The responsibility to protect. Between the 2001 ICISS report and the 2011 intervention in Libya

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This paper attempts to explain the emergence and evolution of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) norm between the 2001 ICISS report and the 2011 military intervention in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Neorealist International Relations theory cannot explain why states at the 2005 UN World Summit unanimously adopted a principle which fundamentally violates the Westphalian conception of sovereignty. By conceptualizing sovereignty as a shared collection of norms which are socially constructed in time and space, constructivism offers a fruitful theoretical perspective for analysing the emergence and evolution of international norms, such as RtoP. Following Krook and True (2010) this paper adopts a discursive approach to norms as a set of articulations by political actors which together constitute an internationally shared standard of appropriate behaviour for states in the international system. Using the method of Critical Frame Analysis, research was conducted on nine key policy documents from RtoP’s life cycle. The results find that a crucial tandem of norm entrepreneurs succeeded in putting RtoP in the international political agenda; that the articles adopted at the 2005 UN World Summit were vague enough to be accepted by the majority of states in the system, while they at the same time became subject of debate between those same states; and that the ‘application’ of RtoP in UN Security Council resolution 1973 spurred renewed and intensified debate over the norms’ substantive content.
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