Grigore Gafencu (30 January 1892, Bârlad - 30 January 1957, Paris)


Main Menu
Honorary Director
Laboratory of History of International Relations
Laboratory of Archaeology
Fellow Researchers
Research associates
Research projects
Utopia versus realism
Scientific context and motivation
Method and approach
Impact, relevance, applications
Research team
Project meetings
Papers presented
Project reports
Research aim 2015
Press releases
Job vacancy
Doctoral reports
"Grigore Gafencu" Award


Method and approach

This study is an investigation of Romania’s foreign policy doctrine and practice, focusing on the relation idealism versus realism.  Did the Romanian decision makers employ ‘a power politics’ or a ‘realist approach’ to Romania’s foreign policy, an idealist approach or a mixture of the two? In order to answer these questions, this study focuses on Romanian primary sources, especially on archive sources, which provide us with the Romanian “version of the story”.

There are two main perspectives in explaining the foreign policy of a minor power: the external and the domestic one. The domestic perspective focuses on the role of the domestic factors in determining a state’s foreign policy. In explaining the foreign policy of a small state, the external political perspective is based on the assumption that foreign policy is determined by the constraints and opportunities of the external political environment, especially by the policies of the great powers. (Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of the International Politics, New York Boston, MA McGraw-Hill cop., 1979; Olav F. Knudsen, “Security on the great power fringe: Dilemmas old and new”, in Olav F. Knudsen (ed.), Stability and security in the Baltic Sea Region. Russian, Nordic and European aspects, London Cass, 1999, 3-20; Stephen M. Walt, The origins of alliances, Ithaca: Cornel Univ. Press, 1990, 17-31; Stephen M. Walt, The origins of alliances, Ithaca: Cornel Univ. Press, 1990, 17-31). While the previous studies on Romania’s foreign policy employed an external perspective, this research uses a domestic one, focusing on the role of the conceptions, views, perceptions of the decision makers. This study starts from the acceptance of the fact that the Romanian sources provide us with the Romanian leaders’ ‘version of the story’, with their perceptions and views of the world. In other words, their analyses from within the Romanian archives do not give an account of the objective incentive structure of the system. This brings us to another important question: were the leaders’ perceptions in accordance with the ‘real world’ or were they misperceptions? However, this study is not preoccupied with ‘measuring’ the accuracy in terms of ‘exact reflection of historical reality’ – if that would be possible. From the perceptual approach, one’s perceptions are ‘accurate’, in the sense that he/she will act according to its perception of ‘reality’ and not according to ‘reality’. Thus, when using terms such as ‘perceptions’, ‘views’, ‘beliefs’, the study is interested in how the world or a certain aspect of it was viewed and interpreted, what the perceptions’ holders thought about it.

In the International Relations field, there are two contrasting perspectives to the linkage between an actor’s behavior and external conditions: the objectivist and the perceptual one. The first one considers that the researcher can describe the environment in terms that are objectively accurate and that the actors correctly see objective incentives in this environment. This perspective does not closely examine the process of decision-making and the perceptions of the decision-makers and it assumes that they perceive the constraints of the international system relatively accurate and similarly. (Frank Ninkovich, The Wilsonian Century: U.S. Foreign Policy Since 1900, University of Chicago Press, 2001, 8-10). The main problem with the objectives approach is that decision makers may perceive the environment differently than indicated by the objective measurement. In addition, the perceptions of the external conditions may vary between decision makers. Thus, the perceptual perspective focuses on the perceptions and views of the actors rather than searching for explanatory factors in an objective incentive structure of the system. The perceptual perspective assumes that an actors’ action will follow from the actors’ perceptions and not the scholars’ perceptions, no matter how objective scholars consider their views. The perceptual strategy argues that scholars’ views and decision makers’ views are most likely different. It accepts that the objective factors affect the actors views, but it argues that ‘factors affecting the formation of an actor’s images and understandings of the world are so complicated with so many possible causes that it is not adequate in scientific terms to assume the scholar can know what the actor thinks about direct empirical investigation on this matter’ (Richard K. Herrmann, ‘Linking theory to evidence in international relations’ in Walter Carlsnaes, Thomas Risse-Kappen, Beth A. Simmons, Thomas Risse, Contributor Walter Carlsnaes, Thomas Risse-Kappen, Beth A. Simmons, Handbook of International Relations, London: SAGE, 2002,  120-124). It is beyond the focus of this study to analyze the linkage between the leaders’ perceptions and some specific political decision. It is also beyond the focus of the study to establish whether the Romanian leaders’ perceptions were accurate, according to ‘reality as it was’ or whether they were misperceptions. Still, studying the archive evidence, the researcher usually finds perceptions and views of the Romanian leaders and politicians about different international events and not objective incentives about the external environment.

In analyzing Romania’s foreign policy, this study uses a perceptual perspective, which means that it takes the role of the actors’ beliefs (perceptions, world views, images, definitions, ideas, conceptions etc.) into consideration. In order to analyze the written material provided by archive documents, memoirs, interviews, journals, the study uses the method of discourse analysis. Some scholars define discourse analysis in a narrow sense, while other combine various approaches into one discipline. Each approach originates from a different discipline (Lidia Tanaka, Gender, language and culture: a study of Japanese television interview discourse. Studies in language companion series, v. 69. Philadelphia, PA: J. Benjamins Pub. Co., 2004, 3).

In the field of social sciences, discourse analysis ‘constitutes a promising program of research with relevance to all fields in the social sciences’ (Greg Marston, Social Policy and Discourse Analysis: Policy Change in Public Housing, Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2004, 35-40). Discourse is a term becoming increasingly common in a wide range of academic and non-academic contexts. Sometimes it can seem as if each time it is used, it means something different. Basically, the discourse analysis ‘is the study of language’, but discourse analysis is different from other approaches to language studies. As Barbara Johnstone argues, ‘discourse analysis’ is not ‘language analysis’ (Barbara Johnstone, Discourse Analysis, Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishing, 2002, 2-6).

Using discourse analysis as method, this study draws on the concepts of discourse and foreign policy discourse developed by three Scandinavian scholars: Ole Waever, Lene Hansen and Henrik Larsen. All three contributed to a theory designed to introduce discourse analysis as a method of foreign policy analysis. Ole Waever noted that ‘what is often presented as a weakness of discourse analysis – “how do you find out if they really mean what they say?”, “what if it is only rhetoric” – can be turned into a methodological strength as soon as one is conscientious to sticking to discourse as discourse’, that is avoid making confusions between discourse analysis and psychological or cognitive approaches. Waever argues that discourse is the dimension of society where meaning is structured, that it ‘forms a system which is made up of a layered constellation of key concepts’. Seeing structures in language, Waever contends that discourse ‘can deliver the coherent, well structured constraints on foreign policy’, ‘by zooming in on discourse and the structure that organize it’. Thus, language ‘is a system’ and its structure can be studied ‘as a separate stratum of reality’ (Ole Weaver, ‘Identity, communities and foreign policy: discourse analysis as foreign policy theory’, in Lene Hansen, Ole Weaver (eds.), European integration and national identity. The challenge of the Nordic states, London, New York, Routledge, 2003, 20-49). According to this approach, discourse analysis is relevant for understand a state’s foreign policy since, as Guillaume Colin put it ‘is oriented towards understanding the practices that underpin it, which supposes establishing a correspondence between the discourse and the practice, between actions undertaken (or to be undertaken) internationally and the discourse held’ (Guillaume Colin,  Russian Foreign Policy Discourse during the Kosovo Crisis: Internal Struggles and the Political Imaginaire, Centre d'études et de recherches internationals Sciences Po,  Questions de Recherche / Research in Question N° 12 – December 2004, 4).

Henrik Larsen notes that ‘a general problem in foreign policy analysis is how to deal theoretically with general beliefs to which actors adhere’, where ‘beliefs’ refers not only to their ‘political ideology’, but also to meaning attributed to concepts such as state, security etc., and argues that a discursive analysis approach can solve this problem. According to Larsen, in the analyses of foreign policy, the beliefs about this kind of concepts are usually presented ‘in an individualist and positivist way, without taking into account the impact of language and the societal foundation of the beliefs’. However, Larsen contends, the actors’ discourse on different concepts can account for a state’s policy towards a certain event or problem (Henrik Larsen, Foreign policy and discourse analysis, London, Routledge, 1997, 1-6).  Accepting Larsen’s thesis according to which the meaning attributed by actors to the concepts (that is the political discourse on those concepts) is important in explaining foreign policy choices, this study focuses on the Romanian leaders’ discourse ‘idealist’ or ‘realist’ ideas, principles, assumptions. The discourse analysis helps not only to understand how the leaders understood the world around them, but also how and why the change in the leaders’ thinking occurred and how this change of thinking influenced their policy choices. These political discourses are present in primary sources (documents, speeches, reports etc.).

Henrik Larsen, discussing the role of images and perceptions in the processes involved in foreign policy, makes the distinction between individual believes and long trends. Actors and their beliefs and perceptions are not in opposition to the world, to the ‘reality’, are part of it. He argues that in respect to foreign policy, individual beliefs do play a role, but they give way to social beliefs that constitute a central framework within which policy-making takes place (Henrik Larsen, Foreign Policy and Discourse Analysis: France, Britain and Europe, London and New York: Routledge, 1997, 10). From this perspective the question ‘whose perceptions are important’ takes a different dimension and the study asks also how much are these ‘beliefs’ personal, individual and how much are they constitutive part of a general ideology, of a general way of seeing ‘reality’.

Workplan (all team members will participate – Elena Dragomir, Ph.D. candidate in Helsinki University, Dr. Cezar Stanciu, and Ph.D. candidates of Valahia University

2011: literature research;

2012: archival research, new sources discovered, first results published in conferences, books, international and national publications;

2013: research, results published;

2014-2016: conference on this theme is organized, book is published;