The pluralist counter-offensive? Steele on Annan and regime change.

Jonathan Steele has an interesting piece in the Guardian placing Kofi Annan’s resignation as the UN special envoy to Syria in the context of the wider frustrations  of the BRIC countries with how western states approach these kind of issues. 

This adds another dimension to what, in my July presentation to the “Britain and the use of force workshop”, I called (using Andrew Hurrell’s term) ‘a pluralist counter-offensive’. 

My central concern in that presentation was whether the progress that has been made in consolidating “the responsibility to protect norm” is being jeopardised by the west’s pursuit of a more ambitious agenda, namely “regime change” and “democracy promotion”. 

We of course saw his tension in the debate surrounding the Libyan mandate – the claim that NATO went beyond protecting civilians to pursue regime change and the reaction that caused in states like Russia and China.  So for instance, Russia told the Security Council on 10 May 2011 that  there was ‘a humanitarian imperative’ to protect civilians, but they insisted that states must

‘avoid excessively broad interpretations of the protection of civilians, which could link it to the exacerbation of conflict, compromise the impartiality of the United Nations or create the perception that it is being used as a smokescreen for intervention or regime change’. 

China too accepted that states could ‘provide constructive assistance’ but in so doing

‘they must observe the principles of objectivity and neutrality and fully respectthe independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the country concerned. There must be no attempt at regime change or involvement in civil war by any party under the guise of protecting civilians.’

Of course, this frustration contributed to these two states teaming up to veto Security Council UN resolutions on Syria.  It is of course always possible that these kinds of normative arguments are veils policies that pursue more particular interests.  But it’s interesting that in the fallout from the Libyan interventions these kinds of arguments extended beyond  Russia and China. 

Shortly after the Libyan crisis, for instance, Brazil echoed the pluralist argument when it introduced to the Security Council its document on state responsibility while protecting, in 9 November 2011.  This included a call for enhanced Security Council procedures ‘to monitor and assess the manner in which resolutions are interpreted and implemented’, as well as to ‘ensure the accountability of those to whom authority is granted to resort to force’.  It has been supported by India, Russia and China – the BRICs.

This is some of the context to Steele’s recent article.  His take seems to suggest taking these pluralist concerns seriously.

In the west it is easy to pillory Russia for rejecting internationally imposed regime change by saying Vladimir Putin fears a “colour revolution” in Russia (even though there is no such prospect). China’s democratic credentials can be sneered at. But when the three other Brics, which hold fair, orderly, and regular elections, object to the western line on Syria, it is time to take note.  

But what taking note means in the longer term is not entirely clear.  Steele notes how the Syrian situation has been ‘hijacked’ by regional power politics.  The danger of course exists that relations between the great powers might go down that path, in which case it  would make an interesting case study in how western vanguardism potentially poses a threat to the institutions of international society as concieved by pluralist IR theorists.   

On the other hand there exists a danger that western states miss a democratic opportunity and are accused of turning their back on a democracy promotion agenda.  Indeed Steele’s sensitivity to the difficult international situation does not determine his conclusion.  He seemingly remains committed to a solidarist, pro-democracy agenda.  Taking note of the pluralist counter-offensive

does not mean the democratic aspirations of Syria’s original protesters should be abandoned, or that the Syrian government should not start to implement the Geneva principles for transition that Annan briefly persuaded the big powers to accept. 

As always, it is difficult for the liberal state committed to the idea of an international society and democracy to strike the right balance.

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Botany House Seminar Series

I’m presenting a revised version of my ISA paper at this PhD run seminar series tomorrow at 5 in 11.14 of the Social Science Bldg. Will report on the discussion later and welcome any feedback.

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Final seminar in British Foreign Policy after Iraq series

The final seminar in the British Academy Seminar Series on British Foreign Policy after Iraq will take place on Wednesday 25th April 2012, 4pm to 5.30, room 11.13, Social Science Building, University of Leeds. 

Judi Atkins (University of Leeds) will be speaking to her paper ‘A Renewed Social Democracy for an “Age of Internationalism”: An Interpretivist Account of New Labour’s Foreign Policy’.

Dr. Atkins’ work in this area includes ‘A New Approach to Humanitarian Intervention?  Tony Blair’s “Doctrine of the International Community”’, British Politics, 1(2), 2006: 274-283; ‘How Virtue Theoretic Arguments may be used in the Justification of Policy’, Politics, 28(3), 2008: 129-137; and Justifying New Labour Policy (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

All welcome. 

Future events include 3 July 2012 one day workshop on Britain and the Use of Force after Iraq. Registration free but it is required for attendance.


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3 July Leeds Workshop on Britain and the Use of Force

Registration is now open for a Workshop on Britain and the Use of Force after Iraq.  We have a great line up.  Theo Farrell (KCL) is giving the keynote on Afghanistan.  Mark Phythian (Leicester) Rob Dover (Loughborough) and Paul Rogers (Bradford) are talking about Iraq and the Iraq Inquiry; I will be joined by Justin Morris (Hull) and Jon Moran (Leicester) to talk about Libya and Syria; and Nick Wheeler (Bham), Naomi Head (Glasgow), Anoush Ehstashami (Durham) and Graeme Davies (Leeds) will be talking about Iran.

Registration is free and a limited number of postgraduate travel bursaries are available if you contact Gill Sayers when registering ( 

You can register at

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Preventive Military Action. My paper at ISA San Diego

In addition to speaking on the ICC roundtable at ISA San Diego I presented a paper on international law and the US-UK relationship.  The paper is online at the ISA paper archive.  As is often the case, the paper evolved beyond the abstract that was submitted last year.  In the paper online I focus on the specific question of what American support for preventive military action means for UK policymakers and situate the discussion in the context of possible action against Iran.

Essentially, I explore the anatomy of the dilemma facing Prime Minister Cameron if the US uses, or backs the use of, preventive military force based on the post-9/11 revisionist view of the state’s inherent right to use force in self-defence.

This revisionism was articulated most obviously in the National Security Strategy of 2002, which insisted that we “must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries.” I point out in the paper that the Obama administration has continued to push this line, particularly with respect to its drone programme.  If anything, the Obama administration goes further when it suggests that there is ‘increasing recognition in the international community that a more flexible understanding of “imminence” may be appropriate when dealing with terrorist groups’ (John Brennan, Harvard Law School, 16 September 2011).

This possibly puts the Prime Minister in a difficult position because he may get a different legal opinion from British government lawyers.   In March 2002, for instance, the UK Minister of Defence Geoff Hoon raised anticipatory self-defence as a possible legal basis for war against Iraq.  Yet the UK Attorney General sent him a letter making it clear this was not an argument he could support.  If this is still the view of government lawyers in the UK then Cameron, like Blair in 2002, might have to pause before extending UK support for preventive military action.

Of course, Cameron’s difficulties are perhaps even more acute than Blair’s in 2002.  His government is dependent on the support of Liberal Democrat MPs and the Liberal Democrats have traditionally insisted on an international legal mandate for the use of force.  If UK government lawyers do not accept Washington’s legal argument and if Cameron does not accept the legal advice of UK lawyers then support for preventive military action could have major repercussions for coalition government.

Cameron’s dilemma, I suggest, might be understood in terms of the tension between offensive and defensive realists.  These are terms associated with the neorealist theory of John Mearsheimer but I’m using them in this paper to say something about the way policymakers relate to international norms.  As well as maximising power, offensive realists maximise political flexibility by offering interpretations of norms that enable the use of that power.  Defensive realists, on the other hand, see the normative status quo as something that benefits the national interest and will therefore oppose this kind of norm revisionism.

I try in the paper to import these concepts into the UK context.  This might not make the next edit of the paper, having presented and discussed it at ISA.  But the paper online offers a British offensive realist position that emphasises the material aspect of UK great power status (Trident, military-intelligence reach); and because this material status is very much tied to the US relationship, offensive realists tend to counsel support for US foreign policy (i.e. bandwagoning) even if that means accepting arguments calling for a revision of international norms.

This potentially clashes with an alternative view of the UK’s great power status.  This aspect of the paper is very much informed by Justin Morris’s English School inspired argument (British Journal of Politics and IR 13 2011).  Justin argues that there are ideational, as well as material, aspects to great power status.  The UK’s status as a great power, in this respect, is very much linked to its position on the Security Council.  The implication of this is that the UK has a national interest in being seen to be the defender of the UN system and the associated norms.  I describe this as a defensive realist position. It would counsel a policy that distances the UK from policies that undermine the normative status quo.

Cameron’s dilemma, I suggest, is reflected in the competing counsel of these two positions.

The paper then discusses strategies for resolving this dilemma by squaring the two different positions.  The first comes under the heading “We’ve been here before”.  It tries to capture what Paul Sharp (the discussant on the panel) helpfully termed “Blairite finesse”.  The section looks at Blair’s US-UN strategy.  This argued that Resolution 1441 ‘implicitly revived’ the legal authority to use force contained in Resolution 678 (1990) and that enabled Blair to square an Atlanticist strategy with a commitment to the UN system.  With this in mind, the paper looks at the body of resolutions on Iran as they currently stand.  The argument I offer in this section concludes that it would be very difficult to adopt this kind of strategy.  This is because the Security Council, probably as a response to the 1441 experience, made certain that the “appropriate responses” to its concern about Iran’s nuclear capabilities were authorised under Article 41 (non-military measures) not Article 42 (military measures) of the UN Charter.
The paper then considers those arguments that suggest preventive military action can be normatively grounded in the consent of a ‘community of democracies’.  In a sense, this is a continuation of the position Blair got to in February 2002, when he resorted to attacking the legitimacy of the UN Security Council, in particular the French threat to veto a second resolution.  This argument might find some support among British neoconservatives, as found for instance in the Henry Jackson society.  It would, however, be difficult to square with the British interest in maintaining the centrality of the Security Council (and the power of the UK veto) in contemporary international society.  If the UK’s great power status is tied to its veto power at the Security Council why would it agree to policies that undermine that institution?

Instead of trying to reconcile defensive realists with an offensive realist policy, the paper considers how offensive realists might be reconciled with a defensive realist stance that commits the UK to defending conventional interpretations of international norms.  The discursive resources for this strategy already exist and they have been mobilised in the past when the UK has distanced itself from US foreign policy.  It generally involves placing an emphasis on the non-diplomatic aspects of the relationship (history, culture, trade, business etc.) that bind the two states together.  These are links that the UK Foreign Affairs Committee recently described as ‘broad and deep’.  Simply stating these as a means of mitigating any cost to the national interest, however, might not be sufficient to fulfil the UK’s role as ‘a great responsible’ (i.e. a permanent member Security Council member responsible for defending international norms).  In this respect, it would help UK policymakers if they could articulate a defence of the normative status quo in ways that cannot be portrayed as ‘anti-American’.  The paper concludes that the intellectual resources for this diplomatic strategy lie in Daniel Deudney’s recent articulation of Republican Security Theory.

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Ten years of the ICC at ISA San Diego

Yesterday I participated in an excellent roundtable discussion on the ICC ten years on.  I’d like to thank Eric Leonard of Shenandoah University for putting the roundtable together.  I’ve posted my comments below.


I guess my invitation to participate stemmed from my 2007 book on American opposition to the ICC, so I thought I’d recap my main arguments in that book, talk a bit about US policy since then and end by offering a few reflections on what that means looking forward.

The book’s question and argument

My initial question in the book is what did the creation of the ICC tell us about the changing nature of international society? And I followed this up with the question of what did US opposition to the Court tell us about America’s relationship to international society?

Now, to answer these questions I adopted an English School framework for analysis, which essentially located the pre-ICC practice of international criminal justice in a Grotian international society and suggested that the creation of the ICC moved international society in a Kantian direction.

This hinged, if you like, on the distinction between selective and universal justice.

So, in a Grotian international society the individual is the subject of international law, both in terms of recognising basic human rights and allocating individual criminal responsibility for the violation of those rights.  But it is also the case that the practice of criminal justice is still very much dependent on states through their exercise of national, territorial or universal forms of jurisdiction.  And because states have interests that impact on the decision of when and where justice is done, then the risk that justice is partial or selective is high.

This of course was one of the criticisms of the ad hoc tribunals.  The fact that the Security Council created international tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda indicated a deepening of what the English School would call “solidarism”.  But it also raised the question of why not courts for other situations. 

There was, in other words, what Alexander Wendt might have called an ‘instability’ in the Grotian conception of international society – between its professed commitment to universal justice and its practices that encourage selectivity (see my chapter in Steven Roach’s book)

Out of this instability emerged the movement to create not only a permanent court but one that was independent of the Security Council; and this ideal was of course embodied in Article 15 of the Rome Statute. 

So what I suggested that by shifting the decision on when and where justice should be done from the Security Council to a supranational institution, the Rome Statute was potentially helping to constitute what English Schoolers might call a revolutionary conception of world society. 

I quickly back off from this claim, however, because there is of course a complex relationship between the court, the Security Council, and the society of states more generally. I don’t have time to get into that here, but you’re probably familiar with it anyway.  My point, however, is that the Court’s independence did mark a qualitative shift in the character of international society, which I characterised in terms of shift toward a Kantian order.

American opposition

Now, I think it’s fair to say that it was the Court’s independence from the Security Council and the fear that that would lead to the politicised prosecution of American officials that motivated US opposition.  Clearly there were arguments about national sovereignty and democratic accountability but the US position cannot be called “sovereigntist”.  This is because it always qualified its opposition to the ICC with support for universal justice and the idea of ad hoc tribunals. 

In other words, the US under Bush supported the practice of international criminal justice through mechanisms like the Security Council that allowed it to control when and where justice was done.   Stepping outside the English School framework, one might say this was a form of liberalism but it was not a Kantian form of liberalism.  It was instead a hierarchical form of liberalism that enabled the US to advocate international criminal justice while rationalising exemptions for itself.

Now, we saw this in action with the Bush administration’s support for Security Council 2005 referral of the situation in Darfur.  That was welcomed by liberals as a shift in attitude, which of course it was.  But there were potential costs to the Court because of course it created the impression of double standards and this created new instabilities.  This is captured in the question, how could it be legitimate for the SC, which after all contains three non party states among its permanent members, to refer another non-party member (Sudan) to court?  

In fact there might be a paradox at work here – the more the US cooperates with the court while remaining a non-party, the stronger the perception of double standards and the greater the risk that other states will not cooperate.

US policy under Obama

Which brings me to Obama and the more cooperative approach to the Court.  Clearly there has been a more engaged approach and cooperation.  So for instance, the US has been attending Assembly of State Parties in its observer capacity, it attended the 2010 Review Conference in Kampala, it has ‘provided assistance in response to specific requests from the ICC prosecutor and other court officials’, and it voted for Resolution 1970 referring the Libyan situation to the Court.  It has to quote the State Department’s legal adviser Harold Koh pressed the ‘reset’ button.


This might be all well and good from a liberal perspective.  But if my contention is right – that the increased cooperation of a non party state exacerbates the impression of double standards – we should be seeing state parties questioning the legitimacy of the court and questioning their own commitment to cooperate with it.
And indeed there is such evidence.  The African Union, for instance, has refused to cooperate on the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and in July 2011 it extended its non-cooperative stance to include the Libyan arrest warrants.

Now, one might claim that this concern centred on the specific question of peace versus justice in these particular cases, as well as the stance in favour of a diplomatic approach favoured by the AU.  But the hierarchy question – (who decides when justice is done) – and the double standards question – (why should non-party states decide) – runs through this issue.

So, Article 16 of the Rome Statute enables a pause in the prosecutorial process if there is a threat to international peace and security – but of course it is the Security Council that decides when that is the case and that means three non-party states (Russia, China and the US) can veto such a resolution.  African states see this as double standards (see Jalloh, Akande and du Plessis in African Journal of Legal Studies 4 2011 pp.5-50). Why, they ask, should non-party states have this decision making power? 

It does not help the matter when one realises that Article 16 was invoked in 2002/3 by the Security Council to exempt US peacekeepers from the court’s jurisdiction. Again, the Court seems to be accommodating the concerns of non-state party peacekeepers while ignoring the concerns of the AU.

Such was their frustration that they have tabled an amendment to the Statute allowing the General Assembly to make the deferral decision.

Now, this criticism would probably exist even if the US was a state party.  But I’d suggest that the feeling of frustration is exacerbated by the fact that Article 16 empowers non-party states.  And this increases a determination on the part of certain state parties not to cooperate with the Court.

So my general point in conclusion is this:  there may be benefits to having the US cooperate with the court as a non-party member but there are also legitimacy costs that are creating new instabilities.

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Tim Oliver on the Liberal Democrats and Foreign Policy

The next seminar in the British Academy British Foreign Policy seminar series is:

Dr. Tim Oliver (Royal Academy Sandhurst) “The Liberal Democrats and the Coalition’s Foreign and Defence Policy”. 15 February 2012. 4pm. 11.13 Social Science Building, University of Leeds.

All welcome.

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Seminar series restarts today

TODAY: Vicky Honeyman, ‘International Policy from Brown to Cameron’, Social Science Building Room 11.13, 4-5.30, 1 February 2011. Further details of this semester’s seminar series at

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British Academy seminar series (semester 2)

The British Academy funded Seminar Series on British Foreign Policy after Iraq will continue at the University of Leeds this semester.  The next seminar is:
01 February, 4 – 5:30pm 11.13 Social Sciences Building  Vicky Honeyman (University of Leeds) “British International Policy from Brown to Cameron”. 

Forthcoming seminars include:

15 February, 4 – 5:30pm 11.13 Social Sciences Building Tim Oliver (Royal Military Academy Sandhurst) ‘The Liberal Democrats and the Coalition’s Foreign and Defence Policy.’

29 February 4 – 5:30pm 11.13 Social Sciences Building Rhiannon Vickers (University of Sheffield) ‘What Happened to the ‘End to Intervention’? Is Cameron the new Blair?’

14 March 4-5.30pm 11.13 Social Sciences Building Ruth Blakeley (University of Kent) ‘The Evolution of the Global System of Rendition and Secret Detention’
25 April 4-5.30pm 11.13 Social Sciences Building  Judi Atkins (University of Leeds) ‘A Renewed Social Democracy for an “Age of Internationalism”: An Interpretivist Account of New Labour’s Foreign Policy’.
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Britain’s Secret War. Newsnight follow up

I came across this today.  Perhaps Britain’s War was not as secret as Newsnight claimed.

Oral Evidence Taken Before the House of Commons Defence Committee, 27 April, 2011.

Q28Mr Brazier: Secretary of State, we have already provided the Libyan opposition with body armour and communications equipment. We and the French have now provided a small number of officers as advisers. Presumably you are satisfied that that falls within the provisions of Resolution 1973. Is that the first step towards directly arming the opposition, and would that fall within the current UN Resolutions?

Dr Fox: No, it is not a first step. We have been careful that this is mentoring, not training. As I said, that comes inside the legal advice we get to make sure that we are always very safely inside Resolution 1973. Our mentoring role is to ensure that the opposition forces are able to organise themselves better, that their logistics are better and the communications are better. We believe that that is vital to their stated role and their ability to help protect the civilian population better. So it is not a first step, nor is it intended to be.

I suggested in my previous post that there was seemingly a sliding scale of what assistance was considered lawful.  It seems Fox was drawing a line here between “mentoring” and “training”.

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