The Social Construction of the Norms of “Responsibility to Protect” and “Humanitarian Inventions” under the United Nations: A Constructivist Perspective*
Author: Hsueh-chen Kuo
Abstract / Chinese PDF Download
Constructivists have argued that international norms have a social ontological character, that is, they are a social fact, not a natural fact. The application of international norms is a social construction co-constituted by the members of international society. Therefore, state sovereignty is both an international norm and a social construction, with its legitimacy based on the principle of non-intervention of territory which arose in a particular historical context through the actions of the members of international society. Constructivists problematize the claim that sovereignty is constant, permanent, and with a natural foundation in objective existence, and instead claim that sovereignty is a social or human construction, an international norm, and a political discourse that emerged with historical change of time and space. The principle of state sovereignty is a principle of historical contingences; the division of sovereignty by territory (internal or external) and by identity (similar or different) is neither natural nor necessary. Sovereignty is instead the result of several historical accidents. State actors have also jointly constructed the principle of “the responsibility to protect” which defines state sovereignty, meaning a primary responsibility to protect their population from genocide, civil war, insurgency, oppression, or state failure. In states where populations suffer from these ills, the willingness and ability of the state to end or reverse this suffering has been questioned. Therefore, the principle of non-intervention is subject to “the responsibility to protect” norm. Scholars have proposed a new theoretical basis for the diffusion and international socialization of this norm. Furthermore, UN Security Council resolutions on humanitarian intervention in countries such as Libya, South Sudan, Mali, and the Central African Republic have accorded to this norm. Therefore, constructivism has emerged as a useful way to explain the social construction process of this international norm.