Changing the rules: A speech act analysis of the end of the Cold War

Gavan Duffy, Brian Frederking

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Constructivists often refer to the end of the Cold War to illustrate their contention that social rules are not immutable. Agents can change the rules by performing actions that undermine them. In this article, we describe the Cold War as a set of social rules sustained by superpower speech acts. We show that, by altering their behavior, the superpowers undermined the felicity of these rules. In so doing, they progressively dismantled the rules of the Cold War. Our model captures the competing arguments in the ongoing debate about whether the rationalist buildup argument or the constructivist new thinking argument better explains the end of the Cold War. Within the model, we identify the rules that, when made infelicitous by the superpowers, resolves tensions in the Cold War rule system in ways consistent with each argument. We conclude by showing how these competing arguments are reflected in contemporary debates concerning the nature of the global security rules emerging in the post-cold-war world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-347
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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