Winning Friends and Influencing Others: Normative Balancing in the United Nations Security Council
As the game of power politics plays on, scholars have another chance to identify other early warning indicators of a seismic shift. In this dissertation, I offer a soft power mechanism that helps us understand the process of how great power rivalry leads to systemic change, which I call normative balancing. Normative balancing is when states align with a competitor vis-à-vis its norms. Alignment happens when a state voluntarily agrees with the norms of another state or complies with those norms. The argument rests on three core claims. One, competing great powers endorse different norms. Two, secondary states align with the norms of one competitor and balance against another. And three, secondary state alignment increases a competitor’s soft power at the other competitor’s expense. To test my argument, I turn to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC): a microcosm of global politics and great power competition. In terms of data collection, I coded all vetoed draft resolutions and meeting records between 1961 and 2018, inclusive, and all non-unanimously passed and failed draft resolutions and meeting records between 1994 and 2018, inclusive, which sums to 546 primary source documents. My data reveals some interesting trends. China and the US (United States) endorse different UN norms at different times, much like the US and the Soviet Union (USSR) did during the Cold War. Through the endorsement of different norms, great powers identify themselves as alternatives. My analysis also reveals that secondary states use normative balancing in response to great power rivalry as a way to contribute to the systemic outcome of the competition. In the lead up to the end of the Cold War, Council member-states aligned with the US and engaged in normative balancing against the USSR. Since the turn of the millennium but most notably over the past five years, alignment with China has increased substantially. Following from that, I find that such alignment is giving way to a more equal distribution of power between China and the US in the context of the UNSC. In sum, this dissertation highlights the role of soft power in the system’s balance of power, the ability of secondary states to impact the structure of the system, and the possibility of a new leader to operate under an existing world order.
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