Why International Norms Disappear Sometimes
This article addresses the empirical puzzle as to why some formerly deeply embedded international norms either incrementally or rapidly lose their prescriptive status and, in the extreme, can even cease to exist. Why is it that some norms are replaced while others simply disappear? The IR literature has rich explanations for norm creation, diffusion and socialization, yet there is a theoretical and empirical gap on both the dynamics and scope conditions for the degeneration of international norms. Thus, we develop hypotheses on processes and outcomes of norm disappearances that are tested with a series of qualitative studies. Norm degenerations require the presence of actors who challenge the norm and the absence of central enforcement authorities or individual states that are willing and capable of punishing norm violations. Moreover, our study shows that norms are likely to be abolished swiftly if the environment is unstable and rapidly changing and if norms are highly precise. In contrast, norms are likely to become incrementally degenerated if the environment is relatively stable and if norms are imprecise. Both processes lead to norm substitutions, provided that competing norms are present. If rival norms are absent, norms simply disappear without being replaced.