U.N. General Assembly

Book project

Throughout the Global South, states have developed extensive mechanisms within their regional organizations to monitor and enforce their own compliance with international norms. What explains the decision to create, accept, and expand these mechanisms? Why has this change happened unevenly across regions? After at least a century of resisting imperial and colonial domination and decades of using regional organizations to “jealously” protect their sovereignty, why have so many states adopted positions that compromise on the norm of non-interference? I argue that states created these mechanisms as part of a strategy to counter the imposition of authority, especially by powerful Western states in the form of economic conditions.

In doing this, I argue that states were motivated by the desire to enhancing their self-determination. As shifting global norms legitimized and encouraged enforcement by powerful states, states in the global south faced a new decision: not whether human rights should be enforced, but who should enforce them. In regions that faced these new pressures, states responded by attempting to establish regional authority over human rights enforcement, delegating new authority to their regional organization and then persuading other actors to accept the regional organization as a legitimate authority over human rights in the region. Doing so allowed them to limit the imposition of unwanted authority and manage external interference. Where these pressures did not arise, states maintained their previous stance on non-interference.

I find that, counter to the expectations of existing research, states that were proponents of international human rights were among the most vocal critics of global enforcement. States that were themselves guilty of abusing human rights were willing to delegate more authority at the regional level than the global level. These otherwise puzzling behaviors can be explained by the drive for self-determination over international rules. In Latin America and Africa, faced with mounting pressure from the West that stood to undermine their self-determination, states moved towards regional intervention. Conversely, in the Middle East, states encountered little to no enforcement pressure, and regional mechanisms came about much later and were granted very little authority.

Working papers

Trading Sovereignty for Self-Determination [view, Appendix available upon request] (Under review)
Weak states, especially those with a recent history of colonial or imperial domination, have traditionally been among the strongest advocates for strict norms of sovereignty and non-interference. These states are vulnerable to international pressure and interference, and they have sought to limit these pressures by “jealously” guarding their sovereignty. Yet, after decades of advocating for strict non-interference, many of these states became willing to delegate extensive interventionist authority to their own regional organizations. I examine this change in the case of human rights. I argue that states delegated authority to enforce human rights to a regional organization as a way of resisting the imposition of unwanted authority, including enforcement by powerful, Western states in the form of economic conditions. By establishing their organizations as a legitimate authority over human rights—creating regional enforcement mechanisms and then asserting the authority of regional enforcement—states were able to effectively trade sovereignty for self-determination. In making this argument, I expand the concept of self-determination to incorporate self-determination over international rules. I argue that, by employing this strategy, states were able to actually increase their discretion over the design and implementation of international policy, even while compromising on their absolute sovereign authority. Using a mix of quantitative and qualitative evidence, I show that the decision by Latin American states to accept and expand the authority of the Organization of American States to enforce human rights cannot be fully explained without accounting for the importance to these states of self-determination.

The Global South and Global Human Rights: International responsibility for the right to development [view] (Invited to Revise and Resubmit)
International human rights are typically conceived of as entitlements that individuals hold in relation to their government. However, since at least the early twentieth century, leaders, activists, jurists, and scholars in the Global South have emphasized the existence of international responsibility for problems of oppression, deprivation, and injustice. In this view, realizing individual rights necessitates international obligations. This understanding came to influence the Global South’s engagement with human rights within the U.N., culminating in the campaign for the right to development. I demonstrate that the flaws often attributed to the right to development—most importantly, that it lacks identifiable actors bearing duties to realize the right—were the product of political bargaining over the Declaration on the Right to Development, in which representatives of states in the Global North were able to hold out against the demands of the Global South. In spite of the centrality of international responsibility to the right to development, this right was codified in a way that emphasized the obligations of poor states towards their own citizens, rather than the extreme concentration of wealth in the Global North, economic rules that severely disadvantaged poor states, and the historical wrongs that were implicated in their poverty. 

Self-determination, Usurpation, and Dependency: Exploring imposition in international relations [contact me to view]
In the absence of overt or direct forms of coercion and contestation, international relations scholarship tends to view all cooperation as equally voluntary and non-coerced. Yet, this greatly discounts the coercive effects of asymmetric dependence on inter-state relations. The most unequal relationships may be the most coercive and the most devoid of open confrontation, and because of this, they may appear on the surface to be the most legitimate and cooperative. In this essay, I argue that for weak or dependent states, rather than voluntarily delegating authority, their sovereign authority is often usurped and external authority imposed. To distinguish between these two ways of ceding sovereign authority, I expand the concept of self-determination to incorporate self-determination over international rules and authority. This provides a conceptual framework for distinguishing between more genuinely cooperative actions which reflect the expressed will and consent of the cooperating state from the imposition of international authority or rules by more powerful actors. I explore the theoretical, empirical, and normative implications of self-determination. Theoretically, self-determination helps to distinguish between voluntarily delegating authority and having external authority imposed, particularly in the form of weaker states acting in rational anticipation of retaliation from more powerful actors. Empirically, self-determination is a political goal of sovereign states, and because of this, it is an important explanatory factor for state behavior at the international level. Normatively, democratic governance is undermined when international rules are imposed, as it removes avenues for individuals within a state to exercise self-government.

Works in progress

Resisting Impositions: Delegation and regional variation in the Global South

Alienation and Powerlessness: Why ‘Good’ states oppose international norms

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: Illiberal Regional Organizations and Autocratic States
(with Melissa Samarin)

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