Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The domestic politics of international norms: Factors affecting U.S. compliance with the Geneva Conventions
by Arsenault, Elizabeth Grimm, Ph.D., Georgetown University, 2010, 230; 3398984
Abstract (Summary)

How do embedded norms affect compliance decision-making? Contemporary constructivist scholarship assumes that once a norm is embedded—integrated in a state’s cultural, legal, military, and political framework—compliance will occur indefinitely. These theories about the role of norms in foreign policy decision-making generally overlook the possibility that international norms, once adopted and internalized domestically, are still subject to contestation about their meaning, application, and utility.

This manuscript argues that after embeddedness, a new phase of the norm’s life cycle commences in which actors struggle with the norm’s interpretation and constituencies consolidate in support of and against the norm. Rather than the end of the norm story, embeddedness is the beginning of a new phase of domestic contestation in which actors make choices about the compliance outcome. This research develops an integrative model designed to assess how decision-makers weigh the material and normative factors associated with compliance.

This manuscript examines the case of the embedded norm governing prisoner of war (POW) treatment, as American identity is inextricably linked with the idea of the humane treatment of individuals in our custody during war. By comparing compliance decision-making regarding POW treatment during the Vietnam conflict with the decision-making in the Global War on Terror, this research concludes that when a lacuna exists in an embedded norm, actors’ preferences and their ability to affect the decision-making process determine the ultimate compliance outcome. The Bush Administration consistently sought legal solutions to conduct its security policy, reaffirming the extent to which the Geneva Conventions provided the frame for decision-making. What is puzzling is that a similar amount of effort was spent making the opposite determination during the Vietnam conflict: that prisoners were entitled to expansive rights no matter what side they were on or what kind of war they were fighting. This research seeks to add to the ongoing national dialogue about the future applicability of the Geneva Conventions, America’s historical commitment to human rights principles, and the effects of these actions on U.S. identity.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Arend, Anthony C.
Commitee: Joyner, Christopher C., Kahl, Colin H., Shambaugh, George E.
School: Georgetown University
Department: Government
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 71/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: International Relations, International law
Keywords: Compliance, Geneva Conventions, Global war on terror, International law, Vietnam
Publication Number: 3398984
ISBN: 9781109735734