Denying the Spoils of War?: The Politics of the Nonrecognition of Aggressive Gain

by O'Mahoney, Joseph Peter Andrew, Ph.D., THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, 2012, 349 pages; 3524049


Why do states refuse to recognize the spoils of war? In previous eras concessions imposed on a defeated state were considered to be valid by the international community, i.e. 'to the victor go the spoils'. Now states accept the principle that they cannot legally obtain territory or other advantages through the use or threat of force. There is now a rule of 'nonrecognition of aggressive gain'. Previously, states simply adjusted to changes in the balance of power to ensure the stability of the international order. Why do they no longer do this? Why do states now condemn and resist the outcome of certain wars when it is unclear that it will have any effect? In brief, why do states engage in nonrecognition?

Using historical sources, including recently-declassified archival documents, this dissertation considers two cases of widespread nonrecognition of the results of the use of force; the Japanese conquest of Manchuria and the establishment of the state of Manchukuo in the 1930s, and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and the subsequent declaration of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It then compares them to a case where force was used but the results were recognized and treated as legitimate; the Indian invasion of East Pakistan and the creation of the state of Bangladesh in 1971. To further address the question of how and why the rules changed, the dissertation also investigates the laws, rules, and institutions of peacemaking in the interwar period.

The findings of the dissertation challenge common assertions in the recognition, sanctions, and institutional and norm change literatures. The cases reveal that nonrecognition was aimed at maintaining the rule against aggression by re-establishing the joint commitment of all states to the rule. The dissertation elucidates a model of rule maintenance that combines rationalist and constructivist insights. Collective symbolic sanctions create common knowledge of what the rules of international behavior are in the face of a lack of effective rule enforcement action. This common knowledge, or intersubjective understanding, shapes future expectations and interpretations and hence helps to coordinate future rule enforcement. The change in the rules and norms of international behavior from 'to the victor go the spoils' to 'nonrecognition of aggressive gain' was not driven by rule manipulation by newly-powerful actors. Instead, disputes over the application and interpretation of the rules, made possible by tensions in and between those rules, were resolved through a novel combination of principles and practices. The dissertation specifies how this works and identifies several types of rule tension.

AdviserMartha Finnemore
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsInternational relations; International law
Publication Number3524049

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