This study provides an overview of the approaches to the ideational factors, such as values, norms, beliefs, etc. in the discipline of International Relations (IR) with focus on the consequences of this approach to the study of European Union (EU) foreign policies. It demonstrates that the prevailing literature: a) reinforces the separation between interests and ideas and b) generally treats ideas as a factor causing or not causing an action, while neglecting their justifying/legitimizing function. It is argued that this approach over simplifies the functioning of ideas and diminishes their role in politics. It is proposed that the alternative vision offered by the post-structuralist perspectives, including discourse analysis, may augment our understanding of the work performed by ideas. In order to advance this argument, the article applies the discourse analysis to a particular case. It examines the EU’s debate within the European Parliament whether to lift the arms embargo on China.
8th Pan-European Conference on International Relations