The strategic use of liberal internationalism: Libya and the UN sanctions, 1992-2003

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The UN's sanctions against Libya became an issue of great controversy in the Security Council in the 1990s owing to competing interpretations of the central legal norms of international relations. The norms of due process, the presumption of innocence, and respect for international organizations (IOs) were defended by both sides, but for opposite ends. I use the contestation over norms and law at the Council to argue three broader themes about international politics: first, that states' perceptions about the legitimacy of international institutions is important in influencing state behavior; second, that this legitimacy creates powerful symbols in international relations that are strategically useful to states in the pursuit of their interests; and third, that the distribution of material power among states does not necessarily parallel the distribution of symbolic power, and so it is not uncommon for apparently strong states to be defeated by apparently weak ones when they fight over symbolic stakes. The norms of liberal internationalism are intersubjective resources useful in the strategic competition among states.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)495-526
Number of pages32
JournalInternational Organization
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Law


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