Incremental Change and the Responsibility to Protect in US Foreign Policy

Stream: Panel 90 - International Relations: Organizing Global Peace: Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and UN Sanctions
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 1.30 pm – 3.00 pm


According to constructivist and institutionalist perspectives, crises and critical moments facilitate change. However, these perspectives tend to overrate models of discontinuous change whist ignoring the importance and value of incremental change. As demand for greater international responsibility to prevent mass atrocities emerged in international society – specifically, the responsibility to protect (R2P) norm - states have been forced to rethink their position on mass atrocity prevention, though the effect of this norm on practice has been debated. Critics argue that mere ‘lip service’ demonstrates the dominance of interests over ideas. However, I suggest that ambiguity in R2P has enabled incremental change in practice as states redevelop and interpret appropriate standards of behaviour. Over time, R2P has been incrementally worked into US foreign policy; first, through rhetoric; then, over time, in practice. To demonstrate this gradual change, I create a narrative outlining the incremental incorporation of R2P into US foreign policy across the Bush and Obama Administrations. Though Presidential rhetoric in support of R2P has far exceeded practice, R2P has been worked into US foreign policy in a nuanced way. I argue that ambiguity in R2P continues to enable it to be incrementally incorporated into US foreign policy.


Morgan Rees (Presenter), Griffith University
Morgan is a PhD Candidate with the School of Government and International Relations at Griffith University. In 2013, Morgan completed a double degree in International Relations, and International Business, before completing his Honours in International Relations in 2014. In 2015, Morgan was awarded an Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) to commence his PhD. His research examines the role presidential rhetoric plays in shaping and interpreting the national interest. Specifically, his research seeks to understand how and why US interests in atrocity prevention have shifted over time.