The politics of legitimacy is central to international relations. When states perceive an international organization as legitimate, they defer to it, associate themselves with it, and invoke its symbols. Examining the United Nations Security Council, Ian Hurd demonstrates how legitimacy is created, used, and contested in international relations. The Council's authority depends on its legitimacy, and therefore its legitimation and delegitimation are of the highest importance to states.
Through an examination of the politics of the Security Council, including the Iraq invasion and the negotiating history of the United Nations Charter, Hurd shows that when states use the Council's legitimacy for their own purposes, they reaffirm its stature and find themselves contributing to its authority. Case studies of the Libyan sanctions, peacekeeping efforts, and the symbolic politics of the Council demonstrate how the legitimacy of the Council shapes world politics and how legitimated authority can be transferred from states to international organizations. With authority shared between states and other institutions, the interstate system is not a realm of anarchy. Sovereignty is distributed among institutions that have power because they are perceived as legitimate.
This book's innovative approach to international organizations and international relations theory lends new insight into interactions between sovereign states and the United Nations, and between legitimacy and the exercise of power in international relations.
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Princeton University Press
March 31, 2007
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Excerpt from After Anarchy by Ian Hurd
Thucydides' account of the negotiation between Athens and the Melians is one of the earliest known statements of the connection between legitimacy and power. Resisting an ultimatum from Athens, the Melians suggest that might does not make right: "in our view it is at any rate useful that you should not destroy a principle that is to the general good of all men--namely, that in the case of all who fall into danger there should be such a thing as fair play and just dealing."1 The Melians put forward a case which differentiates between the justice that comes from superior power and the justice that comes from general rules and morals, arguing that these latter should be valued for both instrumental and normative reasons by the weak and strong alike. Some rules of war and diplomacy, they say, are legitimate and should be respected. They lose the argument, of course, and ultimately pay a high price for it, but in the process the Melians play their part in launching a long debate over the relationship between legitimacy, authority, and power. The debate has been continued in philosophic and sociological settings, carried forward by Aristotle to Machiavelli, Locke, and Rousseau, and on to Marx and the twentieth-century philosophers of modernity such as Weber. But although there is plenty of evidence that practitioners of international relations (IR) take seriously the power of international legitimacy and that academics make frequent Reference to it in an ad hoc way, the concept itself only rarely receives sustained attention in analyses of the international system.
This book works on two levels. It raises important conceptual issues from the leading edge of IR theory and applies them to an understanding of the practical day-to-day operation of the UN Security Council. It can therefore be read as a work on IR theory or as a document of UN studies, as advancing theory or empirics. Better still, it might be seen as doing all of the above.
The central purpose of the book is to introduce a workable concept of legitimacy to the study of International Relations. Although the use of the term "legitimacy" is common in International Relations, very little attention is given to what it means or how it works. There is no available model of legitimacy for use in international relations that would allow serious inquiry into its causes, consequences, and implications. My first goal here is to provide such a model and show its worth by using it to explain empirical phenomena in world politics. The model itself, developed by borrowing from sociology, psychology, and management studies, fills a gap in International Relations that has been widening since the rise of constructivism in the late 1980s. Absent an account of legitimacy, much of constructivism's empirical work on the "logic of appropriateness" remains ungrounded; legitimacy is inherent in the constructivist approach, and yet to date there has not been a full-fledged exploration of the concept and its operation.
"Legitimacy," as I use the term, refers to an actor's normative belief that a rule or institution ought to be obeyed.13 It is a subjective quality, relational between actor and institution, and is defined by the actor's perception of the institution. The actor's perception may come from the substance of the rule or from the procedure or source by which it was constituted. Such a perception affects behavior, because it is internalized by the actor and comes to help define how the actor sees its interests. Once widely shared in society, this belief changes the decision environment for all actors, even those who have not been socialized to the rule, because it affects everyone's expectations about the likely behavior of other players. I make no moral claim about the universal legitimacy, or, even less, the moral worth, of any particular international rule; I am interested strictly in the subjective feeling by a particular actor or set of actors that some rule is legitimate.14 In this sense, saying that a rule is accepted as legitimate by some actor says nothing about its justice in the eyes of an outside observer.15 Further, an actor's belief in the legitimacy of a norm, and thus its following of that norm, need not correlate to the actor being "law-abiding" or submissive to official regulations. Often, precisely the opposite is true: a normative conviction about legitimacy might lead to noncompliance with laws when laws are seen as conflicting with the conviction. For instance, Nicholas Kittrie presents strong evidence and wide empirical illustration of the fact that people whom he calls "political offenders" are motivated to break laws in order to comply with their own normative (legitimate) convictions.16 Only when invested in the laws of the state does legitimacy contribute to state-supporting "law and order."17
Legitimacy is a difficult concept to study. It is a phenomenon that is both internal to actors and intersubjective. Either way, it is not readily accessible to outside observers (or even to the actor itself ); it is complicated and entangled in many other concepts, such as interests, habits, and cultural practices. It can also be contradictory in that it is entirely possible for an actor to feel a "compliance pull" of several competing and irreconcilable legitimate rules or institutions all at once. For this reason, I do not follow Habermas, among others, down the path of trying to discern whether individuals' belief in the legitimacy of an institution is well founded.18 We lack the adequate tools, in my opinion, to make much progress on that road. Those who do go this way tend to end up relying on strong assumptions about the "true" interests and sentiments of others. This, I believe, leads to an unfortunate discrediting of studies of legitimacy in general, and thus even greater problems when one wants to explore the phenomenon and its consequences. None of these epistemological difficulties, however, should prevent a discussion of legitimacy; it is central to social life and needs to be taken seriously by International Relations. The absence of strictly satisfying methodological techniques for isolating and measuring the phenomenon means only that we need to be more creative and curious in how we approach it.
The question of legitimacy in a social system comes to the fore only when the system is accepted as "conventional" or "arbitrary" in the sense of being one possibility among many, rather than as natural or pre-given or inevitable.19 In European society the transition to "arbitrary" authority is generally seen as marking the shift to a "modern" mode of thought and authority, where political dominance came to be justified on grounds other than as God-given.20 The "arbitrariness" of political authority in an increasingly secular European world had to be justified, and this led to various contractarian, nationalist, and utilitarian theories of government that have competed for popular support and empirical justification since the Enlightenment.21 The consequent shift in international relations has been later in coming, but the same problem exists there also. Several recent works try to establish what might be called the moral foundations of international relations, either attempting to justify the existence of separate states or proposing an alternate model.22 In international relations, an emphasis on questions of legitimacy in international institutions is growing as the belief in the inevitability of a state-centered balance of power is in decline.
Legitimacy is a quality that might become attached to a formal organization, an informal institution or practice, or a particular rule or individual. It is worth exploring in all these manifestations. However, in looking at the legitimacy of the Security Council, the present project is primarily concerned with a single formal organization and its complex of symbols, authority, and history, rather than with the legitimacy of particular decisions, processes, or individuals. The distinction between institution and organization is a tenuous one, and the category of institution, broadly understood, probably encompasses the category of formal organization.23 Moreover, I deal with the legitimacy of the Council among states, rather than its legitimacy in the eyes of the citizens of those states.24 Many interesting questions are thereby missed, including questions about the popular legitimacy of the UN (and its opposite: the belief in the threat from the UN's "black helicopters"), and the "domestic effect" of governments using the UN's symbols to win gains with domestic constituencies. The issue of the Council in domestic politics is important25--and I allude to it briefly in chapter 5--but I am largely concerned with the ways that the legitimacy of the Council affects interstate politics.
Many scholars make use of the concept of legitimacy to explain international outcomes, though few have provided an account of how legitimation produces its effects. In fact, most traditions in IR theory find legitimacy to be relevant to the central questions in their research programs. For instance, international lawyers have displayed an interest in what legitimacy might add to legality when considering the compliance pull of rules and institutions. Foremost among these writers is Thomas Franck, who, in a series of works on "the power of legitimacy among nations," identifies the characteristics of international law that increase its compliance pull. He finds legitimacy to be one of these.26 Murphy and Weston each examine the legitimacy of individual acts of foreign policy and consider how this relates to their legality.27
Realists and liberals often find that legitimacy claims are useful as states attempt to defend their interests against opponents. Stephen Krasner in his history of Westphalia finds that "the idea of sovereignty was used to legitimate the right of the sovereign to collect taxes, and thereby to strengthen the position of the state," and Goldstein and Keohane discuss more generally the view that powerful actors use ideas "to legitimize their interests."28 E. H. Carr's classic dissection of liberal "idealism" stands in part on the premise that a strong state can advance its interests by "so eagerly cloak[ing] itself in ideologies of a professedly international character."29 Ikenberry notes that Great Powers have an "incentive to create a legitimate order after [major wars]," both to reduce enforcement costs and to lock in their favorable positions, and Keohane and Nye define a kind of "normal politics" that takes place within an "international regime [that] is accepted as legitimate."30 In this tradition, scholars generally assume that state consent is the source of the legitimacy of international rules. Brilmayer asks, "How legitimate is international hegemony?" and answers that it is legitimate "so long as political arrangements are based on state consent."31 Christopher Gelpi finds that interstate agreements have a greater effect on future behavior when parties view them as legitimate, and the distinguishing feature that lets us know they are seen as legitimate is explicit state consent.32
Among the interpretivist branches of IR theory, legitimacy is often connected to the existence of international society. Where scholars inquire into the constitution of states and their interests, attention is naturally drawn to the effects of legitimated ideas and institutions. The English School is a natural home for the study of legitimacy in that it sees the state as embedded in a social context.33 In Ian Clark's book, legitimacy and international society are deeply related, and he traces the evolution of European ideas about "rightful membership" in that society developing alongside ideas about the legitimate behavior of modern states.34 Something similar is at work in the democratic peace literature, where the empirical regularity central to that research project is often explained as the result of democracies taking into account their views on the legitimacy of their rivals' domestic constitutions before deciding to use force.35 Constructivism is equally amenable to studying the effects of legitimation, and Bukovansky, for instance, sees the power of legitimated international ideas on domestic would-be revolutionaries. She shows that internationally legitimated discourses, such as republicanism or absolute monarchy, can be important resources for groups attempting to redefine the nature of the sovereign state from the inside, as it were.36
These references point to an enduring place for legitimacy in studies of international relations but at the same time a marginal one. Except for the recent interpretive literature, very few of the references to legitimacy as a cause of international outcomes include an explanation of how it functions. This leaves open a potentially productive research opportunity, since, as Thomas Franck suggests, the international system should be the best social system in which to observe a "normative" (i.e., legitimated) social order in its pure form precisely because of the absence of an international government to enforce international laws and contracts.37 The evidence of a recent turn toward "legitimacy language" in International Relations is valuable, but so far it lacks a discussion of how and why legitimacy operates among international institutions and organizations and what its implications are.
One might go about making this connection in many ways. The path I pursue here investigates the issue of the legitimacy of social institutions through a historical examination of the United Nations Security Council. The Security Council is a highly suggestive location in which to observe the workings of legitimacy for the very reason that the Council ostensibly has at its disposal the greatest material power of any international organization in history and yet has great difficulty deploying that power. Two broad categories of research are presented: first, from the earliest efforts at legitimating the UN through (and before) the UN Conference at San Francisco in 1945; and, second, from states' later efforts to benefit from and contest that legitimacy. We will see that legitimacy matters to social institutions (formal or informal, international or otherwise) because it affects the decision calculus of actors with respect to compliance; it empowers the symbols of the institution, which become political resources that can be appropriated by actors for their own purposes; and it is key to their being recognized by actors as "authoritative." The possibility of international authority in international organizations (as opposed to that authority in the traditional form of the nation-state that we are accustomed to) creates a problem for theories of IR that start with the premise of "anarchy."
THE SECURITY COUNCIL
The Council is potentially the most powerful international organization ever known to the world of states, which makes it a crucial test case for the operation of legitimacy in the international system: its peculiar combination of extensive powers and political limitations means that its effectiveness depends on its legitimation. This section gives a brief overview of the Security Council and explains why the institution is a useful place to see behavioral consequences from strategies of legitimation in international relations.
The Council is composed of fifteen member states, five of them permanent members and specified by name in the Charter. These are the United States, Russia (replacing the Soviet Union in 1991), China, the United Kingdom, and France. The rest are elected for two-year terms out of the general population of the UN General Assembly under a formula that ensures representation to five "regions" of the world.38 The Security Council is the executive agency of the UN on matters of "international peace and security"; thus concentrating my examination on the Council rather than any other element of the UN system (or on the UN system as a whole) provides a manageably sized subject of great consequence.39 The Charter grants the Council wide latitude to "determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" (Art. 39) and the authority to require--not merely allow or recommend--all kinds of supporting action from the member states when such an international threat, breach, or act has been found (Arts. 40, 41, 42, 36).40 These determinations and requirements are made by the Council on behalf of the entire organization and all its members (Art. 24). Council decisions are legally binding on all 191 member states, they trump any conflicting domestic law or treaty passed by member governments (Arts. 25, 103), and there is little room for any kind of appeal from its decisions.41 The Charter may in theory put all the resources of the member states at the disposal of the Council in the enforcement of its decisions (Arts. 43, 45). This ability to mobilize massive coercive resources is unprecedented among international organizations, and almost all states in the system have consented to it in a highly public way.
Compare this to the security provisions of the League of Nations. Under the covenant of the League, as described by Bowett:
A state resorting to war in violation of its undertaking with regard to pacific settlement was deemed to have committed an act of war against all members. Yet it was left to each member to decide whether a breach had occurred or an act of war had been committed, so that even the obligation to apply economic sanctions under Article 16 (1) [of the Covenant of the League] was dependent on the member's own view of the situation. Military sanctions could be recommended by the Council [of the League], but the decision on whether to apply them rested with each member.42
In law, and probably also in practice, this left the League Council with significantly less capacity to act effectively compared to the UN Council.
Despite the impressive formal powers of the UN Charter, clearly, as Michael Barnett says, "the UN's power derives primarily from its ability to persuade rather than its ability to coerce."43 Joseph Nye makes a similar point by linking the UN to his view of "soft power":
The UN has a great deal of soft power of its own. In other words, it is attractive and that gives it a certain amount of power. What the UN can convey that is particularly important is legitimacy, an important part of soft power. Other countries, including the United States, should find it in their self-interest to work with and through the UN, because they need that legitimacy for their own soft power.44
The scope of the Council's official powers in the Charter is less relevant than the domain of its practical capacity to persuade, which is in part a function of states' beliefs about its legitimacy. Even with both the formal powers granted to the Council in the Charter and the explicit consent of the UN membership, the Council has acted to the full extent of its coercive capability relatively infrequently, and, when it has, it has generally been criticized for acting illegitimately by some of the leading writers on international law. For instance, Burns Weston argues that several of the key resolutions around the 1990-91 Gulf War were illegitimate and thus should have been arranged differently, even though he agrees they were legally taken and probably directed toward an appropriate goal.45 Similarly Jose Alvarez lists several Security Council actions (on Iraq, Libya, and Haiti, among others) which he says failed to follow legitimate procedures and thus seriously threaten the Council's credibility.46 The Council is charged with illegitimacy much more frequently than with illegality, indicating that what is at stake is not whether the Council is acting within the letter of the Charter (partly because the Charter is so broad and vague as to the limits of the Council's powers) but something else. Being seen as illegitimate has a cost. Russett and Sutterlin make the point explicitly, concluding, with reference to the process the United States and the Security Council used in the Gulf War, that "the manner in which the gulf military action was executed by the United States and its coalition partners will likely limit the willingness of Council members to follow a similar procedure in the future."47 These authors imply that repeated actions which appear illegitimate will ultimately impair whatever ability the Council might have to take credible action.
Those who worry that the Council acts in ways that are illegitimate are presuming, as a start, that the Council needs to be seen as legitimate to act effectively and that can squander that store by ill-considered decisions. Inis Claude, for his part, highlights the other side of the equation: that with legitimacy the Council has power. Both positions depend on an unstated theory of what legitimacy is and how it is created, used, and lost. If the credibility and power of the Council are functions of legitimacy, then this suggests a need to examine directly the workings and history of its legitimation. States' recognition that the Security Council is legitimate is the product of a historical process that began with the conferences prior to the end of World War II and has continued in various ways through the recent spate of reform proposals motivated by the fiftieth anniversary of the UN and on into the U.S.-Iraq crisis of 2003. This book seeks to provide an answer to the questions about legitimacy that underlie these positions. First, if wasting the organization's "capital" of legitimacy makes action more difficult, how does the presence of legitimacy make action easier? Loss of legitimacy is of concern to organizations because the presence of legitimacy afforded power. But what kind of power? Claude said that legitimacy is power, but he did not address how or why that power works. Second, how is legitimacy used in the specific context of international organizations? What are the limits of legitimacy as an instrument of power? Finally, how can the power of legitimacy be challenged? The capacity of legitimacy to provide order is inherently conservative, as it encourages behavior which reinforces existing structures. How can delegitimization be achieved by those pursuing change rather than the maintenance of the status quo?
The following chapters offer provisional answers to these questions. Case studies of aspects of the life of the Council are examined, illustrating the operation of legitimation and delegitimation, and showing that legitimacy affects all kinds of states, although these effects differ among audiences. Chapter 3 discusses the San Francisco Conference of 1945 and looks at the Council's legitimation with regard to small and medium states; chapters 4 and 6 examine how strong states find their decision environments changed by legitimation of the Council; and chapter 5 explores how legitimation affects the strategic decisions of a country like Libya which, in the early 1990s, was considered by many to be outside the international community. These four empirical chapters, taken together, will enable us to draw generalizations about legitimacy and the Council in the conclusion of the book.
INPORTANCE OF THE ARGUMENT
This book contributes to two of the leading controversies in IR theory: the relationship between constructivism and rational choice, and the relationship between states and international institutions. Much of the energy in IR theory today stems from the parallel rise of rationalism and constructivism and their ongoing conversation with each other and with their critics. Presented originally as two distinct answers to the problems and limits of neorealism, rationalism and constructivism increasingly turned their attention to each other through the 1990s. Their differences, both real and alleged, in the areas of methodology, ontology, and epistemology have come to define a new set of conventional debates in IR theory. This framing of the discipline was institutionalized in the fiftieth anniversary edition of the journal International Organization in 1998, where the editors presented a view of the field of IR based on a debate between rationalist and constructivist approaches.48
The present book demonstrates, by example, that the two traditions can be complementary rather than mutually exclusive.49 My approach takes rationally calculating actors (states) as a given but places them in a socially constructed context. Legitimacy, a socially constructed phenomenon, affects the strategic calculations and self-conceptions of these actors. The payoffs sought by actors through strategic behavior might be material or symbolic, and in either case they depend significantly on sociological processes related to legitimation. A symbol is a valued good--one it makes sense to attempt to acquire--by virtue of the process of legitimation that surrounds it.