PEOPLE VS. BORDERS: COMPETING INTERNATIONAL NORMS OF PROTECTION IN COMPLEX HUMANITARIAN EMERGENCIES

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2003

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Abstract

This dissertation tests the merits of two prevalent claims in the contemporary study of international relations: 1) that values and principles matter in international relations, and 2) that the increased emphasis on human rights and humanitarianism is eroding state sovereignty. The dissertation builds on social-constructivist approaches to international relations theory, most notably the work of scholars such as Martha Finnemore, Alexander Wendt, Thomas Risse, and Katherine Sikkink among others. The dissertation develops a conceptual framework for dynamic policy agenda-setting, and combines it with a case-study to investigate the competition between humanitarian/human rights and sovereignty norms. Focused on the African Great Lakes region, specifically the Rwandan genocide and humanitarian crises from 1993 to 1996, it assesses the impact of humanitarian principles in complex humanitarian emergencies (CHEs); i.e., sudden, internal social-political and usually violent crises involving large-scale forcible displacements of populations within and across national boundaries. Specifically the dissertation asks how do international humanitarian protection norms affect the international community’s responses to complex humanitarian emergencies. The theoretical model of norms competition and case study provide evidence for the role of norms as so-called ‘enablers’ but not as direct causal mechanisms for political behavior. Competition among norms contributes to a pattern of punctuated equilibria in the international humanitarian agenda. This study highlights the continuing importance of sovereignty and state interests as structural constraints on the growing significance of humanitarianism. The role of member states in influencing outcomes at the United Nations, the apparent weakness of transnational networks in international political communities, and the treatment of forcibly displaced peoples in particular suggest that boundaries and sovereign authority remain central to international relations. There exists a hierarchy of international protection norms that determines the speed, degree, and level of responses to humanitarian emergencies. An international military intervention response to CHEs ultimately depends on the relative cost of humanitarian norms to key constituencies within the international community, even as humanitarian intervention gains in legitimacy as a tool of international relations.

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