Understanding the domestic impact of international norms: A research agenda

TitleUnderstanding the domestic impact of international norms: A research agenda
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsCortell, AP, Davis Jr, JW


Without denying the effects of international norms at the level of the international system, a second wave of scholars has argued that international norms also have important effects on state behavior via domestic political processes. Two national-level factors have been shown to condition the effects of international norms on domestic political processes and provide explanations for important cross-national variation in compliance with andinterpretation of international norms: the domestic salience or legitimacy of the norm, and the structural context within which the domestic policy debate transpires.'
Domestic political structures are important because they condition access to policy-making fora and privilege certain actors in policy debates, as Peter Gourevitch argued. Similarly, Thomas Risse-Kappen argues that the ability of transnational actors to promote norms (principled ideas) and influence state policy is dependent on domestic structures understood in terms of state-societal relations. Moreover, Jeffrey T. Checkel finds that the effects of international norms are conditioned by domestic structures and the norms' congruence with domestic political culture. Jeffrey W. Legro's research shows that organizational cultures can mediate between international norms and state policy preferences.
Further progress on a domestic approach to international norm compliance hinges on the redress of two major shortcomings in the literature. First, insufficient attention has been devoted to the measurement of a norm's strength, legitimacy, or salience in the domestic political arena." Second, the mechanisms and processes by which international norms can or cannot attain domestic legitimacy remain underexplored, as research has tended to be biased toward processes and dynamics at the international system level.


The chief objective of this article is to identify avenues for subsequent research on the domestic impact of international norms. The article operationalizes the concept of domestic salience and identifies several mechanisms and conditions that may contribute to establishing the domestic salience of international norms. The focus is not on understandinga particulari nstance of norm compliance, but rather the factors that promote an international norm's attaining the status of an "ought" in the domestic political arena. The goal is then to provide a frameworkf or understandingw hy some internationaln orms resonate
in the domestic political discourse while others do not.
The article is organized in the following fashion. The first section defines and operationalizes the concept of salience. The second section presents in some detail hypothesized conditions and mechanisms leading to domestic salience. The third section discusses the empirical research necessary for progress toward the formulation of testable, contingent hypotheses. The conclusion discusses the wider implications of this research agenda.