Norms are What States Make of Them: The Political Psychology of Norm Violation

Document Type


Publication Date



I examine why states violate norms they embrace as members of international society. The rationalist answer, that norms are violated whenever they conflict with interests, is underspecified and empirically challenged. Constructivists cannot address violations well from their structural, sociological perspective. I argue from political psychology that violations stem from the motivated biases of actors who face a moral dilemma between personal desires and social constraints. These biases compel leaders to interpret norms and situations in a manner that justifies violation as socially acceptable. The ability to do so depends on the norm and the situation. The more parameters a norm possesses, and the more ambiguous those parameters are, the easier it is for actors to interpret them favorably to justify violation. Oftentimes norms are what states make of them. If the situation is plausible for states to claim exemption, they violate; otherwise they are constrained. The U.S. invasion of Panama illustrates these dynamics.



Find in your library

Off-Campus WSU Users