Sarah von Billerbeck, Birte Julia Gippert, Kseniya Oksamytna, Oisín Tansey | 2023

Theorizing Decision-Making in International Bureaucracies: UN Peacekeeping Operations and Responses to Norm Violations

In: International Studies Quarterly, Volume 67, Issue 4.

Many international organizations (IOs) provide assistance to governments through country offices or peacekeeping operations. Sometimes, government authorities in countries receiving IO services violate norms that underpin the IO’s engagement. IO officials must then choose between confrontational and conciliatory responses. These responses are located on a spectrum that ranges from a firm and public response to silence and downplaying. How do IO officials decide on their response? Based on over 200 interviews with UN peacekeeping officials, we argue that the factors that shape their decision-making are found across three categories: individual, departmental, and positional. In terms of individual characteristics, previous experience, career security, and the length of service at a particular duty station matter. Regarding departmental factors, politicization of work, professional composition, and the type of interlocutors predispose departments to be supporters or critics of authorities in recipient countries. In terms of positional considerations, the place of a post or department in the IO hierarchy, relations with other IO entities, and the distance from the field play a role. While important in its own right, decision-making by civilian UN peacekeeping officials is informative about similar processes in other complex international bureaucracies that employ individuals from diverse backgrounds.

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