Power, so even the Spiderman franchise tells us, is inextricably linked to responsibility. Emerging powers in both the Global North and South have inevitably been confronted with this axiom as they seek to renegotiate their place in the international system. This article, “Explaining emerging powers’ reluctance to adopt intervention norms: normative contestation and hierarchies of responsibility,” published in vol. 62 no. 1 RBPI (2019), analyzes this classic conundrum through the lens of norm contestation theory applied to the concepts of responsibility and reluctance. Based on the authors’ respective previous work, it demonstrates how both of these concepts, both standing alone and in tandem, contribute to improving our understanding of emerging states’ changing roles in global politics, using the examples of India and Brazil.
Security issues—particularly interventions with putatively humanitarian motivations—have long served as the crux of international decision making and the pinnacle of global political influence. The article lays out how emerging powers face pressure to demonstrate responsibility for the maintenance of the global collective security system beyond their own interests. Herein lies the rub for these powers: established powers in the liberal order tend to favor the use of military force to attain the ends of humanitarian interventions.
However, so the article demonstrates, these powers often present their own positional interests as being the common good, and their preferred means of action—military force—as the only one capable of producing the type of results that would imply the exercise of responsibility. This clashes directly with the historical experiences and foreign policy preferences of emerging powers, especially postcolonial states from the Global South, who often favor non-military solutions based on sustainable development and cooperation. When states balk at engaging in military intervention, they are often erroneously portrayed as reluctant.
The article uses the cases of Brazil and India to demonstrate how this process works in practice, focusing on Brazil’s and India’s approaches to the concept of the “responsibility to protect” and to the intervention in Libya in 2011. Kai Michael Kenkel and Sandra Destradi gave an interview about their research to Maurício Kenyatta Barros da Costa regarding their article.
1) The article brings an interesting issue of discussion about the actions of emerging powers in the relations with established powers regarding the discussion and implementation of the norms. The proposed discussion and well argued in this article makes us question the acts that are defined as international irresponsibility of emerging powers. This irresponsibility would, in fact, be a consistent, albeit moderate, position of transforming power relations. In this sense, I would like to know if the reluctant positions of the emerging powers – when continued – can effectively cause transformations in the distribution of power between them and the main powers. Does the position of emerging powers in relation to R2P allow us to verify changes in power relations?
Kai Michael Kenkel: Reluctance appears to be more of a strategy adopted when the agency is still located with established powers. In this sense reluctance to conform to a Western-led initiative can be seen to be a first step in later proposing one’s own, but it doesn’t automatically lead there. The question is more whether one seeks to change the extant order or to follow existing rules. Emerging powers’ reluctance certainly is a phenomenon that would not occur if they were entirely reconciled to existing hierarchies.
2) In the authors’ argument, it is verified that the confusion of the parochial interests of the established powers with the collective interests is one of the factors that generate the reluctance of emerging powers to assume externally defined roles of responsibility. From this, I question to what extent does the idea of collectivity surpass that one of nationality in emerging powers, especially in the Indian and Brazilian cases? Do emerging powers act differently from great powers in the sense of seeking collective interests at the expense of national interests in matters of humanitarian intervention?
Kai Michael Kenkel: This is an interesting question. Our argument is precisely that because they are enshrined in positions of power, established powers get the benefit of the doubt—they are seen almost instinctively as acting in the common good. However, often we see that they use a veil of the common good to hide their pursuit of parochial interests—viz. for example the Syrian and Venezuelan crises at the moment. In this sense, emerging powers are accused of thinking only of themselves when they might indeed have alternative proposals for the common good. That said, emerging powers are also clearly following their own interests in doing things like contributing to peace operations or other interventions. But then, so are great powers. We are trying to illustrate that double standard.
3) Is the strategy of reluctance adopted by emerging powers changing in governments that are more aligned with established powers? Can these changes serve as a diagnostic to inform retraction in emerging power status or adoption of a strategy to maintain the status quo international arena? Can we expect Brazil and India to be more reluctant to negotiate and implement international norms in the future?
Sandra Destradi: Reluctance is not always a ‘strategy’ as such. In some cases, reluctance can emerge if a government is faced with (competing) expectations articulated by international actors as well as with a range of domestic factors that lead to unclear preference formation. Against this backdrop, if international expectations align with domestic preference formation, emerging powers will move towards more determined and responsive (that is, non-reluctant) policies. One example of a shift towards a less reluctant approach by an emerging power in global governance is the case of India’s approach to climate change mitigation policies. In recent years, India has become more cooperative in this field, while still emphasizing its own developmental needs. If international actors adopt more realistic expectations vis-à-vis emerging powers and take their concerns seriously, this will allow for emerging powers to become less reluctant.
Read the article
Kenkel, Kai, & Destradi, Sandra. (2019). Explaining emerging powers’ reluctance to adopt intervention norms: normative contestation and hierarchies of responsibility. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 62(1), e002. Epub March 14, 2019.https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329201900102
About the authors
Kai Kenkel – Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro – Institute of International Relations, Brazil (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sandra Destradi – German Institute for Global and Area Studies and Helmut Schmidt Universitat, Hamburg, Germany (email@example.com)
Maurício Kenyatta – PhD candidate at the Institute of International Relations of the University of Brasilia
How to cite this interview