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Realism and the Significance of the Human Rights Norm

Powerful Essays
Realism and the Significance of the Human Rights Norm

With rampant violation of the human rights norm, are norms relevant in international politics? What significance do they hold if they do not inform policy decisions? Can anything be done in order to strengthen the normative element of human rights protection on a large scale? Constructivists declare that norms, principles, regimes or ideas are important factors at play in the international system mitigating pure self-interest and power politics that dictate behavior, as per the dominant realist worldview. However, to what extent norms actually influence decision-making is the true test to the relevance of constructivist arguments. Are norms and ideas affecting state interests in any real ways? I will argue that the human rights norm does not have a meaningful impact on policy, while admitting that it does indeed exist in some form. And, in order for it to be significant, it must be internalized beyond the system level.

Realism is not only the pervasive approach in international relations literature but is accurate in describing and anticipating state actions. Constructivists need a genuine response to realism and, in order to do that, norms need to enter into the process of rational decision-making. This could take several forms including increasing costs of norm violation, introducing hegemonic power into the system, or redefining interests in terms other than material. Discussions in the literature analyze the impact of norms, regimes, ideas, or principles on international relations, but do not often take a critical enough look at what is at stake. Realist politics hinder progressive, humanitarian initiatives because of its marriage to power and material capabilitie...

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