Research

U.N. General Assembly

Book project

TRADING SOVEREIGNTY FOR SELF-RULE
States in the Global South have historically been among the strongest defenders and greatest beneficiaries of strict norms of sovereignty and non-interference. Yet, in the 1970s and 1980s, states in Latin America and Africa began to compromise on the norm of non-interference by delegating authority to enforce human rights to their own regional organizations. What explains this behavior? Why did this change occur unevenly across regions, with states in the Middle East and Southeast Asia continuing to uphold the norm of non-interference? I argue that states created these mechanisms as part of a strategy to counter the imposition of authority, especially in the form of economic pressure by powerful Western states.

I argue that states did this as a way of maintaining and increasing their self-determination. Beginning in the 1970s, Western governments began to enforce human rights by incorporating them into their economic relations with developing states. These new enforcement measures challenged the self-determination of states that were subject to them, creating a new set of human rights policies that were presented as a fait accompli and were implemented in contexts in which they were unable to exercise influence. In regions that faced these new pressures, states responded by attempting to establish regional authority over human rights, delegating authority to their regional organizations and then arguing that these organizations should be treated as legitimate authorities over human rights. By contrast, in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, states did not experience the same pressures, and as a result, they maintained their previous stance on non-interference. In this way, delegation was a form of resistance. Regionalism provided a way for weaker states to exercise agency, mitigate the effects of international hierarchy and economic dependence, and increase their voice and influence over global governance.

I find that prominent supporters of human rights within these regions sharply criticized forms of enforcement that they viewed as counter to norms of self-determination, while encouraging forms of enforcement that did not. Oppressive dictatorships and states that genuinely supported human rights cooperated in an attempt to establish an alternative enforcement authority over human rights, one in which they could exercise greater voice and influence. States violating human rights became willing to delegate genuinely challenging authority to their regional organizations. These otherwise puzzling behaviors can be explained by the drive to maintain self-determination over international rules.

Publications

The Global South and Global Human Rights: International responsibility for the right to development [view] (Forthcoming at Third World Quarterly)
Human rights are typically understood as governing the behavior of states towards the people within their borders. In this article, I argue that this domestic formulation of human rights is not universal, but came about through political bargaining and contestation. From at least the early twentieth century, a range of actors from the Global South developed an understanding of individual and collective rights that emphasized international responsibility, especially of wealthy, powerful states towards people in poorer, weaker states. I show that this foundational understanding served as an important basis for the how the Global South engaged with economic and social rights within the United Nations before, during and after the adoption of the Universal Bill of Rights. It eventually manifested in the campaign for the human right to development. Through an exploration of the drafting history of the Declaration on the Right to Development, I show how international responsibility was kept out of the declaration by the Western states that stood to be held responsible. Examining this alternative understanding of human rights recovers a forgotten contribution of the Global South, while shedding light on obstacles to contemporary political projects like the campaign for international slavery reparations. 

Working papers

Trading Sovereignty for Self-Determination [view, Appendix available upon request]
(Invited to Revise & Resubmit)
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.

Procedural Checks and Constraint through Delegation [email me to view]
Weak states have traditionally been among the greatest beneficiaries of strict norms of non-interference, and yet in recent decades, many have nevertheless chosen to delegate interventionist authority to international organizations. More puzzlingly, they often delegate this authority to international organizations in which much stronger states are members, even though rules prohibiting interference are directed in large part at constraining these very states. What explains this behavior? In this paper, I argue that this can actually a way of limiting unwanted interference by much stronger states. If strong states become willing to systematically disregard rules prohibiting interference, weak states are left with few means of stopping them. Instead, their best response may be to establish influence over the interference. They can do so by creating procedural checks, or rules about the process for carrying out interventionist actions. Doing so can actually reduce the likelihood and extent of interference. To assess this argument, I use a historical institutionalist approach, examining institutional development as the product of political contestation over time. I look at the addition of a human rights suspension clause to the Lomé Convention, an aid and preferential trade agreement between the European Economic Community and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) group of states. This clause was added in spite of continuing objections to the practice of suspension by ACP states, and it represented an attempt by them to create procedural checks in order to constrain the use of suspension of Lomé.

Global Governance, Self-Determination, and State Weakness [email me to view]
How does global governance affect collective self-determination? Under what circumstances does delegating authority to an international organization, accepting international interference, or participating in a political order diminish self-determination, and when are these actions consistent with or even an expression of self-determination? I argue that participating in global governance and even accepting international interference can be consistent with collective self-determination provided that a state, and its citizens, are able to meaningfully participate in the design or implementation of international rules to which they are subject and to domestically affirm the decision to be bound by them. To develop this argument, I extend the concept of self-determination to incorporate self-determination over international rules. This distinction is especially relevant for states in the Global South. For many of these states, material weakness, external dependence, and unequal integration into the international system leave them vulnerable to the undermining and diminishment of their self-determination. In many cases, international rules are accepted primarily in response to external pressure, and states are limited in their ability to participate in their implementation, elaboration, or enforcement.  

Works in progress

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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