist theory, institutions play the significant role in devising an international solution to an international issue (Flockhart, 2012). The approach of the United States of America to the Iranian nuclear development has been more of a collective involvement nature as oppose to the state-to-state approach. The USA have sought favor from its closest allies, the United Nation Security Council, and other world governments to ensure that the Iranian deal is a collective effort of several nations and institutions. The constructivist theory emphasizes friendship and cooperation between the participants of the international relationships (Flockhart, 2012). Friendship and cooperation ensure that the common goal is archived. In this case, these nations have come together to make sure that the dangerous Iranian nuclear development project is halted.

The institutions involved in the Iranian deal on the nuclear development in the recent past tightened the economic sanctions on the Iranian government so strongly that the interests of the country have changed over time. The government in Iran was forced to accept the round table for diplomatic discussion. Despite that, no convincing conclusions have been attained yet: the initial results reveal that the constructivist approach applied by the United States of America has influenced the international relationship with Iran. The Iranian government thus has to consider the best action for its country in this case. It will be based on its identity. Consequently, scholars wonder whether the Iranian identity will change if it accepts to abide by the collective discussion led by the United States. The identity of Iran will surely change: its massive imposed sanctions will be lifted, and this will enable the country to come out of the economic isolation that it is facing today.

Norms and Their Life Cycle

A norm is a standard behaviour that is adopted and used by participants in a given domain of identity (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2008). In international relationships, there is a perceived behaviour that different powerful countries in the world have always adopted to deal with international issues, mostly concerning the security. The norms define the actions taken by a group of actors within a given identity (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2008). For example, the United Nations Security Council members may adopt a norm of authorizing military actions against nations that defy the international military laws. It means that if any country defies those international laws, the country is attacked by the military forces of the United Nation Security Council members.

For any norm to come into existence, they should undergo several stages in the life cycle. To be precise, three stages are involved in the norm life cycle. The first stage is the emergency: this is the origin of a norm or the birth point. At this stage, two actors are actively involved (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2008). The first group of actors is the norm lobbyists; they are very critical in any norm formation because they create attention on the sensitive issue and event that needs to be handled in a given way. They create this attention using language with names and interpretation as well as dramatizing these issues. The creation of awareness depends on the appropriateness of the norm compared to the previous one.

The second group of actors in the emergence of a norm is the organizational platforms. They provide a platform which the lobbyists of the norm can use to promote their new norm. Sometimes, the mentioned platforms are explicitly defined to promote the norms. The examples of such platforms in the world include the Red Cross and Greenpeace (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2008). Other prominent institutions in the world also provide a suitable platform for norm development. The United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank, and other world organizations give an excellent platform for norms development. The motive that drives the emergence of norms includes empathy, commitment, and ideation. Mostly, the norms are created by persuasion that is employed at this stage.

Tipping or threshold point is the point that separates the first and the second phase of the norm life cycle. The tipping point occurs when the norm lobbyists acquire a significant number of the states to become norm leaders, hence adopting the new norm. After the tipping point comes the second phase of the norm development; the norm cascade (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2008). The norm cascade is a very critical stage in the norm development and expansion of the norm adoption. At this stage, more countries begin to adopt the mentioned norm more rapidly with less domestic pressure on changes brought by it.

For the norm to produce great effect at this stage, the leaders enabling the effective adoption of the norms in their countries have to use socialization to persuade other leaders to join them. Consequently, socialization is seen as the major mechanism for the norm adoption. Other mechanisms that influence the norm adoption include institutionalization and demonstration. There are also three motives that force nations to adopt the new norm even if it is not in their favor (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2008). These motives are legitimacy, reputation, and esteem. The three motives lead to one very essential thing that all nations need, the identity. Each country needs an identity, and the latter can only be achieved and maintained only if certain standards are cultivated. These standards encompass the adoption of new norms in the society among others.

The last stage of the norm life cycle is internationalization. It is the extreme stage of the norm cascade. At this stage, the norm is so widely used that it is termed as a universal norm and its application is almost automatic and sometimes termed as ‘taken for granted’ (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2008). Therefore, the norm is extremely powerful because the behaviour that occurs from the norm is not questionable. At the same time, the norm can be hard to discern because actors do not seriously discuss on whether to conform to it.

Conformity is the main motive that propellers the norm at the internationalization stage. Nations are motivated to accept and adopt the norm so that they can achieve the perceived conformity as set by such a norm (Finnemore & Sikkink, 2008). The real world example is democracy. In the today’s world, democracy is a norm in the internationalization stage. However, some countries, mostly the Arabic and African states, are still struggling to attain full democracy so that they can ensure conformity to that norm. Habit and complete institutionalization, on the other hand, are the major mechanisms that are applied at this stage to ensure full compliance to the norm.

Discussion and Analysis of Obama, Kerry, and Clinton’s Statements on Iran

The main argument used in their statement is of a deductive type. The argument presents the general view on the current deal and focuses on the specific deal that will be hopefully actualized by June this year (Obama, 2015). The value that will be gained from the new deal is that Iran will stop and commit not to engage in nuclear weapon development in the future. This will be assured by the Iranian government accepting to dispose of the current materials and allow future supervision (Clinton, 2015). The goal of the deal signed by Iran will be to ensure that the country does not make nuclear weapon, which it can use to attack Israel, the Gulf countries, America, or the rest of the world (Kerry, 2015). The USA is in very crucial circumstances to prove its stand to the international institution and partners through the bill in the House of Congress. The bill is technical because the Republican members have raised concerns on the issue since they think that the USA decision is not right. The Prime Minister of Israel has also expressed anxiety that Iran will not abide by the deal. Lastly, the United States has stated that in case the Iranian government does not obey the set deal, it will be forced to destroy the nuclear centers in Iran so as to stop the nuclear weapon development (Obama, 2015).


In conclusion, the recent deal between the United States and Iran on the nuclear development issue is a critical step for the US foreign policy toward Iran. The United States has accepted the initiative to meet with the Iranian government to discuss the issue: this is a new development in the US norm. It has also invited other powerful organs and countries to join the efforts and force Iran toward destruction of nuclear facilities and materials. Therefore, considering the reasons mentioned above, the United States has indeed started a new norm in its foreign policy toward Iran. The new norm that the United States has begun to employ is the diplomatic approach toward the nuclear development in Iran, a norm that is more inclusive and more constructive. Nevertheless, the new approach might have very costly consequences if not executed well. If loopholes in the deal are left unsealed, it may give Iran more time to produce the dangerous nuclear weapon in secret.

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