Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Rogues versus Rules in World Politics

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Rogues versus Rules in World Politics

Article excerpt


The system of states has always functioned according to rules, some formal and other informal. Yet there have all along been states that violated international norms of good conduct. The present generation of rule-breaking or deviant states is popularly known as rogues. They are accused by Western powers in particular of committing eleven different transgressions, including threatening world peace through the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, regional dominance, involvement in terrorism, maintaining undemocratic forms of government, and pursuing revisionist foreign policies. In each instance specific international norms are at stake. Having identified the sins actually or allegedly committed by rogue states, it is possible to infer a set of rules of respectable conduct in the contemporary world.


All organised societies conduct their affairs according to rules or norms. Whether written or unwritten, rules bring order, regularity and predictability by setting standards of behaviour. Rules typically prescribe ways in which things should be done or proscribe what may not be done, and provide for punishment in the case of transgressions. Rule-breakers may suffer consequences ranging from mild censure to expulsion from the group. So too with states, several of which have over the years been banished from the international fold over their deviant behaviour, while others have suffered nothing more than a polite reproach from fellow states.

Serious offenders among states have been labelled as outcasts, pariahs and, more recently, rogues. This article examines the norms that have actually or allegedly been violated by the present generation of deviant states, that is rogue countries. By so doing it is possible to infer what constitutes respectable behaviour in contemporary world politics.


The terms "rule" and "norm" can be used interchangeably since the latter is derived from the Latin norma, which means "rule". But what exactly is meant by norms in the context of politics? Here the analyst is immediately confronted with that bane of the social sciences, namely conceptual confusion. A "multiplicity of meanings" has been ascribed to norms, giving them the reputation of being "vague and fuzzy". (1) For the purposes of this article, Katzenstein's definition of norms as "collective expectations for the proper behavior of actors with a given identity" will suffice. (2) The "essence of the distinctiveness of a norm", as Florini observed, is therefore "the sense of 'ought', of how an actor should behave". (3)

Deviant behaviour is a violation of existing codes of conduct accepted by a particular group or community, also the society of states. A critical feature of errant behaviour is that it "excites some disapproval, anger, or indignation" from others. (4) In the case of international relations, these responses could take a variety of concrete forms, ranging from diplomatic protest notes and resolutions of censure by multilateral organisations, to economic sanctions and even military action.

The type of reaction to a violation is likely to be influenced by the strength of the norm in question. Norms may range from nonbinding international guidelines through international standards (generally binding rules that permit individual states some opting out) to authoritative international norms (binding international standards accepted as such by states). (5)

Another characteristic of norms is that they are frequently contested, that is they are in competition with other often incompatible norms. When it is argued that a norm constitutes a "legitimate behavioral claim", (6) it must be remembered that the legitimacy may not be universal; even widely acknowledged norms may be challenged by a number of states subscribing to rival norms. Competition between norms may in turn contribute to changes in the standing of a particular norm. …

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