Academic journal article Global Governance

Local Norms Matter: Understanding National Responses to the Responsibility to Protect

Academic journal article Global Governance

Local Norms Matter: Understanding National Responses to the Responsibility to Protect

Article excerpt

Most states have embraced the emerging Responsibility to Protect norm, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2005. R2P obliges states to prevent atrocity crimes within their own borders and not to turn a blind eye when they occur elsewhere. However, R2P's third pillar, which permits UN Security Council-authorized coercive actions, has been controversial. A few states have rejected R2P, fearing that the third pillar might be misused, while others have localized R2P (adapting it to their own preferences) or have sought to modify it globally through feedback in continuing UN discussions. This article explains the range of responses to the third pillar of R2P and explores why states employ different types of feedback, ranging from soft feedback (which seeks to build broader support for R2P) to hard feedback (which seeks to limit R2P). The article concludes that feedback reflects both national strategic concerns and preexisting local norms. Prior normative commitments to human rights and humanitarianism reduce the incidence of hard feedback whereas normative commitments to anti-imperialism and noninterference increase the likelihood of feedback seeking to constrain R2P. States with mixed commitments (e.g., to both human rights and to anti-imperialism) may offer complex, even contradictory, feedback, reflecting a prevailing national norm hierarchy, changes to which could result in changed state responses to R2P. Keywords: R2P, international norms, humanitarian intervention.


GLOBAL NORMS HAVE BECOME A CENTRAL FOCUS OF MUCH INTERNATIONAL relations scholarship, particularly among theorists interested in understanding how international norms may influence states' behavior and how such norms are established and consolidated. (1) Among the early seminal contributions were Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink's work on the "norm lifecycle," (2) and Thomas Risse, Stephen Ropp, and Kathryn Sikkink's work on socialization. (3) These studies and others of that era saw norm diffusion as a process whereby new global norms were first articulated by norm entrepreneurs, and then embraced by a critical mass of states. Once a norm tipping point occurred, the process would cascade as the new norm eventually displaced older local norms through a process of socialization.

More recent literature suggests that norm consolidation may not be a one-way process of socialization, but rather a give-and-take in which governments seek to adapt the meaning of global norms to fit their local normative context (localization) or even try to influence and modify global norms (feedback). Such processes of localization and feedback may continue long after the global norm has been established. Amitav Acharya, for example, explores how local actors reconstruct global norms to make them fit local "cognitive priors and identities." Acharya sees such localization of a global norm as a "complex process whereby norm-takers build congruence between transnational norms ... and local beliefs and practices." (4) He argues that localization may be an essential part of global norm consolidation, as it enables states to reconcile global norms with local ones.

Jochen Prantl and Ryoko Nakano's work on R2P in China and Japan goes beyond localization to observe a "feedback loop" whereby, in their view, "the norm has been reconstructed and deconstructed at the regional and national levels and fed back into the global discourse" (emphasis added). (5) They argue that this norm diffusion loop has altered the content of the global norm but, in doing so, it has also facilitated acceptance of it in Asia.

We build on this work on feedback, observing state responses to the emerging Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm, which holds governments responsible, individually and collectively, to prevent genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. We explain why different governments have responded to R2P differently at the international level, what this portends for the future of the norm, and what this adds to our understanding of processes of international norm consolidation. …

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