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Finnemore: Constructing norms of humanitarian intervention

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Finnemore. 1996. Constructing norms of humanitarian intervention. In The Culture of National Security, ed. Katzenstein, pp. 153-185.

From handout:

The PUZZLE Finnemore tries to answer is: why do states make humanitarian interventions when there is no compelling material or security interest at stake? Her THESIS: realist theory cannot make sense of interventions such as that in Somalia; the only way to explain such interventions is to look at norms. She focuses on the justification for intervention, not the true motivation, on the grounds that if the language of justification persists over time, this shows that a new norm has become entrenched. Finnemore argues that while humanitarian intervention has persisted over time (she analyzes cases from the 19th and 20th centuries), the specific normative justification has changed (for example, from protecting Christians whites to protecting non-Christian non-whites).

In looking at the 19th century, she briefly summarizes four cases: the Greek war for independence, Lebanon/Syria in 1860, the Bulgarian Agitation (1876-78), and Armenia (1894-1917). Strangely, she concludes that "humanitarian action was rarely taken when it jeopardized other stated goals or interest of a state" (168). Indeed, realpolitik concerns seem to dominate humanitarian ones in all four cases. She has to fall back on the argument that, basically, some people wanted to intervene whereas before they had not � hence a new norm had emerged. Next, she analyzes the campaign to end the slave trade and decolonization, and concludes that while new norms were not the only factor (she doesn't mention it, but World War II comes to mind as a potential material factor), and concludes that logical coherence of normative positions make for stronger movements. Finally, she analyzes several interventions post 1945, and concludes that what has changed is that now humanitarian intervention must be multilateral to be legitimate.

My COMMENT: Potential TAUTOLOGY problems. She observes state action and (inductively) concludes that a new norm must have emerged. Therefore, the reason these states acted as they did is because of the new norm. That's a major tautology.

Comment from handout: This article is unsatisfying. Finnemore compares previous forms of humanitarianism to later ones, and concludes that the motivation has changed, but does not address the real question head on: when did these states act for normative, and not realist, reasons? If anything, she seems to conclude that the realist concerns were more important. Second, she is horribly guilty of "selecting on the dependent variable." She chooses conflicts in the 19th century where the British fought against the Turks, and concludes that the rhetoric about protecting Christians must represent a new norm which drove this behavior. An obvious problem then, are examples of British-Turk cooperation (like the Crimean War), which in terms of men lost and geopolitical significance probably outweighs the other conflicts she mentions combined. Finally, she is completely vague about her dependent variable. On the one hand, she seems to be trying to explain policy outcomes (intervention). But in deciding to look at "justification, not motivation," (because looking at the language of justification would be a good way to prove the emergence of a new norm), she is implicitly making norms the dependent, not the independent, variable. Is she trying to prove that norms change, or that norms drive outcomes? She may succeed in the former, but fails in the latter.

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Finnemore, Martha (author)International RelationsInterventionNormsConstructivism

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