K. Oksamytna: Advocacy and Change in International Organizations

Advocacy and Change in International Organizations. Communication, Protection, and Reconstruction in UN Peacekeeping

Oksamytna, Kseniya
304 S.
Rezensiert für 'Connections' und H-Soz-Kult von:
Enrico Behne, Global and European Studies Institute, Universität Leipzig

There is by no means a dearth of academic literature on international organizations (IOs). Indeed, the research field looks back at a long history of more than a century and engaged in such questions as why they are set up in the first place and how they function.1 Recent scholarship has increasingly explored why they venture into new policy areas and adopt new practices accordingly. Thus, the central questions of how, why, and under what circumstances IOs change are therefore attracting growing interest. In her book, Ksenia Oksamytna addresses this literature and places advocacy, its agents, and strategies at the centre of her narrative. The author is currently a senior lecturer (associate professor) in the Department of International Politics at City, University of London, and a visiting research fellow at the Conflict, Security, and Development Research Group at King’s College London.2

Oksamytna’s argument is clear and straightforward: “in order to understand IO change, we should pay attention to advocacy” (p. 16). The “advocacy-based framework” (pp. 24 ff.) that the author then develops is more complex but systematically built and sustained. Accordingly, advocacy can be applied by different actors, including international diplomats, IO officials, and experts. Actors employ different advocacy strategies that the author broadly categorizes into social pressure, persuasion, and “authority talk” (p. 24). These strategies are, furthermore, dependent on strategy-specific conditions that influence their “success”, namely the qualities of advocates, targets, issues, and contexts (p. 57). She applies this framework to UN peacekeeping practices, particularly strategic communication, protection of civilians, and quick impact projects (QIPs).

To advance this argument, Oksamytna divides her book into five chapters plus an introduction. The introduction sets the scene for the rest of the book, including the research puzzle, methodology, and case selection, as well as the main argument (pp. 1–23). Methodologically, the author uses process tracing to illuminate the dynamic interactions between advocates, respective issues, contestation, and IO institutionalization. In terms of sources, the book draws on four types of primary sources, namely interviews, UN documents, memoirs of peacekeepers and UN bureaucrats, and public and private archives. Chapter 1 (pp. 24–58) elaborates the aforementioned “advocacy-based framework” (ibid.). This is followed by the main part of the book (chapters 2–4), each of which deals with an empirical case of UN peacekeeping practices (e.g. strategic communication, protection of civilians, and QIPs) between the early days of UN peacekeeping during the Cold War and the 2010s.

Chapter 2, “Strategic Communication” (pp. 59–105), examines how individual UN peacekeeping missions increasingly implemented various public information activities (e.g. leaflets, T-shirts, or radio broadcasts) on different topics (e.g. elections, voting rights, or mission mandates). The author argues that the advocacy strategy applied here is bottom-up and based on persuasion. To illustrate this argument, the chapter draws on experiences and developments made in specific UN missions and how they implemented strategic communication on the ground, for example the first information programmes by the UN Transition Assistance Group in Namibia (pp. 63–68) or the first UN radio station in the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (pp. 70–76), coupled with advocacy by mission staff at UN headquarters.

In chapter 3, “Protection of Civilians” (pp. 106–155), the author discusses the (slow) incorporation of civilian protection mandates into UN peacekeeping missions. As Oksamytna argues, this was mainly achieved through a combination of top-down social pressure and persuasion. Specifically, diplomats from the elected UN Security Council members (including Czechia, Spain, New Zealand, and Argentina) raised awareness about the neglected task of protecting civilians (through a presidential statement) against the background of experiences made during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In 1999–2000, Canada was elected to the Security Council for two terms and was strongly committed to putting the protection of civilians back on the council’s agenda, resulting in the first thematic resolution of the council on protection of civilians was adopted.

Chapter 4 focuses on QIPs (pp. 156–193), which are humanitarian, reconstruction, and/or development activities that may include small-scale projects, such as the reconstruction of schools or the provision of health services, funded by peacekeeping missions themselves. The author argues that QIPs entered UN peacekeeping practices as a result of outside-in “authority talk”. This was done in particular through the advocacy of the authors of the influential Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (2000) or the Brahimi Panel (named after its chairperson, the Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi), which inter alia contained recommendations to allocate financial resources to QIPs in the first year of UN peacekeeping missions. According to Oksamytna’s argument, the report’s successful influence on change in UN peacekeeping activities was based on Brahimi’s personal reputation, the panel’s diverse composition and expertise, and its alleged impartiality.

In chapter 5, “Pathways and Strategies of Advocacy in International Organizations” (pp. 194–215), the main implications for IO theory and practice are summarized and discussed as well as avenues for future research outlined.

The two most interesting aspects of this book for me (and there are many) relate to the agency of specific actors and to processes of institutionalization. First, the author convincingly illustrates how individuals (whether diplomats, bureaucrats, or experts), in this case through advocacy, actively contribute to and shape the expansion of IOs to engage in new activities. This was aptly reconstructed in chapter 2, in which UN field mission officials persuaded various actors at UN headquarters, up to and including the then secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in implementing public information strategies in UN peacekeeping. Second, change in IOs does also rely on processes of (de)institutionalization. The emergence of new issues or ideas (e.g. through reflection, own experience, or consultation) does not automatically lead to new practices. They have to be accompanied by processes of institutionalization (organizational structures, policies, and guidance; dedicated human and financial resources; and monitoring and evaluation) in order to truly change IO behaviour.

Although it is the most interesting for me, it also shows a limitation in the book’s argumentation. For me personally, the section on institutionalization (and, with it, contestation) would have needed more room and more in-depth analysis. While considerable attention was paid to actors engaged in advocacy for obvious reasons, the same level of detail would have been of great benefit to actors within the bureaucracies at headquarters, the very people who design and implement policies on a daily basis. This might be beyond the scope of the book and the initial idea of the author; however, institutionalization and especially professionalization, through, for example, organizational learning, would have augmented the argument.

In general, this book adds an additional layer to research on change in IOs by systematizing the role of advocacy, its actors, strategies, and conditions in shaping change processes. The added value of this monograph is its empirically rich analysis of UN peacekeeping practices and actors and its theoretically well-crafted framework. Therefore, it is recommended for all researchers interested in change in IOs in general and UN peacekeeping in particular.

1 Reinalda, Bob, International Organization as a Field of Research since 1910, in: Reinalda, Bob (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of International Organization (1st ed.), Routledge 2013.
2 She holds a PhD in international relations from the University of Geneva and the Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali in Rome, Italy. In her dissertation (2014), the author studied policies and practices of United Nations (UN) peacekeeping in depth, applying the theoretical framework of norm diffusion to explain its trajectory. In general, her research focuses on IOs with a special interest on UN peacekeeping and international norms, as well as decision-making, equality, and diversity in international bureaucracies.

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