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Dangerous Trade: The Arms Trade Treaty and the Politics of Social Reputation

Friday November 14, 2014, from 14:00 to 16:00
Room 24.S16 - Mercè Rodoreda Building (Floor -1)
Research seminar
Jennifer Erickson (Boston College)

The contemporary conventional arms trade brings together vital interests in security and foreign policy, economics, and human security, confronting states with conflicting demands as they decide their arms trade policy and partners. The creation of the ATT and related initiatives therefore presents a microcosm of the policy pressures and imperatives states face in the post-Cold War world. By taking an in-depth look into the politics of the arms trade, this book provides insights into three important theoretical questions: First, at the state-level, what explains commitment to multilateral policies that were once impossible or out of the question, even in the absence of material or normative incentives to implement them? International negotiations are not cheap; they require time, political capital, and economic resources. Rather than “mere window-dressing,” the resulting agreements may impose costs and bind behavior in expected ways, risk unanticipated costs and consequences over time, and open states up to domestic legal challenges and hypocrisy costs (Goodliffe and Hawkins 2006; Greenhill 2010; Schimmelfennig 2001; Simmons 2009). If states wish to avoid costly restrictions on their behavior, what motivates them to spend resources and take risks on an agreement in the first place?

Second, at the international level, what explains how new norms gain prominence and legitimacy beyond their initial norm entrepreneurs? Scholars often highlight the importance of “norm cascades” to show how new ideas of appropriate behavior become accepted by a critical mass of states and institutionalized in international politics (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998; Florini 1996; Krook and True 2012). If norm survival hinges on such “tipping points” of state acceptance, then it is essential to dig deeper and theorize the mechanisms that create those tipping points. Why do states – especially those critical states invested in the status quo but without which new norms may flounder – respond to basic forms of social pressures, like esteem, emulation or conformity, ridicule, or praise (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998; Johnston 2008; Waltz 1979)? As Finnemore and Sikkink (1998) point out, social construction interacts with actors’ “instrumental rationality” to enable new norms diffuse and take hold (910-11). Delving into the motives behind norm adoption and why socialization can be a powerful influence on rational actors can therefore shed light on how norm cascades work in practice and expectations of state behavior change over time.

Seminar IBEI Erick