All Talk and No Action: International Norms and the Democratic Republic of Congo
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In the decade from 1998 to 2008, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was witness to one of the most brutal violent conflicts in recent history. Crimes against humanity and large-scale violations of human rights occurred on a regular basis, resulting in the death and displacement of millions of people. The international community responded to this crisis with humanitarian efforts such as the donation of billions of dollars in aid and engagement in diplomatic mediations. However, despite the increasing viability of humanitarian intervention as a policy option for international actors, as well as the ‘groundbreaking’ formal adoption of the Responsibility to Protect at the 2005 United Nations World Summit, no intervention was undertaken. This produces a puzzle: why, despite acknowledgement of the severity of the crisis, did the international community respond with humanitarianism, but stop short of intervening? The answer can be found in an examination of the international normative environment at the time of the conflict. Using a three-stage normative life-cycle model developed by Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink, this thesis posits that the reason the international community engaged in humanitarian actions was because the norm of humanitarianism is at stage 2 of its life cycle, making it well-entrenched enough to compel members of the international community to act. However, the norm of humanitarian intervention is only at stage 1 of its life cycle, meaning that it is weak and underdeveloped. Its weakness is exacerbated by the fact that humanitarian intervention often clashes with the highly entrenched stage 3 norms of realpolitik, and specifically the norm of self-interested engagement, which demands that a state only become engaged with another if it is in the first state’s interests to do so. Thus, despite the brutality of the conflict, the norm of humanitarian intervention was not strong enough to provoke an intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo.