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Publication Date



UM campus only

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


International Studies (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Ruth Reitan

Second Committee Member

Laura Gomez-Mera

Third Committee Member

Ambler H. Moss

Fourth Committee Member

Roger E. Kanet

Fifth Committee Member

Henrik Syse


This study explores the extent and depth of moral obligations in international relations, and how our collective understanding of these obligations has changed in the post-Cold War era. The genocides in Rwanda (1994) and Srebrenica (1995) raised questions about the moral legitimacy of states ravaged by human rights violations, and about the responsibility of outside states to protect innocent civilians from being massacred across political and cultural boundaries. In this context, the concept of humanitarian intervention as an expression of international moral responsibility emerged as one of the most controversial foreign policy issues of our time. The formal and unanimous adoption of the doctrine known as the Responsibility to Protect (ICISS, 2001) by the United Nations General Assembly (2005), and the subsequent ratification by the U.N. Security Council, reiterated our collective responsibility when faced with situations of grave human rights violations. Nevertheless, the international community repeatedly fails to respond adequately to atrocities. By comparing the nature of, and moral justifications for, the U.S. response to the atrocities in Rwanda (1994), Darfur (2003-2007), and Libya (2011), this study reveals that, despite inconsistencies in policy, the solidarist values reflected in Responsibility to Protect are evolving along Finnemore and Sikkink’s (1998) “norm life cycle.” Yet, it also cautions against the reliance on the “humanitarian impulses” of world leaders in internalizing this expanded notion of moral responsibility in international relations. Beyond the transitory nature of political will, this dependence fails to address the underlying assumptions generating inconsistencies in international moral decision-making. This study suggests that in order to ameliorate the problem of inconsistent responses to situations of mass atrocities, deeper issues related to realist assumptions upon which the international system is based may be involved, demanding attention and reassessment.


power; ethics and morality in I.R.; humanitarian intervention; R2P; normative political theory