Strategic Culture and National Security Policy



Once considered academically unfashionable, studies of the importance of culture and ideas have gained greater attention in the post–Cold War era. Particularly surprising has been the emerging consensus in national security policy studies that culture may significantly affect grand strategy and state behavior. I chart the development of these ideas through several generations of scholarship, both inside and outside the discipline, and explore contemporary arguments about strategic culture and state behavior like theories of the cultural determinants of German and Japanese security policy behavior, constructivist models of the ideational foundations of state behavior, and related work on the “clash of civilizations.”

Key questions include: Do cultural theories, newly inspired by constructivism, provide strong explanations of national security policy in the post–Cold War era? Is strategic culture really “semipermanent,” as most of its supporters suggest, or does it evolve over time? I conclude that while there are some compelling arguments about the ideational foundations of national security policy behavior, constructivism poses interesting questions about how much leaders may become strategic users of culture to achieve their policy goals. Finally, I identify several avenues for a progressive research agenda on the link between culture and national security policy in the twenty–first century.