Chair of International Relations

Main areas of research

Contestation and Change in the Multilateral World Order
One of the key research areas of the Chair of International Relations at Zeppelin University is the contestation of the multilateral world order; with regard to protest and opposition to international organizations on the one hand and international norm conflicts on the other. Three concrete research projects form the core of this research area.


Open or closed international organizations? (DFG research grant)
Under what conditions do international organizations change their policies when these are contested by the assumed beneficiaries of those policies? One widespread assumption is that international organizations are bureaucratic containers. External influences are filtered by a hierarchical culture and a rigid organizational structure. Civil society protest often leads to rhetorical and procedural changes in international organizations but seldom to substantial policy change – international organizations are “closed organizations”. To what extent does this assumption still hold true? Current research describes international organizations as “open organizations”. Organizational cultures and structures are increasingly fluid and formal organizational boundaries play less of a role, due, in large parts, to New Public Management reforms. We observe transnational professional networks which fight over control over certain issue areas and they shape the behavior of international organizations. In this framework, civil society protest does not fail because of rigid IO cultures and pathologies. Instead, contesting groups can use access to professional networks, which are assumed to be more open to innovation, to affect IO policies.

The project combines these two contrasting variations of constructivist IO studies in one research design: an open organizational culture and structure should promote policy change in IOs; a closed organizational culture and structure should hinder change. The project also tests alternative factors: the effects of powerful states and of different protest strategies. We compare reactions of ILO, UNICEF, UNODC and WHO to contestation by assumed beneficiaries in different issue areas: drug use and trafficking, child labor, human trafficking, and female genital mutilation. The project combines a hypothesis-testing case comparison with process tracing. It will use expert interview, qualitative content analysis as well as network analysis.


Further information on the project can be found below.


DFG project "Open or closed international organizations?"


Specialization in Multilateral Diplomacy
How states act in multilateral decision-making bodies in international organizations is also changing. In many policy fields, we are observing a trend towards specialization: Rather than dispatching career diplomats, states now send experts from specialized ministries as their representatives to international negotiations. In existing IR scholarship, this is often described as an efficient, depoliticizing strategy. However, this specialization seems to have unintended side effects which are investigated in a second project.

Norm Disputes: Contestation and Norm Robustness (DFG Research Grant)

The increasing contestation of norms and regimes of the multilateral world order is a third important focus of this research area. On the one hand, we observe the questioning of many international norms and regimes that were long considered sacrosanct – also by states that played a decisive role in their creation. Current examples are the international ban on torture, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Framework Convention on Climate Change.


On the other hand, power shifts are taking place in the international system. As a consequence, the dominance of the "liberal" consensus on values, supported by a Western coalition in the international system since the 1990s, appears to crumble. Moreover, "non-Western" states and regions are taking on increasingly important roles in the international system. Does this lead to a decline in existing international norms – or to a renewed strengthening? To what extent are the meanings of international rules localized and changed in different contexts, for instance the international responsibility to protect in China or Brazil? When do such localizations have repercussions on a global consensus on existing international standards and regimes?


Further information on the project and the research results can be found below.


DFG project  "International norm disputes: Contestation regarding the robustness of norms"


Peace and Conflict Research
The field of peaceful conflict resolution has experienced a surge in internationalization and institutionalization over the past 25 years. Peacekeeping missions are given increasingly extensive mandates and require larger troops. So-called peacebuilding activities now account for a large part of the portfolios of many international organizations as well as national development aid agencies. In addition, new types of institutions emerge (from the International Criminal Court to hybrid courts and truth commissions in post-war countries).

At the same time, complex conflicts such as those in Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan have caused a certain intervention fatigue in many states. The earlier goal of sustainable peacebuilding through the establishment of democratic institutions is replaced by a new interest in local solutions, such as different forms of indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms, and more "ownership" by governments in conflict areas. The focus of the second key research area of the Chair of International Relations lies on the effects of this dilemma between internationalization and the simultaneous search for local solutions.

Time to decide

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