Welcome to the BISA Blog

The BISA blog provides a platform for our members to share their research and provides a place for conversation on the latest developments in international studies. The intention is that this should be a space for scholars to communicate new ideas, pedagogical innovation and support other scholars, especially early career researchers.

The blog will also communicate news and additional information from BISA. We hope that it will be able to reach our members in manner that allows for greater interaction with BISA and create a space for communicating the cutting edge ideas and research that are the hallmark of our association.
- Professor Richard Whitman, BISA Chair

The PhD & the Powerful: A BISA Post-Graduate Network Workshop



Disparities of power often exist between postgraduate students and the actors they focus on. This holds especially true for international studies, where access to information and subjects is often constrained by state actors able to envelop themselves in numerous, potentially legitimate, restrictions. At the same time, international studies is literally soaked with discussions and definitions of power. Furthermore, from realist debates about great power politics, Weberian ponderings of legitimate force, Foucauldian deliberations inspired by governmentality and biopolitics via the consideration of soft power, such discussions and definitions are as varied as they are predominant.

The PhD & the Powerful workshop is being held to help PhD students and ECRs in the realm of international studies develop strategies for dealing with power disparities via the identification and deliberation of different conceptions of power. Drawing from expert academics with experience of understanding, engaging and critiquing power, as well as postgraduate students themselves, the objective of the workshop is to develop an increased awareness of both the problems and opportunities that arise from unequal power relations. In doing, it aims to help postgraduate students appreciate how best to locate, understand, navigate and interpret power.

The workshop will be held on Thursday November 1st 2018, Kingston University, 9am-5pm.

The workshop features a Keynote by Ruth Blakeley (Sheffield University & The Rendition Project) and a session led by Antonio Cerella (Kingston University & Chair of the BISA Working Group on Contemporary Research on International Political Theory). There are ten travel bursaries available for BISA members.

The program of the workshop is as follows:


Arrival, coffee & introductory remarks

Session 1:

Locating Power: This session will encourage workshop participants to identify, and locate within a broader societal and institutional context, the powerful actors they are studying.

Session 2:

Understanding Power: Led by Antonio Cerella, Chair of the BISA Working Group on Contemporary Research on International Political Theory,this session will help participants to understand how power, and the powerful, operate.

Lunch (provided)

Session 3:

Navigating Power: An interactive session to help participants understand how best to engage and navigate power during their studies and as they build their careers.

Session 4:

Interpreting Power: Keynote by Ruth Blakeley

Co-Director of The Rendition Project and Director of the White Rose Doctoral Training Partnership, Professor Blakeley is ideally placed to help students interpret the powerful.


Register for the event here

Registration closes: October 1st 2018

All post-graduate students and ECRs are welcome. Attendance is free.


Ten travel bursaries of up to £50 are available to BISA members:

To apply for a bursary, please register for the workshop and send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. indicating your institutional affiliation, confirming that you are a BISA member (bursaries will not be paid unless this is the case) and containing a statement of no more than 150-words explaining why you will benefit from the workshop. Emails must be received by August 31st, 2018. You will be notified if you have been successful in applying for a bursary by September 21st, 2018. Decisions on who to award bursaries to will be made by the organiser in conjunction with the BISA PGN committee. Priority will be given to those living outside London.

Those who receive a bursary must provide a copy of receipts. Claims or parts of claims not evidenced with suitable receipts will not be paid and expenses should not also be claimed elsewhere. Bursaries will be paid after the workshop and will only be paid following attendance. Bursary recipients will need to claim their bursary within one month of the workshop.

Nearest train stations: Kingston & Surbiton are both about 15-20-minute walk, or 5-10 minutes in a cab. Both are in Zone 6 & are about 15-30 minutes direct from Waterloo.


For information and queries email Pete Finn: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



Peter Finn is a multi-award-winning Lecturer in the Politics Department of Kingston University, London. He focuses on executive power, the intersection between national security and human rights, as well as the logic(s) that underpin policies at this intersection. 


(Re)Masculinising the world? Thinking about international relations through the logic of masculinism

Christine Agius

Gender has polarised international politics in recent years. As states and international organisations pay increasing attention to gender mainstreaming, or even adopting ‘feminist foreign policies’, there has been a backlash against feminism, with the rise of incels, the Alt-Right and Men’s Rights Movement. The election of populist leaders promising to return the state to ‘traditional’ values and manage security through increasingly coercive measures has seen a ‘feminist spring’ emerge to defend reproductive rights and gender equality. These developments have also been reflected in popular culture, with the popularity of TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale. We appear to be in a period of what Ulf Mellström calls masculinist political revival.

There are many ways we can try to make sense of recent developments. We can examine the rise of populism, the decline of post-war institutions, and the impact of globalisation. But understanding how gender is built into the structure of the global order is crucial for getting a handle on how it affects politics, economics, culture and society at all levels.

Patriarchy? Masculinities? Masculinism?

Concepts like patriarchy and masculinity have been useful for challenging seemingly settled categories like sovereignty, the state and power. Yet in the introduction to her latest book, The Big Push, Cynthia Enloe confesses that at the mention of ‘patriarchy’, she ‘almost broke into a run.’ Why? Because it sounds ‘so heavy, so blunt, so ideological.’ This admission tells us much about how concepts gain baggage and associations over time. But Enloe returns to the concept, arguing that patriarchy is a ‘searchlight, a concept that can enable us to see what we otherwise might miss: the connective tissues between large and small, subtle and blatant forms of racialized sexism, gendered misogyny and masculinized privilege.’ (2017: ix-x)

In our recent book The Persistence of Global Masculinism: Discourse, Gender and Neo-Colonial Re-Articulations of Violence, my colleague, sociologist Lucy Nicholas, and I draw on masculinism as an encompassing logic rather than an identity. Masculinism differs from masculinity, which is associated with male power and ideas about how men should be (see David Duriesmith’s Masculinity and New War for an in-depth discussion). Whilst we can speak of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ or multiple masculinities that shape international relations, we wanted to emphasise what Arthur Brittan referred to as the ‘masculine ideology’ that remained constant rather than the particularities of masculinity, which are changeable.

We see masculinism is a ‘logic, discourse, impulse, and moral voice that maintains and naturalises subtle and overt forms of domination’ (2018: 5). It shapes relations of class, race, sex, and can be discursive as well as violent. Importantly, masculinism persists in global politics and shapes outcomes, policies, ideas of security and community.  We deployed it in our case studies of anti-PC discourse and anti-feminist backlash, popular responses to gender-based and sexual violence, humanitarian intervention and drone warfare, where we focused on silencing, protection and harm as necessary logics that operate across complex levels. For example, masculinist logics infiltrate drone warfare, from the very object of the drone itself to the sort of subjectivities it produces:  does it have agency? What happens when agency is questioned? How do ideas of strength, valour, safe/suspect lives, space and protection take on hierarchical and masculinised forms? Domination is naturalised in this form security which can appear neutral and technocratic. Masculinism lends insights to drone warfare that force a reconsideration of how we understand security and hierarchical global relations.

Where and how do we see masculinism in global politics?

While it would be easy to identify forms of hypermasculinity in the ‘strongman’ politics of Trump, Erdogan, Modi, Putin, Duterte and other state leaders, this is only part of the story. Indeed, these leaders craft their policies and language around masculinist precepts such as power and appeals to protection of the population, or at least certain parts of the population. They speak of returning the state to strength (see Cai Wilkinson on Putin’s remasculinisation of post-Cold War Russia) or fighting external incursions to protect the body politic. They rely on gendered and violent discourses that reflect hierarchical structures and in a number of cases, advocate or endorse sexual violence. We also see how gender, masculinity and masculinism combine in non-state or ‘proto-state’ actors such as Islamic State.

Trump stands out as a crude caricature of this embodied idea of the masculinised leader. His worldview is fully scripted to a masculinist narrative: he valorises ‘strongman’ politics, and displays of militarism. He desires ‘loyalty’ and admiration, sees women as objects, revels in divisive politics and has no problem with tacitly supporting violence. In his international engagements, he has threatened peace and treated global security as a game of one-upmanship and strength, most notably in his taunting of Kim Jong-un of North Korea in boasts about his nuclear button being ‘bigger and more powerful’ and that it ‘works’. Trump also uses masculinist ideas of protection in curiously gendered ways – the response to Syria’s chemical attack on ‘beautiful babies’ was apparently spurred by his daughter Ivanka’s reaction. At the same time, recent developments have seen gendered analogies deployed against Trump in his 2018 Helsinki meeting with Putin, where he was seen to be not only a traitor to his country but ‘weak and submissive’ and ‘Putin’s Poodle’, echoing a similar emasculation of Blair during the lead up to the Iraq war after 9/11.

While the world focuses on these gendered performances of leadership and international politics, the very masculinist structures that underpin it are pushed to the side. Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy of separating immigrant children from their families was the ‘tough’ response to border control (Melania’s jacket notwithstanding). But this also obscures the longer legacy of US foreign and economic policies that create migrant insecurity. The logic of masculinism is in corporate tax cuts, the destruction of healthcare and education, and efforts to curb environmental protection. These policy choices are underscored by logics that are mired in ideas of binary relations and hierarchies that privilege power. Fears of weakness and loss of privilege are inherently masculinist in their ethos and they condition worldviews. Masculinism emboldens racism and provides justification for winding back the rights of women and LGBTQI communities.  

And although it may be embodied, masculinism and masculinist logic pervades our everyday practices, modes of thought, and ideas about how to respond to global problems and insecurities. Masculinism is in the drone strikes that promise clean and surgical security at a distance. It is present in the promotion of ‘choice feminism’ and liberal feminism that undermines women’s economic and social equality. Managing migration flows and bordering practices not only impact women but are themselves performances of masculinist politics, setting boundaries, hierarchies and forms of control. Masculinism is present in the austerity measures that are enacted across Europe, punishing aberrant states or imposing poverty on the working class. Masculinism is seen in responses to impending environmental disaster through the silencing of opposition and neglect of other forms of knowledge about land management, rights and conservation. We show that efforts to protect distant others is also imbued with masculinism in the form of military interventions and claims to protect human rights.

‘Unthinking’ masculinism

Seeing masculinism is one thing. But how do we ‘unthink’ and untangle it from our ideas of global and everyday politics? This is a harder question because it asks us to rethink not only the structural relationships that build what we call ‘international’ politics but requires us to reconfigure them in ways that may not cohere with our current language, institutions, policy prescriptions and power relations. It complicates our cultural, economic and social systems, and how we organise as societies and manage our lives and ideas of security. It prompts more questions than answers.

A masculinist understanding of global politics asks after the relationship between structural and agentic forces, and how they are co-constituted and informed by masculinist logics. How is international and everyday life coded by gender and intersections of race, class and sexuality? Who is excluded and silenced? And what sort of ‘order’ should we aspire to? How, for instance, can we revise the idea of the state as a form of political community? Or imagine outside the of state? Can we think about sovereignty without the logics of masculinism, such as a post-sovereign politics, and what would that mean for global politics and relations? 

One starting point is Enloe’s argument that we need to listen to the silences and find the concepts to name forms of inequality and power relations. We need different, multiple voices that reveal injustices and inequalities. We need to undo the binaries that structure our understandings of subjectivity, statehood and what we even mean by the ‘international’, especially when we ignore the experiences of class, race and myriad other categories.

Making visible is an important part of a process that asks us to essentially rethink politics. But what follows from that is also crucial, complicated and messy. It has to be. It is in the messiness of thinking that we imagine alternatives that do not collapse into binaries and open space for different ethical interventions. As Butler argues, we need ‘a different set of terms’ rather than a ‘reverse discourse’.  Otherwise our solutions will simply reinstate masculinism in a different form.


Christine Agius is a senior lecturer in international relations and politics at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia. Her research interests cover Nordic politics and security, identity, and critical security studies. Publications include The Social Construction of Swedish Neutrality: Challenges to Swedish Identity and Sovereignty (2006, Manchester University Press), The Politics of Identity: Imagining Identity through Place, Space and Discourse (edited with Dean Keep, Manchester University Press, 2018), The Persistence of Global Masculinism: Discourse, Gender and Neo-Colonial Re-Articulations of Violence (with Lucy Nicholas, Palgrave, 2018), and articles in Cooperation and Conflict, Security Dialogue, and other journals. She is the director of the Identity Research Network (IRN), which brings together interdisciplinary research on the theme of identity.


The Personal Chemistry of Trust in International Politics

Professor Nicholas Wheeler

In March 1970, the West German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, travelled by train to meet with his East German counterpart, Willi Stoph, in the East German town of Erfurt. Brandt, the architect of the Ostpolitik policy that led to a relaxation of tensions between West Germany and East Germany, believed it was important that leaders ‘get a smell of each other’.Brandt appreciated that personal chemistry matters in international politics and if personal relationships are strong between state leaders, then it is possible to make progress on substantive issues, including, as Brandt and Stoph showed, the de-escalation of conflict between two adversaries. Brand’s intuition is a common one among leaders in adversarial relationships. President Ronald Reagan wrote in his memoir that he had come to believe that if the United States and the Soviet Union were ever ‘going to break down the barriers of mistrust that divided our countries, we had to begin by establishing a personal relationship between the leaders of the two most powerful nations on earth’ (quoted in Wheeler 2018: 1). But if state leaders recognize the potential for personal chemistry arising out of their face-to-face interactions, the discipline of International Relations (IR) has not properly theorized the conditions under which some face-to-face encounters lead to bonding of this kind, and equally importantly, why others lead to disappointment and failure.

My new book 'Trusting Enemies: Interpersonal Relationships in International Conflict' develops a theory about the conditions necessary for leaders to ‘hit it off’ in face-to-face interaction and the mutual trust that can develop out of such encounters. I define trust as the ‘expectation of no harm in contexts where betrayal is always a possibility’ (Wheeler 2018: 3). I argue that trust is an emergent and collective property of social interaction by which I mean that it is not reducible to one or both of the individuals involved in the interaction. Such an approach locates my work within the social constructivist camp of IR theory, but what is distinct about the position I take in Trusting Enemies is that I develop a new level of analysis in trust research, namely, the interpersonal dimension of social interaction (see also Holmes 2018). A focus on the interpersonal dimension of state behavior should not be confused with what I call the ‘individualistic’ approach to trust. This locates trust and trusting behaviour in individual predispositions to trust, predispositions that crucially shape the possibilities of social interaction. By contrast, a social interactionist approach to trust focuses on how expectations of trust develop as a result of a process of social interaction.

The causal mechanism that leads to the development of trust between two individuals in face-to-face interaction – including state leaders – is a process of social bonding. ‘Bonding trust’ as I call it has three key stages of development. Stage 1 is the exercise of what has been called ‘security dilemma sensibility’which is recognition on the part of two leaders how their own state’s actions have made the other fearful and insecure. The reason why Reagan’s first summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at Geneva in November 1985 was successful is because both leaders had exercised security dilemma sensibility prior to their meeting.

Stage 2 in the theory of bonding trust is that both leaders have to acquire an ‘index’ of each other’s trustworthiness. Following Robert Jervis in The Logic of Images in International Relations, I define an index as ‘verbal and non-verbal behaviours that convey inherent credibility’ as to an image projected by a particular actor. I extend this approach to how actors ascertain the trustworthiness of others in face-to-face interaction, and argue that a process of social bonding can only occur if both actors believe they have acquired an index of the other. Now, as I discuss in the Conclusion to Trusting Enemies, it is possible that a leader might believe he or she has acquired an index of another leader when that leader is actually faking it. If so, the leader who is practicing deception would be in a strong position to manipulate the leader who mistakenly thinks they have acquired a credible signal of the other’s trustworthiness. This is one reading of how Hitler was able to manipulate Chamberlain at their ill-fated summit meeting at Munich in September 1938.

The exercise of security dilemma sensibility and the acquisition of an index are necessary preconditions for a process of social bonding to occur, but they do not guarantee that a social bond will form. For a social bond to develop, two further mutually reinforcing conditions have to be present. These constitute stage 3 of the theory of bonding trust and involve the activation of two key components. The first is the positive identification of interests. This refers to two leaders who see the other’s interests as their own interests, and the other’s security and well-being as their own security and well-being. The second component that leads to the development of a social bond is what I call, following others like Karin Fierke and Harmonie Toros, humanization. This refers to the process whereby two state leaders who meet face-to-face begin to see the ‘human’ in their counterpart’s attitudes and behaviour, rather than just a representative of cold state interests.

A fundamental claim of my research is that if the process of social bonding between two leaders reaches a certain point – what I call ‘identity transformation’ – the mental state of trust on the part of these leaders (but no one else) changes to what I call ‘trust as suspension’. At this point, two leaders are so secure in their trust with each other that neither calculates the risks of defection in relation to the other’s peaceful intent and integrity. Leaders who inhabit a mental space of trust as suspension share a relationship of what I call ‘bonded trust’ – a term that I owe to Justin Morris. Individuals who inhabit this mental state of trust as suspension can be disappointed, and even betrayed – the objective possibility of betrayal always exists. However, for individuals who inhabit a mental state of suspension, such dangers are not factored into the decision-making process, though this does not mean that leaders are not aware that others in the government who have not been part of the bonding process may interpret the risks and dangers very differently.

Having developed the theory of bonding trust, the second part of the book applies the theory to three case studies: the personal interactions between Reagan and Gorbachev in ending the Cold War; the face-to-face interactions between Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in reducing conflict between India and Pakistan in 1998-1999; and the interactions in 2009-10 between Barack Obama and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that failed to achieve a breakthrough in US-Iran nuclear relations.The Iran case is important because there is a complete absence of social bonding and trust between US and Iranian leaders, and this occurs at a time when there is no face-to-face interaction at the leader level. The India-Pakistan case study provides a fascinating insight into the emergence and decay of trust in the interpersonal interactions of Vajpayee and Sharif. I argue that both leaders entered a mental state of trust as suspension as a result of a process of social bonding made possible by face-to-face interaction, but this bond weakened on the part of Sharif, leading him to fail to resist pressures from the military to behave opportunistically against India. The trust that had briefly flourished between the two leaders at the Lahore summit in February 1999 was crushed a few months later when the Pakistani military conducted its covert military operation against India at Kargil.

The best case of a relationship of ‘bonded trust’ in the book, because it did not erode in the way that Vajpayee and Sharif’s did, is the trust that developed Reagan and Gorbachev as a result of their face-to-face summitry. The bonding process between Reagan and Gorbachev was evident from their first summit in Geneva in November 1985, and it deepened still further at their meeting in Iceland the following year when the two leaders came tantalizingly close to achieving a historic agreement on US-Soviet nuclear disarmament. There is no available evidence that after the Reykjavik summit, either leader was risk calculating the intent or the integrity of the other. They did fail to reach agreement on massively cutting their nuclear arsenals, but what is important here is that it was not the issue of trust between the two leaders that blocked agreement. Instead, it was Gorbachev’s fear that if he agreed to allow Reagan to test defensive systems in space, future US leaders might not be as trustworthy as he believed Reagan to be.

This point highlights a major challenge facing the theory of trust that I develop in my book, namely, the problem of how a leader who is in a relationship of trust with another leader can be assured that the other leader’s successors will not develop malign intent? This requires further research, but I argue that disarming the future uncertainty problem requires thinking about how to build a bridge from interpersonal trust to the institutionalization of trust in the form of ‘security communities’ (Deutsch et al. 1957) where the threat or use of force has become unthinkable as an instrument of national security policy. The best example we have of this type of interstate arrangement is the EU, notwithstanding the long-term implications of Brexit for the European security community.

There are two further theoretical implications that develop out of my model of bonding trust. The first is that better understanding is needed of why social bond formation and trust emergence takes place in some face-to-face encounters and not others. Put differently, why do some dyads hit it off like Reagan and Gorbachev when others end in flat encounters with personal chemistry non-existent as with Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin. Yet, others like the disastrous summit between US and Soviet leaders John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev are anything but flat encounters, though the ‘emotional energy’ (Collins 2004) released in this interaction was negative and not positive. Kennedy described his summit meeting with Khrushchev to The New York Times writer James Reston as the ‘Worst thing in my life. He savaged me’. Khrushchev ‘got a smell’ of Kennedy and he sensed weakness and indecision, leading him to try his bold gambit of secretly deploying nuclear armed missiles to Cuba the following year. This highlights that leaders who use face-to-face diplomacy to better read the intentions of their adversaries, can also be read by those adversaries in turn. The resulting crisis saw the superpowers teetering perilously on the edge of the nuclear precipice. Understanding why social bonds form in some cases of face-to-face diplomacy but not others is the subject of ongoing research by Marcus Holmes and I, applying the insights of microsociology, and especially the path-breaking work of Randall Collins on interaction rituals, to interpersonal diplomatic encounters.

The second issue that needs further research is what Holmes and I call ‘fake bonding’. What happens if one leader believes a personal bond has formed between them, but the other leader is faking it?  President Trump claims that he and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un have developed “a special bond” and that, ‘I think he trusts me, and I trust him’ as a result of the personal chemistry that developed between them at the Singapore summit. The problem is that even if Trump genuinely believes he and Kim bonded at their meeting, the North Korean leader might be faking what Trump appears to believe is the personal chemistry between them. Trump’s summit meeting with Putin at Helsinki last month appears to be a replay of the Singapore playbook. Trump appears in contravention of the reports of US intelligence agencies to believe Putin’s denial that Russia was responsible for meddling in the 2016 presidential election. How far Putin is playing Trump, with the Russian leader contriving a personal bond between the two men that is fictional, remains to be seen. But the risk is that Putin is using a strategy of fake bonding to manipulate the US President into making a series of damaging concessions to his Russian counterpart. The alternative possibility is that the two leaders recognise that what unites their two countries in terms of shared global risks (nuclear risk reduction, cybersecurity, transnational terrorism etc.) is more important than what divides the United States and Russia. As a result, Trump and Putin might develop a genuine bond, leading to the emergence of interpersonal trust.

To sum up, the interpersonal dimension of diplomatic interaction – especially between state leaders - deserves greater attention as a potential source of trust building in adversarial interstate relations. Personal chemistry should not be juxtaposed to substance as though the optics of personal interactions between leaders is an epiphenomenon; instead, as Brandt and Reagan intuitively understood, building personal relationships, especially between the leaders of adversary states, opens the door to potentially game-changing diplomatic moves. Yet for trust to emerge out of a process of social bonding engendered by face-to-face interaction, leaders have to exercise security dilemma sensibility and acquire an index of the other’s trustworthiness. Trump’s instinctive recourse to personalized diplomacy to cut deals with his adversaries is unlikely to lead those adversaries to acquire an index of his trustworthiness when his personal reaching out to those leaders oscillates so unpredictability with a twitter storm of threats against them. What is needed instead, to quote a few lines from the closing paragraph of my book, are leaders ‘who . . . appreciate the promise of trust, learn to trust others who genuinely show their empathy and humanity, and respect and honour those who place their trust in them’. If this can be achieved, then the world will be in better shape to face the challenges of global security in the decades ahead. 



Nicholas J. Wheeler is Professor of International Relations and Director of the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security at the University of Birmingham. His book Trusting Enemies: Interpersonal Relationships in International Conflict was published in March 2018 with Oxford University Press.

Responsibility to Protect implementation in Libya and the State of International Society


Aslihan Turan Zara


Libya’s intervention constitutes an important example and represents an evolution, not only for responsibility to protect (R2P) and the humanitarian intervention, but also for the transformation of the international society. The latter is one of the systemic forms used by the English school scholars to interpret world politics with the international system and the world society. While the international system consists in the interaction among states that constitute it, the world society asks for common values and interests that build a link between members of the human community, where the universality of morality and of rules are essential in the quest of justice and the respect for human rights[i].

Although aforementioned categories are part of the English school (ES) theory, it is the concept of international society that occupies a prominent role in its analytical interpretation of world politics. The international society, defined by Hedley Bull, designates a group of states, conscious of certain interests and common values, that form a society and which are bound by a series of rules and common institutions.[ii]The rules and institutions settle the conditions for the survival of the international society by limiting the violence, establishing peace, protecting the independence and sovereignty of states and respecting international agreements.[iii]

Even though the definition of Hedley Bull and the characteristics attributed to it are widely accepted by ES’s scholars, there are divergences among them consisting the prevalence of the protection of international order and the justice. The debate held between pluralist and solidarist wings of the school is also the heart of the discussions concerning the limits of the humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect (R2P) to prevent and stop mass atrocities.

R2P implementation in the case of Libya

The R2P report, presented by ICISS[iv]in 2001 and included in the Outcome Document of the 2005 high-level UN World Summit in 2005, was an attempt to enhance this discussion emphasizing that humanitarian interventions should not be addressed through “whether or not” to intervene but “how” to intervene. With this report, the immune sovereignty left its place, at least in discourse, to a responsible sovereign. The responsibility towards civil people includes not only its own people but also suffering people of third countries, and its main objective is to prevent the perpetration of mass atrocities and otherwise to halt them.[v]

The responsibility to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes (genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and war crimes) lays primarily to the state. However, the international community has the responsibility to assist the state to fulfil its responsibility and it should use peaceful means (diplomatic, economic and humanitarian) to protect populations. Where a state fails to protect its population or a state itself commits the above crimes, the international community could address to recourse to force against the state in question, only with the UNSC authorization.[vi]

The R2P became concretely visible when the international society decided to intervene in Libya’s civil war in 2011. The crisis in Libya was born following the democratic aspirations of the “Arab Spring”, which started in Tunisia in 2011, followed by the brutal reaction of the Gadhafi regime against protestors. In a timely and decisive way, as was anticipated by the R2P report, the UNSC adopted two consecutive resolutions, RES1970 and RES1973, in order to prevent further atrocities and stop the violence committed by the regime towards Libya people.[vii]

By its first resolution, RES1970, UNSC referred the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the significance of it hinges upon the fact that the international society completed its responsibility to protect by its responsibility to prosecute. (Walling, 234-235) In this framework, RES1970 was a sign that the UNSC members were following their commitment to 2005 Outcome Document and that the quest for justice was prevailing over the protection of sovereign rights. This perception was reinforced by a second resolution, RES1973. The specificity of the RES1973 was due to UNSC authorization to recourse to force against Libya, a sovereign government recognized and member of the UN, with the objective of protecting civilian population. The resolutions in question were promising for the future of the humanitarian action and are important for the evolution of both the R2P and the international society.

The causes and impacts of the Libya intervention

Libya is a representative case for the mutual evolution of the international society and humanitarian intervention. Resolutions 1970 and 1973 showed the determination of the international society to take seriously its responsibility towards suffering peoples. Nevertheless, even though international society has evolved when it comes to its approach in favour of human rights, it is hard to claim that the international society had been radically transformed with the adoption of the R2P report. Remarks have to be made by the society of states to adopt those resolutions; at a regional level, such as the Arab League or the African Union’s support for such an intervention; efforts at the individual level must be sought, including that of Navi Pillay (ex-president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda). In the meantime, at the domestic level, there are also Libyan particularities, which differentiated it from previous humanitarian intervention cases: the evident call by Colonel Qadhafi for mass killings, the negative human rights protection record of the Libya regime, the lack of international alliances, the support for terrorism by the regime, rich petrol resources, weak army structure.[viii]

Resolutions 1970 and 1973 were promising for the future of the humanitarian intervention, but this promise soon faded. The international society fast changed its attitude after the military intervention started in Libya: the reaction by Russia, particularly Vladimir Putin, to condemn the abstention of Medvedev, as well as the reaction of the Arab League and African Union members becoming sceptical about the humanitarian purposes of the intervention because of the regime change in the country.

The Libya case is an exceptional example of the implementation of the R2P. In similar civil war and crisis situations, the international society did not take any action with R2P motivations, even though it was referred to in resolutions adopted for Mali or Sudan in 2013. However, within the international society, there is a change in favour of the protection of human rights. The international society’s awareness about the need to prevent mass atrocities is of considerable value. The General Assembly debate on the “responsibility to protect” held on 25 June 2018 is the proof of a tendency in this direction.




Aslihan Turan Zara is assistant professor at the Department of International Relations, Istanbul Okan University. Her PhD was on the concept of international society and humanitarian intervention. She focuses her research on international relations theories, specifically on English School theory and the conceptual and normative framework of humanitarian intervention / responsability to protect. 


[i]Tim Dunne, “The English school” in International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, 3d edition, Tim Dunne, Milja Kurki, Steve Smith (ed.), Oxford University Press, 2013, 144-146. 

[ii]Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society: The Study of Order in World Politics, New York, MacMillan Press, 1995, 13. (the institutions of the international society: international law, war, balance of power, diplomacy and the great powers)

[iii]Andrew Linklater and Hidemi Sigunami, The English School of International Relations: A Contemporary Reassessment, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006, 56-57.

[iv]International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty

[v]ICISS, The Responsibility to Protect, Ottawa, the International Development Research Centre, December 2001, 8.

[vi]Alex J. Bellamy, The Responsibility to Protect: A Defence, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015, 2-3. (While enumerating the four crimes, Bellamy cited Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral agreement with Historical Illustrations, New York, Basic Books, 1977)

[vii]S/RES/1970 (2011), adopted by the Security Council at its 6491st meeting, on 26 February 2011.

  S/RES/1073 (2011), adopted by the Security Council at its 6498st meeting, on 17 March 2011.

[viii]Füsun Türkmen, “From Libya to Syria: The Rise and Fall of Humanitarian Intervention?”, prepared for presentation at the 2014 ACUNS Annual Meeting, June 19-21, 2014, Kadir Has University, Istanbul, 12-15.--





Battles for legitimacy: The arrest of a former Prime Minister and what’s next after Malaysia’s historic election


Scott Edwards


Malaysia’s historic election, which saw the first change of government since independence, was met with widespread optimism. Former Prime Minister Najib’s recent arrest for charges related to corruption was also hailed as a vindication for this optimism. While this is justifiable, the arrest and other related events raises questions about just how the new government under Pakatan Harapan (PH – Alliance of Hope) will overcome a plethora of challenges, especially revolving around race and religion.

Najib’s arrest

Najib’s arrest has followed a frenzy of speculation and investigation over the former Prime Minister’s role in corruption related to the One Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state investment fund where money flowed illegally into personal accounts (including, allegedly, Najib’s). Malaysian media (and the police) had a difficult time keeping up with the public’s appetite for news (and justice), especially regarding the extremely high-profile raids of properties belonging to Najib and his family members. His arrest came less than a week after police announced that 12,000 items of jewelry, 567 handbags and suitcases full of cash were among the stunning list of items seized. The day after, he was charged with criminal breach of trust and abuse of power, and the trial is expected in February 2019. Najib’s arrest has been seen as a movement from the old days of cronyism, patronage and corruption, and a win for the PH government who want to show that corrupt practices will not be tolerated and there is a now (legitimate) regime built on rule of law.

Race and religion

The arrest, however, and its surrounding events also serve as a warning to PH, that the significant challenges they were concerned about are coming to the fore. Najib’s response, both in the form of a personal video message and statements from his family, highlight his innocence in the frame of race and religion. His daughter argued that “you can paint a man black, but Allah knows”, and Najib ended his video (which featured clips of him praying) by stating "I will face all the challenges with strength. After all, Allah is all-knowing, merciful and caring." His day in court witnessed supporters engaging in candle-lit vigils, singing ‘Allah Selamatkan Kamu’ (Allah save you), and heckling the Attorney General for not using Bahasa Melayu, the Malay language. These events, centered on the Malay race and Islam have a strong resonance in Malaysia, despite hopes that the win of PH showed a lessening of race-based politics.

Najib’s party, the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) has long garnered legitimacy through appeals to ethnonationalism, based on the privileging (and protection) of Malay rights, as well as an increasing Islamisation. Umno was responsible forThe New Economic Policy (NEP), whereby Malay interests were prioritised economically, and they have a history of playing on the fear of other races who, it was argued, would take away Malay rights. References to Chinese Malaysians as immigrants (Pendatang), and events such as Hishamuddin (Former Prime Minister Najib’s cousin, and most recently former Defence Minister) waving his “Keris”, a Malay ceremonial dagger, at an UMNO assembly in what was perceived as a threat, demonstrate the strength of race-based politics focused upon by UMNO. Najib in particular used Malay communalism, and the racism and culture of fear used to try to create a common identity amongst UMNO and the Malays was perceived to have gotten worse under his tenure.

The recent elections within UMNO for party leadership positions further demonstrate how UMNO has chosen to not fight the same battle as PH. Those perceived as more progressive within UMNO, such as Khairy Jamaluddin, seemed to want to emulate PH in their programmatic focus with less emphasis placed on race. He failed to win the position of UMNO party president (though the results were perhaps closer than conservatives wanted), and the former Vice-President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi became UMNO party president. The election of Zahid represents that UMNO will be ‘business as usual’ in relation to their appeals to race and religion as their source of legitimacy, and that identity politics will be their main weapon.


This poses problems for PH, for both their internal consistency and for their support basis. PH is a multi-ethnic coalition with supporters from all races. They cannot make the same appeals without causing significant issues due to the balancing act they have to maintain, that UMNO doesn’t.

PH has to be sensitive to Malay rights, in order to not lose Malay votes attracted predominantly by Mahathir’s “Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia” (Bersatu – Malysian United Indigenous Party), Anwar’s “Parti Keadilan Rakyat” (PKR – Peoples’ Justice Party), and Mat Sabu’s “Parti Amanah Negara” (Amanah – National Trust Party). They cannot, however, alienate the rest of their base as all were responsible for their victory. If they make the same rhetorical appeals as UMNO, or fail to compromise on the extent of Malay privilege, they will lose a significant portion of their support – especially those among Democratic Action Party (DAP), which is perceived to be a Chinese party. There are already concerns about divisions amongst the support bases. There was media speculation, for example, that MARA University of Technology should end its policy of only accepting bumiputera students, that caused heated discussion from both sides. UMNO was able to come out as fully against such a change, while the constituent parties of PH found themselves in the position of having to placate their supporters without alienating the supporters of the other parties.  

Race is also potentially straining the relationships between the coalition leaders and parties. Anwar, for example, was reportedly unhappy that ethnic Chinese Lim Guen Eng was made Finance Minister. DAP leadership have also argued that they are not being represented in the cabinet, as they have received less ministerial posts than the constituent Malay-dominated parties. Race and religion is very much the elephant in the room that UMNO is increasingly drawing attention to, while PH attempt to maintain a balancing act.

This would be difficult in the best circumstances, but made worse by fact that they have their own tensions and face structural obstacles to success.

Race is not the only potential divider in the coalition. The leaders have problematic histories which requires a significant amount of forgiveness to work together. Mahathir has been responsible for the arrest of multiple party leaders, including Anwar, Mat Sabu and Lim Kit Siang. Former rivals are, therefore, working together on the basis that they (believe each other to) have common reform-minded interests. PH also has to work in the context of a bureaucracy and government which has been populated by UMNO loyalists over 60 years, meaning there are significant structural challenges. As such, any sources of division which can be politicised are likely to cause significant issues as patience is required while PH maintain their balancing act and undergo this momentous task.

Following the results of the election there was recognition that there may be some challenges. So far, however, things have been relatively optimistic. While Najib’s justifiable arrest has also been met with optimism, there should be caution about the divisions that its politicization can cause. This is especially true as it seems UMNO is maintaining its race-based identity politics despite hopes that Malaysia would be able to move on from such a divisive political environment. It raises further challenges for PH, meaning Malaysia’s ‘New Dawn’ may not be as bright as anticipated, especially if the coalition is seen (by both sides) as compromising too much, and not able to meet the expectations of its varied support bases, while UMNO stokes the fires.


Scott Edwards is a doctoral researcher with the ICCS (Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security) at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the development of trusting relationships in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and environmental security issues in Southeast Asia, as well as the politics and foreign policies of Indonesia and Malaysia.

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