Ideational and material forces in threat perception: the divergent cases of Syria and Saudi Arabia during the Iran–Iraq war (1980–1988)

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How do states perceive threats? Why are material forces sometimes more prominent in shaping threat perceptions, whereas ideational forces are the motivator in other instances? This article aims to move beyond the task of determining whether material or ideational factors matter to offer an integrated framework based on analytical eclecticism that specifies the conditions under which one of these two factors becomes salient in regimes’ threat perceptions. When regime identity is fixed and the material structure provides multiple strategic options to ensure a state’s physical security, leaders perceive challenges to their identity as more salient. When a state's identity is fluid, providing multiple narratives, and the distribution of military capabilities constrains strategic options for physical security, leaders perceive threats to their physical security as more prominent. As a result, the regime’s identity narrative is reframed to adapt to the constraints of the material structure. To examine the validity of this argument, I analyze the divergent Syrian and Saudi threat perceptions during the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988).


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142–156
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Global Security Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2016


  • threat perception, ideational forces, material forces, Syria, Saudi Arabia