Mind the gap: contestations of legality, legitimacy and the use of force in international politics

Frater, Vickie Louise (2016). Mind the gap: contestations of legality, legitimacy and the use of force in international politics PhD Thesis, School of Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2016.40

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Author Frater, Vickie Louise
Thesis Title Mind the gap: contestations of legality, legitimacy and the use of force in international politics
School, Centre or Institute School of Political Science and International Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
DOI 10.14264/uql.2016.40
Publication date 2016-01-15
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Phil Orchard
David Martin Jones
Total pages 244
Total black and white pages 244
Language eng
Subjects 1801 Law
1606 Political Science
Formatted abstract
Despite the ubiquity of the languages of legality and legitimacy in international relations, seldom do we address the gaps that can emerge between them. Hard cases involving the legality of the use of force seem to fall through the gaps, perhaps demonstrated best by the vague label placed on the Kosovo intervention, ‘illegal but legitimate’. These cases are often treated as exceptions to the rule or anomalies which demonstrate at best the inadequacy of existing laws to deal with conflicts between legal regimes, or at worst the powerlessness of institutions in a system of powerful states. This dissertation examines the contestations between states over the use of force question in Rwanda, Kosovo, Libya and Iraq, noting that although states offered many of the same arguments to support their actions in each case, these claims received very different responses. Many point to these inconsistencies and argue the contestations and justifications offered to legitimise these actions and decisions are mere rhetoric. They equate this casuistry with sophistry and dismiss its value.

However this dissertation disputes these assumptions, arguing the process of legitimation is more complex. It includes not only the role of central actors, but also audience members, some of whom attain higher positions of legitimacy as audience reframers. I argue that as central actors cast their contestations in terms which emphasise their own absolute legitimacy and legality, it is the frames of audience members and audience reframers in particular that blur the lines between legality and legitimacy and add this extra layer of complexity to the legitimation process. As these actors engage in the process of contestation they may themselves rhetorically entrap or rhetorically exclude other actors or their frames, or may be the entrapped or excluded themselves. This suggests not only that legality and legitimacy are not synonymous, but also that these two forms of language can be used as conjoined or oppositional concepts by states seeking to justify their actions to an international audience that exceeds what could be perceived as ‘mere rhetoric’. This process is itself a vital aspect of understanding institutional processes in international relations.

The goal of this dissertation is therefore not to trace the emergence or acceptance of new normative principles or their interpretations, but rather to trace the nuances of this process of legitimation to prove not only its ubiquity in these cases, but also its influence. Realist approaches that deny the viability of law and argue that states apply logics of consequence in these contestations are capable of explaining an individual actor’s self-interested motivations in isolated instances. But understanding the legitimation process offers a more holistic understanding of the cases, the actors, their claims and the responses to these. This makes the legitimation process not only ubiquitous in these cases, but demonstrates the presence of normative expectations that are constitutive of and constituted by state beliefs and behaviour.
Keyword Legitimacy
International law

Document type: Thesis
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Created: Thu, 14 Jan 2016, 13:40:43 EST by Miss Vickie Frater on behalf of Learning and Research Services (UQ Library)