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Institutions, Roles, and Disorder: The Case of the Arab System by Michael Barnett Several scholars of international relations

assert that institutions can reduce the distrust and insecurity stemming from anarchy, and thus encourage cooperation among states and promote stability in the international system. Roles are a cardinal component of institutions, as they guide the behaviors and actions of states that eventually lead to cooperation and stability. In this case study, Michael Barnett explores the relationship between institutions, roles and role conflict. He is concerned with two different aspects of these elements. Firstly, as the literature on the roles prescribed by institutions is not very comprehensive, Barnett sets out to provide a better understanding of how roles shape and constrain the behavior and actions of states. Secondly, he seeks to explain what happens when states are embedded in multiple institutions that usually demand different and incompatible roles, an aspect overlooked by rationalist and reflectivist scholars. He uses the pre-1967 Arab states system to illustrate the consequences of having to follow more than one role. Following the introduction of his topic, Barnett analyzes the relationship between international institutions, roles and role conflict. He begins by defining the concept of roles in international relations. He argues that there are two type of roles. Positional roles are often associated with formal institutions and have well-defined limits and guidelines for states. Meanwhile, preference roles stem from informal institutions and does not constrain states as the latter does. Both types of roles, however, are not set in stone; states adopt and interpret these roles according to their needs, interests and structural constrains. Moreover, Barnett asserts that states do not only derive roles from the international system, but also from domestic institutions. After this exhaustive definition of roles, Barnett proceeds to explain role conflict. According to him, when states are embedded in more than two institutions which prescribe different roles, role

conflict might emerge because these roles might demand contradictory behaviors. By clarifying these two concepts, Barnett provides a great base to better understand how the pre-1967 Arab state system exemplifies role conflict. In the section Role Conflict and the Arab State System, Barnett first provides a brief overview of the complex dynamics of the Arab states system. He maintains that it comprised [] overlapping institutions of sovereignty and pan-Arabism that distributed two different roles to Arab states. (280) Sovereignty demanded that the new Arab states acknowledge their neighbors borders and authority over their populations. Meanwhile, pan-Arabism called for Arab states to protect the Arab nation and pursue political unification, the opposite of sovereignty. By examining closely the decisions and interactions of Arab states, he finds that these conflicting roles influenced the foreign policies of Arab states and undermined the search for regional stability in three ways. Firstly, he shows that pan-Arabism often supplied Arab states with expectations and incentives to conform to the pillars of both pan-Arabism and state sovereignty. Secondly, he reveals that pan-Arabism promoted a confrontation between those states wanting reform and those seeking to keep sovereignty and the territorial system intact. Lastly, he demonstrates how the conflicting roles prescribed by pan-Arabism eventually provoked failed expectations, misunderstandings and conflict. (280) By examining in great depth how roles can lead to conflict and instability, Barnetts study successfully challenges those scholars who claim that institutions promote stability and cooperation. Another main strengths of the study is the sociological approach he takes, which captures aspects that neoliberal institutionalism and neorealism have ignored. Notwithstanding the advantages, Barnetts analysis possesses some weaknesses. Firstly, given that this is a case study, his conclusions about institutions, roles and role conflict only apply to the pre-1967 Arab

state system. Secondly, as his conception of pan-Arabism as an institution is highly contested, the overall quality of the study is undermined. Last but not least, by attributing roles, actions and behaviors to states, he disregards the distinct impact leaders or other government officials might have had in their countries foreign policy.