Segurança e Defesa

Making Sense of Normative Resistance to the Responsibility to Protect: the Cases of Brazil and Russia, by Anna Kotyashko, Laura Ferreira-Pereira & Alena Vieira

In its first decade, the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) has moved a long way from a concept to a generally accepted norm. References to RtoP have become the staple of many UNSC resolutions and presidential statements, while playing an important role in galvanizing international attention to outrageous violations of human rights and serving primarily as a political call to at least consider taking action. Nonetheless, the implementation of RtoP is not a given and remains contested, for it has been caught in the conundrum of ensuring human security and respecting state sovereignty. The article Normative Resistance to Responsibility to Protect in Times of Emerging Multipolarity: The Cases of Brazil and Russia, published in Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional (RBPI, vol.61, 1/2018), analyses this intriguing normative dynamic from the perspective of two (re)emerging powers. In this way, the authors put the arrested development of RtoP in the context of long-term evolution of the international system towards multipolarity.

Both Brazil and Russia have traditionally stressed the primacy of state sovereignty and non-intervention as a bedrock of the international system, and both principles constitute fundamental precepts of their foreign policies. Given this particular normative baggage, the two countries have demonstrated a wide support for the first two pillars of RtoP, thus prioritizing the state’s primary responsibility to protect its population and the provision of consensual state assistance by the international community. On the other hand, RtoP’s third pillar, which entails a possibility of coercive measures, has been regarded with suspicion, for it might serve as a pretext for regime change and other self-serving political goals as has been demonstrated in Libya. Nevertheless, the present article demonstrates that while starting from a relatively similar line of light criticism and limited acceptance of RtoP, Brazil’s and Russia’s resistance to the norm have moved to opposite directions following 2011. In light of NATO’s overstretch of the UN mandate, Moscow has recurrently emphasized the susceptibility of RtoP to expedient abuse and consequently has opposed to any possibility of another Libyan-scenario, exercising its power of veto whenever needed. Brasília, on the other hand, has attempted to play a more constructive role in calling for more caution in implementing RtoP’s third pillar through complementary principle of Responsibility while Protecting (RwP, 2011).

In order to make sense of the drivers of normative resistance, the contested views of RtoP presented by Brazil and Russia are assessed against the background of the two countries’ evolving identities and self-assigned roles in the international system. According to norm diffusion literature, foreign policy concerns, identities and self-perceptions play the major role in the adoption of divergent normative behaviour. Along these lines, the article shows that these countries’ reactions to RtoP reflect the roles that both seek to play in a changing global order. In the Russian case, the conduct of a more assertive foreign policy translates into objections and a more active resistance to liberal international norms. As for Brazil, it wants to advance itself as a value-creating negotiator, assuming a more constructive position.

Assuming the Critical Constructivist contribution to the theoretical approach of norm diffusion and the special emphasis placed on the role of resistance, authors assess Moscow’s and Brasília’s reactions to RtoP through Alan Bloomfield’s model of norm dynamics role-spectrum (2016), which entails a continuum of possible roles which actors might play in particular norm contestation contexts. Instead of treating all RtoP critics as equals in the extent of their resistance to the norm, Bloomfield addresses different rationales that originate it, suggesting a deeper, more comprehensive assessment of contextually-contingent processes of international normative change. The typology of roles proposed encompasses diametrically opposed categories of norm entrepreneur and antipreneur, as well as intermediate positions of competitor entrepreneur and creative resister.

Accordingly, as a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia enjoys an asymmetrical defensive advantage as a wielder of the veto power. This enabled Moscow to assume the role of the so-called ‘norm antipreneur’ and oppose RtoP without presenting an alternative to this principle. Alternatively, Brazil, in its pursuit of becoming a permanent member of the Security Council, has attempted to capitalize on its consensus-seeking skills and strike a balance between sovereignty and preventing atrocities by putting forward the new concept of RwP. As a demonstration of its commitment to the UN cause, instead of directly counter-attacking RtoP, Brasília tried to overcome the legitimacy gap that the norm was facing after Libya by raising the bar for armed interventions, increasing prudence in its application, and supporting accountability measures. Taking into consideration both the practice of norm subsidiarity as well as the distinctive elements of resistance, the authors characterise the Brazilian approach to RtoP as an example of contesting entrepreneurship. This new category in the norm dynamics role-spectrum intends to overcome the conceptual blind spots of Bloomfield’s model that could not contemplate the complexities of Brazilian normative behaviour.

As the world is transitioning towards multipolarity, it becomes increasingly important to understand the positions of the (re)emerging powers on sensitive issues like humanitarian intervention. By assessing the roles that (re)emerging powers, such as Brazil and Russia, have adopted towards RtoP, the article provides valuable insights on the underlying motivations of normative resistance. It demonstrates that there is more to the contested views of RtoP than a simple opposition to the allegedly Western norm. Instead, they are informed by complex dynamics of cultural pluralism.

Read the article

Kotyashko, Anna, Ferreira-Pereira, Laura Cristina, & Vieira, Alena Vysotskaya Guedes. (2018). Normative resistance to responsibility to protect in times of emerging multipolarity: the cases of Brazil and Russia. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 61(1), e001. Epub April 05, 2018.

About the authors

Anna Kotyashko – Universidade de Minho, Escola de Economia e Gestão, Braga, Portugal (
Laura Cristina Ferreira-Pereira – Universidade de Minho, Escola de Economia e Gestão, Braga, Portugal (
Alena Vysotskaya Guedes Vieira – 3Universidade de Minho, Escola de Economia e Gestão, Braga, Portugal (]

How to cite this note

Cite this article as: Editoria, "Making Sense of Normative Resistance to the Responsibility to Protect: the Cases of Brazil and Russia, by Anna Kotyashko, Laura Ferreira-Pereira & Alena Vieira," in Revista Mundorama, 18/05/2018,

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