Power in Practice: Negotiating the International Intervention in Libya
Drawing on the recent surge of practice-oriented scholarship in International Relations theory, this article develops a theoretical framework addressing how power works through local practices and routines in world politics. Through a detailed account of the negotiations at the United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the European Union, the article demonstrates how, in practice, state representatives translate their skills into actual influence and generate a power politics that eschews structural analysis. In 2011, an international military operation helped remove the Gaddafi regime in Libya. To some, in particular liberal internationalists, the intervention reflected the power of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine since the end of the Cold War. Regardless of how the intervention is approached, there remain many unanswered questions when it comes to the multilateral diplomatic process behind it. This study points to the importance of emergent power dynamics, that is, endogenous power resources generated, struggled over, and converted into influence within particular settings. It shows how traditional Western powers seem to master and control the diplomatic game in ways that go beyond their formal positions in multilateral organizations.
How does power work in practice? Much of the ‘stuff’ that state agents and other international actors do, on an everyday basis, remains impenetrable to existing International Relations theory. This is unfortunate, as the everyday performance of international practices actually helps shape world policy outcomes. In this article, we develop a framework to grasp the concrete workings of power in international politics. The notion of ‘emergent power’ bridges two different understandings of power: as capability or relation. Emergent power refers to the generation and deployment of endogenous resources — social skills and competences — generated in particular practices. The framework is illustrated with an in-depth analysis of the multilateral diplomatic process that led to the 2011 international intervention in Libya. Through a detailed account of the negotiations at the United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the European Union, the article demonstrates how, in practice, state representatives translate their skills into actual influence and generate a power politics that eschews structural analysis. We argue that seemingly trivial struggles over diplomatic competence within these three multilateral organizations played a crucial role in the intervention in Libya. A focus on practice resituates existing approaches to power and influence in International Relations, demonstrating that, in practice, power also emerges locally from social contexts.
Rebecca Adler-Nissen and Vincent Pouliot
Power in Practice: Negotiating the International Intervention in Libya European Journal of International Relations 1354066113512702, first published on January 29, 2014 doi:10.1177/1354066113512702