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Final Report Summary - MPPL (Moral Progress and Political Limits. Liberal responsibilities in an age of shifting international power balances)

Summary of Objectives
The project aimed to provide a better understanding of how the international responsibilities of the liberal state are constructed in an age of shifting power balances. It was an interdisciplinary and comparative study of the ethical reasoning of Australia, the UK and the US as they relate to R2P and the ‘legitimacy faultline’ (Ralph and Gallagher 2015) in international society. The research questions were empirical and normative. Do liberal states now conceive this diplomatic faultline as part of a ‘new reality’ that is forcing liberal states to compromise on the moral ends / means of human protection? Is compromising on the ends / means of human protection an appropriate response to this new situation? To answer these questions, the project aimed to develop and use a ‘holistic’ approach that combines normative and constructivist International Relations theory.

Work performed

The first year of the project (University of Queensland) concentrated on developing the holistic approach to ethical reasoning. This involved a thorough review of the constructivist and related literatures on norms and norm diffusion, especially in relation to the R2P and ICC; the literature exploring the possibility of a ‘constructivist ethic’; and the literatures on normative theory that emerged as relevant from this initial exploration, especially the work on the ‘American pragmatist’ tradition. A full list of activities are available in the mid-term report.

The second year of the project (University of Leeds) concentrated on developing these ideas by advancing the publication strategy, as well as implementing the impact strategy, which centred mainly on the end of fellowship conference and the creation of The European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. In-depth empirical research of the UN Security Council’s response to the Syria case was conducted, including extensive interviews in New York. This led to the submission of the co-authored paper (with Jess Gifkins) 'The purpose of Security Council practice. Contesting competence claims in the normative context created by R2P' to European Journal of International Relations.
This contribution to constructivist theory (especially its turn to pragmatism/practice) was developed further in the paper ‘What Should Be? Constructivist Ethics and the Responsibility to Protect’, which at the time of reporting is being revised for a third submission to the highly ranked IR journal International Organization.

A third paper, which had been submitted to the journal International Relations of the Asia-Pacific was completed in this year and published in May 2016. A fourth paper focusing on the UK foreign policy discourse was also completed. It was submitted to the European Journal of International Security and then Review of International Studies.

On return to the UK from Australia, I coordinated with James Souter a one-day workshop on the ‘Responsibility to Protect and Europe’s refugee crisis’. I presented research at the University of Leeds (x2), the University of Southern Denmark; the Centre for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi, the International Studies Association conference (Atlanta); the British International Studies Association (Edinburgh), the IPSA World Congress of Political Science (Poznan). In addition, I was invited to Brussels to present research to the European External Action Service in October 2016. The following month I was invited by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss R2P.

Finally, the fellowship provided time to organise a large conference at the University of Leeds, called putting the Responsibility to Protect at the Centre of Europe. This included academic and non-academic delegates from the UK, France, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Hungary, Slovenia, Turkey, Australia, the United States, NGOs and the United Nations. This network endorsed the idea of creating a European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (, which was launched in December 2016 by Prof. Alex Bellamy of the University of Queensland. I am have share the Directorship with University of Leeds colleague Dr. Cristina Stefan.

Main results

Do liberal states now conceive this diplomatic faultline as part of a ‘new reality’ that is forcing liberal states to compromise on the moral ends / means of human protection? Based on the Australia-China case study, which was reported at mid-term, the answer to this question is no. Based on the 2nd year US and UK case studies, which focused on the response to Syria and ended in 2013, the answer is again no. However, the application of the holistic approach and the constructivist ethic that flows from it (see below) does, in this instance, lead to a conclusion that is more critical of the manner in which these two liberal states discharged their responsibilities, as well as the manner in which certain meanings of the R2P norm in use lent support to that. As I write in one paper, US/UK practice was “problematic for three reasons: it was fixed to an outcome – ‘Assad must go’ - that was, after the political fallout from the Libya intervention, unlikely to gain Security Council support; the strength of the commitment to that outcome was underpinned by unwarranted assumptions about the inevitability of Assad’s fall; and that the P3’s insistence on regime change came at the expense of realisable ends (‘ends in view’) that were valuable if not ideal.”

Is compromising on the ends / means of human protection an appropriate response to this new situation?

In the second year, responding to detailed feedback from the journal International Organization, I developed a much deeper understanding of philosophical pragmatism and its relationship to constructivism, including the constructivist norm-life cycle theory. Drawing on the classical tradition of Peirce, James and Dewey, I argue that constructivism lends itself to a pragmatic ethic that assess normativity through the ability of norms to ameliorate lived social problems. More specifically, I argue that ‘a pragmatic constructivist’ ethic involves, interrogating how various meanings of a norm in use help make possible certain practices, and offering a normative critique of those practices by weighing their consequences for ameliorating the social problem that the norm purportedly addresses.

The pragmatic constructivist in this sense can maintain faith in R2P as a norm that sets out a process for ameliorating the problem of atrocity in the context of political pluralism while at the same time challenge the judgment of those who invoked it to support an impractical policy of regime change in Syria. At a more general level, the pragmatic constructivist ethic lends support to practice like that of the R2P norm entrepreneur, Jennifer Welsh, who builds on what she calls ‘post-positivist’ constructivism to offer a ‘subtle reframing’ of the concept. One effort to reimagine R2P is to reframe it as an inward looking norm that means receiving refugees, rather than an outward looking norm that means intervention.

1. (with James Souter), special section on R2P and refugees, Ethics and International Affairs; 2. (with Jack Holland and Kalina Zhekova) ‘Before the Vote. UK foreign policy discourse on Syria 2011-13’ paper provisionally accepted Review of International Studies; 3. ‘What should be done? Pragmatic constructivism and the Responsibility to Protect’, resubmitted and under review at International Organization.

1. (with Jess Gifkins) ‘The purpose of Security Council Practice. Contesting competence claims in the normative context created by the Responsibility to Protect’ European Journal of International Relations published Online First October; 2. ‘The Responsibility to Protect and the rise of China. Lessons from Australia’s role as a ‘pragmatic’ norm entrepreneur’ accepted International Relations of the Asia-Pacific. Published Online May; 3. “R2P and ICC” in Alex Bellamy and Tim Dunne (eds) Oxford Handbook on the Responsibility to Protect. Oxford University Press; 4. (with James Souter) ‘A Responsibility to Protect’ Britain in 2016 Economic and Social Research Council

1. (with James Souter) ‘Is R2P a fully-fledged norm?’ Politics and Governance published in special issue on Mass Atrocity Prevention edited by Karen Smith, September; 2. (with James Souter) ‘A special Responsibility to Protect in Iraq. The UK, Australia and the Rise of Islamic State’, International Affairs 91 (4) July; (2015); (with Adrian Gallagher), 3. The Responsibility to Protect at 10 special issue of Global Responsibility to Protect (September); 4. The Responsibility to Protect and Prosecute special issue of Criminal Law Forum (online April).

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