The domestic and international norm nexus

I argue that not only domestic norms but also associated ideas complying with the norm among political parties should be incorporated into the analysis of a state’s policy. However, this is not to say that I only focus on domestic factors. These ideational factors are to varying degrees susceptible to external ideational factors. A state is not immune to the influence of international norms in a globalised world unless it adopts an isolationist policy. Institutions and institutional structures also embrace ideas, which indirectly shape a discourse as well as the conception of legitimacy.23 For example, most states do not pursue nuclear capabilities even if some may harbour such ambitions. Since the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no state has used nuclear weapons. In effect, the ‘nuclear taboo’ norm has constrained the state’s behaviours.24 The incorporation of international norms into the analysis is thus essential.

One may doubt the effectiveness of international norms by taking North Korea’s nuclear diplomacy as an example. Indeed, some states such as North

Korea single-mindedly pursue the development of nuclear weapons. North Korea dismisses international criticism levelled at the country for not complying with the norm embodied by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or the related UN resolutions. However, this case does not demonstrate the absence of normative effect. Instead, it shows that North Korea does not internalise the international norm. The country strongly believes that having a nuclear capability is the only way to ensure its survival. Whether a state accepts an international norm depends on idiosyncratic factors.

Whereas a state’s social learning process is influenced by the domestic political structure,25 a widely accepted view is that two routes must be open for a norm to prevail within a state. First, a norm may be introduced and empowered by norm entrepreneurs or elites that support it. To persuade the public, these players may conduct a campaign, thus promoting the prevalence of the idea. According to Finnemore and Sikkink, after acceptance by roughly two-thirds of the public, the norm is then institutionalised and internalised.26 Alternatively, a norm may be brought about by a shock or the realisation that a present policy is failing. Such realisation opens a window for a new' norm to prevail.27

How'ever, the internalisation process within a state is not that straightforward. While some norms are accepted and institutionalised as they replace the old norm, some norms are accepted only after being modified. Thus, alternation—as opposed to full replacement—occurs w’hen the pre-existing norm conflicts with the new' norm. Acharya elucidates this point by emphasising a different type of norm diffusion process by paying attention to the role of norm taker as opposed to norm entrepreneur, who advocates a new' norm. The norm taker possesses the power to ‘perform acts of selection, borrowing, and modification’. In this view, the international norm will be modified to meet local standards or pre-existing norms by reinterpreting or reframing the international norm. Such modification aims to make the new' norm congruent with the pre-existing domestic norm. When the domestic norm is integral to the local group’s identity, it is more likely that the outside norm will be localised to fit the established domestic norm.28

How'ever, the full localisation of an international norm does not always occur forthrightly. Where political groups compete for influence, they may understand and interpret the external norm to suit their agendas. Such variation is possible because most norms are ambiguous and lack specificity. As a result, competition occurs since actors w'ho advocate different ideas struggle and compete over what the most appropriate localisation might be. The localisation process of an external norm is thus influenced by the distribution of ideas on the domestic political scene.

A localised norm indicates that both the new international norm and the old parallel norm can co-exist. This ambiguous situation occurs w’hen the old internalised norm conflicts with the new norm. However, successful localisation is not necessarily the final destination. These two norms continue to struggle and compete, a process that lasts until these two norms achieve a comfortable equilibrium or until either of them is replaced. In the struggle, the political parties play a crucial role in tipping the balance. Japan’s continuous debate over the degree of its involvement in international military operations illustrates this point.

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