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Chair of International Relations

Research focuses

Contentiousness and change in the multilateral world order

Research addresses disputes about the multilateral order and the related dynamics within international organizations, as well as international standards and regimes.

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.

Specialization in multilateral diplomacy

How states act in multilateral decision-making bodies of international organizations is also changing. A trend toward specialization can be observed in many fields—from the earlier practice of dispatching carrier diplomats to sending experts from sector ministries. Although research describes this as an efficient, depoliticizing strategy, this specialization also displays unanticipated side effects, which will be examined in a second project.

International norm disputes: Contestation regarding the robustness of norms (DFG research grant)

The increasing contentiousness over standards and regimes in the multilateral world order is a third important aspect to study. On one hand, we observe that many international standards and regulations long considered sacrosanct—including the international prohibition of torture, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the Framework Convention on Climate Change—are being questioned, including by states that were deeply involved in their development. At the same time, however, the international system is also undergoing major power shifts. 

The dominant agreement about “liberal” values in the international system that a Western coalition had supported since the 1990s seems to be crumbling, and “non-Western” states and regions are assuming ever more important roles in the international system. Will this change cause international standards to decline, or will they be reinvigorated? How much will international regulations become localized and changed, for example, how might the notion of the “responsibility to protect” change in China or Brazil? When do such localizations have repercussions on the current global consensus regarding international standards and regimes?

In order to find out more about the project and its results, click below.

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

Peace and conflict research

In the last 25 years, the field of peaceful conflict resolution has become more internationalized and institutionalized. Peacekeeping missions are being given more and more extensive mandates, which require increased military support. “Peace-building activities” now represent a major part of the portfolios of many IOs and national development aid organizations. Likewise, a large number of novel institutions are being tested — from the International Criminal Court to hybrid investigative commissions in post-conflict countries. At the same time, complex conflicts like those in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan are engendering a definite intervention fatigue in many countries. The earlier goal of creating a sustainable peace by establishing democratic institutions is being replaced by new interest in local solutions, such as indigenous jurisdiction or tribal justice, and in more “ownership” by governments in conflict regions. The second research area focuses on the implementation and effects of this catch-22 situation: ever-greater internationalization versus the search for local solutions.