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Cambridge University Press
Expected online publication date:
June 2024
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Book description

Why do some of the world's least powerful countries invite international scrutiny of their adherence to norms on whose violation their governments rely to remain in power? Examining decisions by leaders in Uganda, Sierra Leone, and Georgia, Valerie Freeland concludes that these states invited outside attention with the intention to manipulate it. Their countries' global peripherality and their domestic rule by patronage introduces both challenges and strategies for addressing them. Rulers who attempt this manipulation of scrutiny succeed when their patronage networks make them illegible to outsiders, and when powerful actors become willing participants in the charade as they need a success case to lend them credibility. Freeland argues that, when substantive norm-violations are rebranded as examples of compliance, what it means to comply with human rights and good governance norms becomes increasingly incoherent and, as a result, less able to constrain future norm-violators.


‘A clever and subtle account of the strategies of very weak countries to benefit from international norms and institutions on their own terms. Valerie Freeland brings these countries into the theoretical mainstream and explains how normative elements of the state system itself are potent instruments of domestic and international influence for leaders of these countries.’

William Reno - Department of Political Science, Northwestern University

‘A much-welcome addition to international norms scholarship. Drawing on rich empirical evidence gathered during extensive fieldwork in Georgia, Sierra Leone, and Georgia, Valerie Freeland convincingly argues that a conscious decision by state leaders to ignore norm violations can risk the norms’ erosion but-more importantly-also helps to maintain the international rules-based order.’

Nina Reiners - Associate Professor for Human Rights and Social Sciences, University of Oslo


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