Global Norm Evolution and the Responsibility to Protect

Flickr / Sudan Envoy (CC BY 2.0)

Non-Western powers such as China, India, Brazil, Russia and South Africa (the ‘BRICS’) are joining or rejoining the ranks of major powers. After decades of accepting or resisting a normative order dominated by the Euroatlantic powers, they have begun to put forward their own ideas on the evolution of global norms. Their growing assertiveness adds to the contestation of global norms that is likely to become the rule rather than the exception in the coming decades, as the world shifts toward a new normative order. Managing this transition peacefully may be the greatest global challenge of our time (Hurrell 2006; Ikenberry 2008; Barma et al. 2009; Zhang 2011; Kupchan 2012).

In this context, it is striking that the literature on global norms remains largely tied to Western-centric, unidirectional and linear-teleological models of norm diffusion. Existing scholarship stops short of analyzing conflictive, non-linear interactions about global norms between increasingly assertive powers. This project will address this gap. We seek to provide a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of normative conflict and global norm evolution focused on one crucial case of an emerging and contested global norm: the ‘responsibility to protect’ individuals from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Project Objectives

This research seeks to provide a comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the way new global norms are evolving by focusing on one crucial case of an emerging and contested global norm: the ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians from mass atrocities.

The 'responsibility to protect' is a prime example of how fundamental global norms can be contested and pulled in different directions. For example, the way this principle is evolving challenges traditional understandings of sovereignty and non-interference in domestic affairs. Such challenges can shift the foundations of the global order.

For the period from 2005 to 2014, the project asks two basic research questions:

  1. How and why did the interpretations, attitudes and practices of major powers with regard to a 'responsibility to protect' change?
  1. How did the interaction between major powers (“normative conflict”) shape the evolution of the global norm?

External Partners

The Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) is the lead institution for an international consortium of seven project partners. The consortium includes partners from Oxford University, the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF), Peking University, Fundação Getulio Vargas in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi and Central European University in Budapest.

Project Outputs

The first set of case studies will be published in the autumn of 2014.  GPPi have published some early drafts.

Principal Investigator

Prof Ricardo Soares de Oliveira



Project Start / End

Nov 2012 - Apr 2015

News & Publications