Events & News


Recalibrating Norms: Europe, Asia and Non-Traditional Security Challenges

Associate Professor Katja Weber, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology

29 Nov 2010

Conference Room 1, Level B4, S4, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798

3.30pm – 5.00pm


Dr Weber began by locating her current research project in the context of her shift away from rational choice theory models to the study of norms. She also noted how scholars like Peter Katzenstein have emphasized the growing importance of comparative, cross-regional studies when she was studying the politics of her native Germany, and that convinced her to do more fieldwork in Japan.

When formulating her definition of sovereignty, Dr Weber drew on the IR literature on international norms – from the works of Robert Jackson, Alan James, Amitav Acharya – and on the social constructivist literature – in particular, T. Bierstecker and C. Weber (1996). In underscoring the socially constructed and constantly changing nature of sovereignty norms pointed out in Bierstecker & Weber, she showed that the non-interference norm in ASEAN has indeed evolved from the late 1990s, starting with Anwar Ibrahim’s effort to promote the idea of ‘constructive intervention’, then sustained by Surin Pitsuwan’s idea of ‘flexible engagement’, and finally a watered-down version of ‘enhanced interaction’ was agreed upon.  Similarly Japan has already argued that the use of preventive diplomacy measures would not violate the principle of non-interference, as long as they were to be authorised by the states involved.

When raising the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm, she cited the more familiar adages related to state sovereignty and human rights, namely that ‘states not only have rights, but obligations’ (Colley & Spruyt 2009). That led her to refer to the ‘normative divide’ between the ‘Western-style human rights’ use of language and the “Asian Way”, while noting that the latter has frequently been discredited by some Asian states like Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. Nonetheless she acknowledged that the history of Western colonialism in Asia has had the effect of erecting these divides.

In concluding with the need for ‘careful recalibration of sovereignty-related norms that stand in the way of improved human rights’, Dr Weber emphasized the importance of securing institutional opt-outs (as wit the ESDP) to prevent impasse; the voluntary delegation of sovereignty-related competences of an otherwise autonomous polity (the German Kompetenz-Kompetenz concept);  and finally a cost/benefit analysis by a state in question to allow it to see the rationality of curtailing its freedom of action.

In general the seminar participants were fascinated with Dr Weber’s elucidation and exploration on the issues of sovereignty. However they were not convinced by her choice of comparative study of the EU with the ARF in security matters, some even characterising it as “misguided” and “uninformed”. In her defence, Dr Weber clarified that while she understood why ASEAN would be a better comparison for the EU, she intends to focus on existing security institutions, regardless of how their competencies measure up. In this view, ASEAN may be doing a better job than the ARF on security issues, but it only does so on an ad hoc (contra institutionalized) basis. In her opinion, ARF has already graduated to the level of preventive diplomacy to be credibly considered for a comparative study with the EU/ESDP. Moreover it is really the ESDP/ CFSP pillar of the EU, and not the European Commission or European Council per se that Dr Weber intends to compare the ARF with. Nonetheless she indicated she was willing to learn more about ASEAN/ARF from the seminar participants individually and privately.