Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-cjp7w Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-18T13:04:05.787Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Defending International Norms: The Role of Obligation, Material Interest, and Perception in Decision Making

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 July 2003

Get access


States defend norms in some cases but not in others. Understanding this variation sheds light on both U.S. foreign policy and the role of normative reasoning. We report the results of four experiments embedded in a survey of U.S. elites. The experiments identified the effects of felt normative obligation (that is, the logic of what is appropriate) and concern for U.S. economic and security interests (that is, the logic of utilitarian consequence) as well as the role played by individual perceptions. We find that perceptions of another actor's motivation, of conflicts as civil or cross-border wars, and of the democratic nature of victims affect decisions to defend a prescriptive norm. This finding means that theories of international relations that feature norms as structural concepts need to consider actor-level cognition when examining the operation of norms. Moreover, we find that when U.S. economic and security interests are at stake there is a much greater inclination to defend norms than when simply normative obligation is present. Most U.S. elites appear to treat the presence or absence of U.S. material interests as a legitimate criterion for deciding whether or not to defend an international prescriptive norm.

Copyright © The IO Foundation 2001

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Adler, Emanuel. 1991. Cognitive Evolution: A Dynamic Approach for the Study of International Relations and their Progress. In Progress in Postwar International Relations, edited by Adler, Emanuel and Crawford, Beverly, 4388. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Axelrod, Robert. 1986. An Evolutionary Approach to the Study of Norms. American Political Science Review 80:10951111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brewer, Marilynn B. 1988. A Dual Process Model of Impression Formation. In Advances in Social Cognition, vol. 1, A Dual Process Model of Impression Formation, edited by Srull, Thomas K. and Wyer, Robert S. Jr136. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Chayes, Abram, and Chayes., Antonia Handler 1995. The New Sovereignty: Compliance with International Regulatory Agreements. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Checkel, Jeffrey T. 1998. The Constructivist Turn in International Relations Theory. World Politics 50 (2):324–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Desch, Michael. 1998. Culture Clash: Assessing the Importance of Ideas in Security Studies. International Security 23 (1):141–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
DiMaggio, Paul. 1997. Culture and Cognition. Annual Review of Sociology 23:263–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dinstein, Yoram. 1994. War, Aggression, and Self-Defense. 2d ed. Cambridge: Grotius.Google Scholar
Edgerton, Robert B. 1985. Rules, Exceptions, and Social Order. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Elster, Jon. 1989. The Cement of Society: A Study of Social Order. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Finnemore, Martha. 1996. National Interests in International Society. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Finnemore, Martha, and Sikkink., Kathryn 1998. International Norm Dynamics and Political Change. International Organization 52 (4):887917.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goertz, Gary, and Diehl., Paul F. 1992. Towards a Theory of International Norms: Some Conceptual and Measurements Issues. Journal of Conflict Resolution 36 (4):634–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goldstein, Judith, and Keohane, Robert O., eds. 1993. Ideas and Foreign Policy. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Greene, William H. 1993. Econometric Analysis. 2d ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
Grieco, Joseph M. 1990. Cooperation Among Nations: Europe, America, and Non-Tariff Barriers to Trade. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Heider, Fritz. 1958. The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. New York: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Herrmann, Richard. 1988. The Empirical Challenge of the Cognitive Revolution. International Studies Quarterly 32 (2):175203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Herrmann, Richard K., and Fischerkeller, Michael P.. 1995. Beyond the Enemy Image and Spiral Model: Cognitive-Strategic Research After the Cold War. International Organization 49 (3):415–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Holsti, Ole R. 1996. Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
Holsti, Ole R., and Rosenau., James N. 1984. American Leadership in World Affairs: Vietnam and the Breakdown of Consensus. Boston: Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
Holsti, Ole R., and Rosenau., James N. 1993. The Structure of Foreign Policy Beliefs Among American Opinion Leaders: After the Cold War. Millennium 22 (2):235–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hudson, Valerie M., with Vore, Christopher S.. 1995. Foreign Policy Analysis Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Mershon International Studies Review 39 (October):209–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jepperson, Ronald L., Wendt, Alexander, and Katzenstein., Peter J. 1996. Norms, Identity, and Culture in National Security. In The Culture of National Security, edited by Katzenstein, Peter, 3378. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
King, Gary, Tomz, Michael, and Wittenberg., Jason 2000. Making the Most of Statistical Analyses: Improving Interpretation and Presentation. American Journal of Political Science 44 (2):347–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Klotz, Audie. 1995. Norms in International Relations: The Struggle Against Apartheid. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Krasner, Stephen D. 1999. Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kratochwil, Friedrich V. 1989. Rules, Norms, and Decisions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kratochwil, Friedrich V., and Ruggie., John Gerard 1986. International Organization: A State of the Art on an Art of the State. International Organization 40 (4):753–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Legro, Jeffrey W. 1997. Which Norms Matter? Revisiting the “Failure” of Internationalism. International Organization 51 (1):3163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Maechling, Charles Jr 1990. Washington's Illegal Invasion. Foreign Policy 79:113–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
March, James G., and Olsen., Johan P. 1998. The Institutional Dynamics of International Political Orders. International Organization 52 (4):943–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Morgenthau, Hans J. 1973. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. 5th ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.Google Scholar
Mueller, John E. 1994. Policy and Opinion in the Gulf War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Nadelman, Ethan. 1990. Global Prohibition Regimes: The Evolution of Norms in International Society. International Organization 44:479526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rose, Gideon. 1998. Neoclassical Realism and Theories of Foreign Policy. World Politics 51 (1):144–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Scott, Marvin B., and Lyman., Stanford M. 1968. Accounts. American Sociological Review 33 (1):4662.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Shannon, Vaughn. 2000. Norms Are What States Make of Them: The Political Psychology of Norm Violation. International Studies Quarterly 44 (2):293316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sniderman, Paul M., and Piazza., Thomas 1993. The Scar of Race. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
Tannenwald, Nina. 1999. The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Normative Basis of Nuclear Non-Use. International Organization 53 (3):433–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tetlock, Philip, and Levi., A. 1982. Attribution Bias: On the Inconclusiveness of the Cognition-Motivation Debate. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 18:6888.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tomz, Michael, Wittenberg, Jason, and King., Gary 1999. CLARIFY: Software for Interpreting and Presenting Statistical Results. Ver. 1.2.1. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University. Available at ⟨⟩ (accessed June 2000).Google Scholar
Walzer, Michael. 1977. Just and Unjust Wars. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Wendt, Alexander. 1999. Social Theory of International Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wittkopf, Eugene. 1990. Faces of Internationalism: Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.Google Scholar