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Rhetoric of civil conflict management: United Nations Security Council debates over the Syrian civil war


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This paper introduces a spatial model of civil conflict management rhetoric to explore how the emerging norm of responsibility to protect shapes major power rhetorical responses to civil war. Using framing theory, we argue that responsibility to protect functions like a prescriptive norm, such that representing a conflict as one of (1) human rights violations (problem definition), implies rhetorical support for (2) coercive outside intervention (solution identification). These dimensions reflect the problem-solution form of a prescriptive norm. Using dictionary scaling with a dynamic model, we analyze the positions of UN Security Council members in debates over the Syrian Civil War separately for each dimension. We find that the permanent members who emphasized human rights violations also used intervention rhetoric (UK, France, and the US), and those who did not used non-intervention rhetoric (Russia and China). We conclude that, while not a fully consolidated norm, responsibility to protect appears to have structured major power rhetorical responses to the Syrian Civil War.
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DOI: 10.1177/2053168017702982
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Conflict management has been at the heart of multilateral
debates since the advent of international organizations.
After WWII, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)
was established as the chief forum in which states discuss
and decide on its scope and forms. Although non-interven-
tion largely held sway during the Cold War, discussions of
humanitarian intervention intensified in the 1990s. In 2005,
the UN established the political commitment known as
responsibility to protect (R2P), which laid out the condi-
tions under which the international community was required
to intervene on behalf of beleaguered populations, some-
times through force. In what is seen as a key test of R2P,
the permanent five members (P5) of the UNSC—China,
France, Russia, the UK and the US—have disagreed pro-
foundly over the handling of the Syrian civil war (Gifkins,
2012; Hehir, 2013, 2016).
Scholars disagree about the impact of R2P and similar
norms on policies (Bellamy, 2008; Breau, 2006; Hehir,
2013). In this paper, we propose a model for how such a
norm might function rhetorically based on framing theory
(Burke, 1969; Entman, 2004; Garrison, 2001; Lakoff,
1999). If political actors successfully frame an event as a
problem invoking a given norm, then certain policy solu-
tions become thinkable, if not inevitable. We argue that
this has implications for how states talk about civil con-
flict management. Namely, conflict management rhetoric
can be mapped onto a two-dimensional space, where one
dimension corresponds to problem definition (does the
conflict involve human rights violations?), and the other
to solution identification (is the preferred solution inter-
vention?). Under R2P, a conflict involving large scale
human rights violations such as ethnic cleansing or war
crimes requires an urgent international response.
Consequently, we can expect that state agents engaged in
“human rights violations talk” are also likely to engage in
Rhetoric of civil conflict management:
United Nations Security Council debates
over the Syrian civil war
Juraj Medzihorsky1, Milos Popovic2 and Erin K. Jenne1
This paper introduces a spatial model of civil conflict management rhetoric to explore how the emerging norm of
responsibility to protect shapes major power rhetorical responses to civil war. Using framing theory, we argue that
responsibility to protect functions like a prescriptive norm, such that representing a conflict as one of (1) human rights
violations (problem definition), implies rhetorical support for (2) coercive outside intervention (solution identification).
These dimensions reflect the problem-solution form of a prescriptive norm. Using dictionary scaling with a dynamic
model, we analyze the positions of UN Security Council members in debates over the Syrian Civil War separately for
each dimension. We find that the permanent members who emphasized human rights violations also used intervention
rhetoric (UK, France, and the US), and those who did not used non-intervention rhetoric (Russia and China). We
conclude that, while not a fully consolidated norm, responsibility to protect appears to have structured major power
rhetorical responses to the Syrian Civil War.
Conflict management, framing, responsibility to protect, Syrian Civil War, text scaling, UN Security Council
1Central European University, Hungary
2Columbia University, USA
Corresponding author:
Juraj Medzihorsky, Central European University, Nador u. 9, Budapest,
H-1051, Hungary.
702982RAP0010.1177/2053168017702982Research & PoliticsMedzihorsky et al.
Research Article
2 Research and Politics
“intervention talk”. To locate states in this space, we
extend dictionary-based logistic scaling (Lowe et al.,
2011) with a Bayesian dynamic model for noisy and
biased observations.
We apply the model to the UNSC debates over how to
respond to the Syrian civil war. Under the logic of R2P,
states’ rhetorical positions on the two dimensions should
be related. To avoid assumptions about the dimensions’
relationship, we conduct the text analysis separately for
each dimension and then examine the relationship. With
some exceptions, we see that there is a clear correlation
between state positions on the two rhetorical dimensions.
We also find that while states leaning toward intervention
tended to acknowledge human rights violations, not all of
those who acknowledged them advocated intervention.
Focusing on the P5, we find that the US, the UK and
France favored both “violations talk” and “intervention
talk” in these debates, while Russia and China largely
avoided both. Beginning in 2014, Russia and China
increasingly began speaking of violations, although per-
petrated by ISIS rather than the government. Russia’s
uptick in “intervention talk” corresponded with its 2015
military deployment. In contrast, China has consistently
favored non-military solutions to the conflict, despite its
increased “violations talk.” This break with the model’s
rhetorical expectations is unsurprising given China’s
ongoing resistance to the R2P norm.
Rhetorical space of international civil
conflict management
Framing in international relations
Scholars have long observed that how political leaders
talk about an event or issue greatly influences their audi-
ence’s beliefs about the appropriate policies to follow.
Framing is a form of rhetorical action used by policy-
makers to persuade their audiences that an event or issue
is a problem of a particular kind, prescribing a particular
response (Entman, 2004; Lakoff, 1999). In doing so, they
may employ salient historical metaphors or other tropes to
inculcate in the audience a need for urgent policy response.
The effect of this rhetoric is amplified by both the emo-
tional resonance of the frame and its opacity. If success-
ful, framing firmly attaches to the issue, closing or
preempting debate and making the adoption of a certain
set of policies that much more likely.
This problem-solution logic of such framing closely cor-
responds to that of prescriptive norms, which are explicit or
implicit rules stating that a certain set of actions or non-
actions should be taken in a given situation. Constructivist
scholars have demonstrated the power of norms in guiding
policy and actions at both the national and international
level. They have traced, for example, the emergence and
spread of norms regarding the use of certain weapons,
slavery and child labor (see Checkel, 1998; Finnemore and
Sikkink, 2001; Keck and Sikkink, 1998; Price, 1998; Risse,
2000; Tannenwald, 1999). Their research shows that norms
have a life-cycle, from emerging to consolidated (internal-
ized). However, a norm need not be fully consolidated to be
effective, so long as the costs of violating the norm are
deemed sufficiently high (Krebs and Jackson, 2007). Even
if political actors pay lip service to the norm for instru-
mental reasons, this can lead to “rhetorical coercion” or
“rhetorical entrapment” (Schimmelfennig, 2000) by which
the speaker is “trapped” or “coerced” into following the
logic of the norm to avoid the audience costs of failing to do
so. When preferences over policy conflict, policy-makers
compete to achieve interpretive dominance over an issue.
Most of the literature on foreign policy framing focuses on
such contests on the domestic level. For example, Weldes
and Saco (1996) describe interpretive struggles over “the
Cuban problem” in the US Congress and the White House.
Similarly, Paris (2002) captures how the pro- and anti-
intervention advocates in the US government used differ-
ent metaphors to frame the Kosovo conflict in 1999 to
promote their preferred policies.
We extend this logic to the international level, arguing
that the R2P norm has structured the rhetorical space in
which different state agents contest the appropriate form of
civil conflict management. Although R2P may not be fully
consolidated in the sense of being internalized by all state
actors, it performs a vital “regulative function” by requiring
states opposed to intervention to engage in interpretive
struggles over the nature of the conflict itself as a way of
promoting their favored policy.
The UNSC is the appropriate forum in which to examine
these struggles because, while it generally suffers from
legitimacy deficit among UN member states (Binder and
Heupel, 2015), it is the principal organ for shaping and
coordinating responses to international and civil crises.
Both permanent and non-permanent members perceive the
Council as the appropriate venue in which to explain their
policies (Thompson, 2006). Despite their more limited
powers, non-permanent members use prior consultations
and sessions to reach out to the P5 or wider audiences
(Hurd, 2002). The UNSC also serves to authorize the use of
force, in turn influencing state behavior in the international
arena (Voeten, 2005). The language used at the UNSC has
been analyzed from a similar perspective by Hehir (2016)
and Gifkins (2016), who inspected the documents approved
by the Council for R2P’s influence.
Framing conflict management
Before proceeding to the analysis, some background on the
Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm is in order. R2P holds
that the international community has an obligation to pro-
tect vulnerable groups from extreme human rights viola-
tions such as war crimes, genocide, or politicide. Already
Medzihorsky et al. 3
before R2P, some military interventions were justified on
grounds of human and minority rights protection
(Finnemore, 2004; Krasner, 1999). Humanitarian framing
often accompanied calls for military intervention (Labonte,
2013) on the grounds that it is an emergency situation
requiring prompt, forceful response (Bostdorff, 1994).
The R2P principle itself originates from a 2001 report by
the International Commission on intervention and state
sovereignty, which holds that when a sovereign state cannot
or will not protect its citizens from mass atrocities, the
international community has the responsibility to protect
them, through force if necessary (Garwood-Gowers, 2016).
In 2005, the UN General Assembly formally accepted the
responsibility of the international community to protect
civilians in case any of its member states failed to meet that
responsibility. Many states objected strongly to R2P’s
“third pillar”, which establishes a positive mandate to
respond through force as a last resort. China and Russia in
particular have argued that the Western P3 could use the
doctrine to justify serial interventions driven by self inter-
ests, and that codifying R2P in international law will lead to
more, rather than fewer, military interventions resulting in
instability and loss of life (Goodman, 2006). In 2009, how-
ever, both the General Assembly and the P5 approved the
doctrine, including its controversial third pillar.
Given the intensity of these debates over the principle
itself, many doubted that R2P would have any impact on
intervention practices. Following its adoption, the first
major test of the principle was the Syrian civil war. The
question was whether R2P would influence the positions
of the major powers on the conflict, including major crit-
ics of the doctrine, following the logic of rhetorical entrap-
ment. If an R2P norm is operative, we should see state
agents follow its problem-solution logic in UNSC debates
over the Syrian war.
We map the UNSC debates on Syria on a two-dimen-
sional rhetorical space. The first dimension defines the
problem posed by the conflict. If policy-makers succeed in
framing conflict in terms of human rights violations, this
implies that the state has failed in its responsibility to pro-
tect the population. Following R2P, those who acknowl-
edge the violations should also be more likely to frame the
solution in terms of intervention, which is captured on the
second dimension.
Our spatial model has much in common with many other
spatial models in the discipline (see e.g. Benoit and Laver,
2012; Laver, 2014). Most often, spatial models are used to
characterize directly unobservable policy preferences of
actors, and require assumptions that are difficult to test in
some contexts, such as the characteristics of actors’ utility
functions (Krehbiel and Peskowitz, 2015). Our model does
not aim to automatically capture the states’ policy prefer-
ences, but rather the policy-relevant content of their rheto-
ric by characterizing the framing they deploy—mapping
these debates using relatively light assumptions.
Analysis of UNSC debates on Syrian
civil war
In the period of analysis, 38 UNSC meetings focused on the
Middle East. In addition to Syria, some also discussed other
topics, chiefly the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Thus, we
have selected only meetings in which at least 3/4 of the
speeches mentioned Syria and at most 1/4 of them Palestine.
Table 1 reports the 23 selected meetings, including their
main topic and, if applicable, voting outcome. We collected
the meeting records in their official English translations.1
We concatenated the speeches by meeting and state, pro-
ducing 380 documents. Presiding members were included
only when speaking in their capacity as state representa-
tives. Next, we excluded states who spoke at one meeting
only, yielding a corpus of 347 speeches by 37 states, includ-
ing 113 by P5 members.2 The corpus was cleaned of num-
bers, punctuation and separators, set to lowercase and
stemmed. Finally, the occurrences of the (stemmed) dic-
tionary words were counted.
To place the speeches on the rhetorical space, we have
developed a dictionary with four classes of words, each of
which include theme words associated with either end of
our two dimensions. We identify these words using the
outlined theory as well as the authors’ background knowl-
edge of the debates on R2P (Table 2). Accordingly, human
rights violations (HRVs) framing includes references to
subjects of violence (“tyranny”, “perpetrator”), different
words for their objects (“women”, “children”, “civil-
ians”), and descriptors associated with acts of one-sided
violence, such as “crime”, “repression”, “torture”, “atroc-
ities”, “massacre” or even “genocide”. HRVs framing also
contains calls to “humanity” and “moral” as a bulwark
against perceived human rights violations. On the oppo-
site end of the spectrum, non-HRVs framing tends to
avoid blame-casting. Conflicts are portrayed as a struggle
between two parties in which violence is mostly a byprod-
uct of armed encounters; various terms are used to describe
violence as two-sided and blameless. Theme words
include “crisis”, “struggle”, “war”, and “chaos”. Warring
actors are nameless “parties” whose “fighting” and
“clashes” generate “losses” and “casualties” that
“threat[en]” to undermine “stability” or “security”.
Moving to the second dimension, “intervention” fram-
ing involves portraying the government as failing its basic
task to protect its population—requiring immediate out-
side action ranging from humanitarian aid to military
interference. The theme words associated with this frame
include terms for third party intervention (“action”,
“arrest”, “intervention”, “stop”) as well as modes of
4 Research and Politics
helping victimized groups (“assistance”, “aid”, “support”,
“deliver”). By contrast, “non-interventionist” framing
calls for consensual engagement with the government,
using tools of diplomacy. Mitigating violence is seen as a
“process” or “effort” in which the international commu-
nity engages the target government through “dialogue”,
“negotiations” and other “diplomatic” means in accord-
ance with the UN “charter”. The aim is to bring about
“solution” or “settlement”, preferably “inclusive” and
“comprehensive”, between the warring sides.
Having checked the dictionary against terms used in the
original debates over the R2P principle, we believe the dic-
tionary captures general features of R2P rhetoric that travel
across conflicts. It also includes theme words specific to the
Syrian civil war. This means that it can be adapted to other
conflicts through partial replacement of the words. Table 1
in Online Appendix 1 illustrates how the dictionary words
appeared in the context of the debates.
Statistical model
To measure relative emphasis in the speeches, we adapt
logistic scaling (Lowe, 2016; Lowe et al., 2011), under which
the document score is a logistic function of the document-
level counts of words attached to the positive and the nega-
tive side of the dimension. “Positive” and “negative” are
used in their mathematical sense and do not automatically
convey any normative or sentimental information. We
assigned the positive ends to human rights violations and
pro-intervention talk, respectively.
In building the statistical model, we take into account
three factors. First, there is a degree of continuity in the
Table 1. Included UNSC meetings.
No. Date Topic Outcome
6524 27 April 2011 Violence vs. the protesters
6572 30 June 2011 Extend UNDOF mandate S/RES/1994 adopted
6627 4 October 2011 Condemn Syrian government China & Russia veto draft resolution
6710 31 January 2012 Arab League report on Syria
6711 4 February 2012 Siege of Homs China & Russia veto draft resolution
6734 12 March 2012 Arab Spring
6751 14 April 2012 Annan’s 6-point proposal S/RES/2042 adopted
6756 21 April 2012 UN Syria supervision mission S/RES/2043 adopted
6810 19 July 2012 Economic sanctions vs. Syria China & Russia veto draft resolution
6826 30 August 2012 Syrian refugees
7038 27 September 2013 Destruction of Syrian chemical weapons S/RES/2118 adopted
7096 20 January 2014 Geneva talks
7116 22 February 2014 Humanitarian situation S/RES/2139 adopted
7180 22 May 2014 ICC mandate over Syria crimes China & Russia veto draft resolution
7216 14 July 2014 Humanitarian aid/ISIS S/RES/2165 adopted
7394 26 February 2015 Syria humanitarian situation/ISIS
7401 6 March 2015 Report on Syria chemical weapons S/RES/2209 adopted
7419 27 March 2015 ISIS
7433 24 April 2015 Humanitarian aid for Yarmouk, Aleppo & Homs
7501 7 August 2015 Chemical weapons responsibility S/RES/2235 adopted
7560 16 November 2015 Syrian refugees/ISIS
7588 18 December 2015 Geneva talks/ISIS
7595 22 December 2015 Humanitarian aid/ISIS S/RES/2258 adopted
Table 2. The dictionary.
Theme Words
No HRVs conflict, violence, tension, struggle, war, stability, destabilize, security, crisis, escalate, incite,
threat, chaos, cycle, fighting, casualties, losses, parties, clash, dispute
HRVs repression, humanity, crime, moral, torture, persecution, abuse, oppress, repress, life, incite,
tyranny, terrorism, children, women, perpetrator, victims, accountable, massacre, crackdown,
targeting, indiscriminate, brutal, barrel, genocide, cleansing, school, hospital, kill
Non-intervention process, charter, implementation, dialogue, constructive, consensus, diplomatic, reconciliation,
settlement, comprehensive, inclusive, mediation, effort, negotiation, proposal, solution
Pro-intervention urgent, action, assistance, support, aid, sanctions, arrest, stop, intervention, end, deliver
Medzihorsky et al. 5
framing used by a state, and its rhetorical position at a meet-
ing depends on its position at the previous meeting where its
representative spoke. Second, word usage is affected by
meeting themes related to current events. The fact that some
word frequencies vary across meetings reflects not only the
change in states’ positions, but also meeting topics. Third,
the observations contain some stochastic noise. In short, the
observed word counts are a function of random noise, bias
and rhetorical positions dependent on previous positions.
To account for these factors, we adopt a Bayesian
dynamic model related to models used to extract ideal
points of US Supreme Court judges (Martin and Quinn,
2002), party policy positions (König et al., 2013) and state
preferences in the UN General Assembly (Bailey et al.,
2017). Specifically, we model the count of “positive” words
W+ in the speech of ith state at
th meeting
WBinomialp N
it it it
+(, )
as a Binomial draw governed by rate pit with Nit trials
equal the the sum of “positive” and “negative” words in the
speech. The rate is a function of the speech position θit and
meeting coefficient (“effect”)
where γt is the coefficient of the
th meeting. The meeting
coefficients are random, drawn from a Normal distribution
with a mean of zero and a standard deviation σγ, with a
regularizing half-Normal hyper-prior
Finally, the state’s positions are modeled as a random walk
with the first position having a unit Normal prior and sub-
sequent positions as drawn from Cauchy distributions with
state-specific standard deviations with regularizing half-
Normal priors
it it xiti
Cauchy ot
(,), 2, <
+00, )
is the closest previous meeting at which the i
th state spoke, and oit is the square root of the distance in
days between these two meetings. The standard deviation
σi captures the variability of ith state’s positions in time.
The Cauchy distribution is used for the “steps” instead of
the Normal as its thicker tails are more permissive of occa-
sional relatively large steps, such as policy changes stem-
ming from government change.
The model was fit separately for the two dimensions
using the no U-turns sampler (Hoffman and Gelman, 2014)
as implemented in the stan modeling language available in
the rstan package (Carpenter et al., 2016; Stan Development
Team, 2016a,b) for the R language (R Core Team, 2016).
Each model was fit running eight separate chains, each for
2,000,000 warm-up and 2,000,000 sampling iterations. To
ensure low chain auto-correlation, each 8000th sampling
iteration was saved, yielding 250 draws per chain and thus
2000 overall. Convergence was assessed using the Gelman-
Rubin R
diagnostic (Gelman and Rubin, 1992).
The average positions of the 37 analyzed states, shown in
Figure 1, are positively correlated, with Pearson
of 0.40
(two-sided 95% interval of [0.16,0.57]). At 17 of the 23
meetings the correlation was clear (
0.5 0.25 ), and at
the remaining six mostly positive (Figure A3 in the Online
Appendix). The HRVs-intervention corner is occupied by
the P3, plus Israel, Germany, Luxembourg, Turkey and
Australia. China and Russia occupy the opposite, no-HRVs/
no-intervention corner. Notably, its occupants include
Brazil, India and South Africa, and several African, South
American and Asian states. In support of our expectation
that R2P norm is regulating civil conflict rhetoric, most
states are located either on the main diagonal that runs from
P3 to Russia and China, or below it. In other words, those
who favor intervention cast the conflict in terms of human
rights violations, but not all those who acknowledge human
rights violations, join them in advocating intervention.
It should be acknowledged that most states are located
between the two clusters. They include countries geograph-
ically remote from Syria (e.g. Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Colombia, Guatemala, Rwanda, South Korea) or tradition-
ally taking middle ground at UN and other fora (e.g.
Argentina, Portugal, Spain). Perhaps less intuitive is the
presence of Lebanon and Syria. One might expect the
Syrian regime to frame the conflict in terms of “no human
rights violations” and “non-intervention”, in line with their
preference to avoid military intervention. However, Syria
has largely avoided talking about the civil war, and focused
instead on the behavior of regional actors, including accu-
sations against Israel, Gulf states and even Turkey for their
actions against the regime. On the other hand, Lebanon is in
a precarious situation because it suffers from conflict spill-
over, and a strong domestic actor, Hezbollah, participates in
the conflict. Its representatives have devoted much space to
addressing the domestic situation in Lebanon.
Typical mobility on both dimensions is shown by state
in Figure 2. In general, the 37 states maintained stable posi-
tions on the “solution” dimension, but less so on the
“problem” one. There, remarkably, China and France were
among the most mobile. This is better seen in Figure 3,
which shows the trajectories of the P5.3 China originally
6 Research and Politics
Figure 1. Average state positions in the debates. Medians; P5 members with 50% and 95% ellipses. Intervals for all 37 states shown
in Figure A2.
0.00 0.05 0.10 0.15 0.20 0.25
Human Rights Violations
South Africa
South Korea
New Zealand
0.00 0.05 0.10 0.15 0.20 0.25
South Africa
New Zealand
South Korea
Figure 2. Typical daily steps on the two rhetorical dimensions. Medians with 50% and 95% intervals.
Medzihorsky et al. 7
Figure 3. P5 positions on the two rhetorical dimensions. Medians with 50% intervals. 95% intervals shown in Figures A4 and A5.
framed the conflict as a complex struggle (no human rights
violations). However, as ISIS grew in strength, China began
to utilize more “violations talk”, thus converging somewhat
with the P3. Russia converged with the P3 in the same way,
but from a much smaller distance. Notably, Russia moved
toward more HRV talk (where the perpetrators are ISIS and
Syrian rebels rather than the regime) as well as more inter-
vention talk, and both shifts came prior to the Russian 2015
intervention. Nonetheless, despite the P5 converging on
the problem identification, the states remain divided on
the solution, which maps onto the P5 divide over the third
pillar of the R2P doctrine. The meeting coefficients, dis-
played in Figure 4, show that, in addition to the changes in
framing adopted by the participants after 2014, the preva-
lence of words associated with human rights violations and
intervention increased relative to words associated with the
other ends of the two-dimensions.
This paper introduced a model of civil conflict manage-
ment rhetoric and applied it to UNSC debates over
8 Research and Politics
international responses to the Syrian civil war. Building on
framing theory, the model is intended to show the ways in
which the emerging R2P norm regulates civil conflict man-
agement rhetoric on two dimensions—problem definition
and solution identification. Problems vary from conflicts
involving HRVs, typically war crimes, and conflicts that
are complex and largely blameless. Solutions range from
coercive intervention to more cooperative engagement.
We use quantitative text analysis to place the debating
UNSC Member States on both dimensions. In line with our
expectations of the regulatory effects of the R2P norm,
most states fall on the diagonal. While the three Western
permanent members have been more inclined to frame the
conflict in terms of human rights violations and to call
for outside intervention, Russia and even more so China
framed it more as a complex struggle amenable to non-
interventionist solutions. Eventually, in parallel with the
ascent of ISIS, China and Russia moved closer to the P3 by
framing the conflict in terms of human rights violations,
but, except for minor movements by Russia, largely adhered
Figure 4. Meeting coefficients. Medians with 50% and 95% intervals.
Medzihorsky et al. 9
to non-interventionist framing. This is consistent with the
observation that P5’s disagreement, at least in international
fora, goes beyond the conflict in question, and extends to
the norms of global conflict management themselves. To
the extent that R2P regulates civil conflict management
rhetoric by states, it features most strongly in the speeches
of the P3 and a handful of allies. However, it is notable that
China and Russia and other states opposed to elements of
R2P still engaged in non-HRVs framing in the case of the
Syrian civil war as a means of promoting non-intervention.
This suggests the power of such norms in regulating “civil
conflict rhetoric,” even among the norm’s opponents.
The authors would like to thank Daniel Bochsler, Robert Jervis,
David Siroky, Vujo Ilic, Stefan Wolff, Jack Snyder, Bill Ayers,
two anonymous reviewers, and the editor for comments on the
manuscript of this paper.
Declaration of conflicting interests
The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.
Supported by US Department of Defense’s Minerva Initiative
grant N000141510039.
Supplementary materials
The supplementary files are available at http://journals.sagepub.
com/doi/suppl/10.1177/2053168017702982. The replication files
are available at
2 At two of the meetings—16 November 2015 and 22
December 2015—the representative of the UK did not speak.
3 For brevity, the other 32 states are shown Figures A6 and A7
in the Online Appendix.
Carnegie Corporation of New York Grant
This publication was made possible (in part) by a grant from
Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and
views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.
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... However, the action by the Security Council to neutralize the Syrian conflict cannot be considered fully successful because of the obstacles placed by the countries in center of the discussions, notably the permanent members, as a result of the difficulties of coordinating a joint action in agreement. Thus, there is a clear case of a lack of action by the United Nations on the Syrian conflict (Medzihorsky, Popovic and Jenne 2017). ...
... On the other hand, it is alleged that the other members of the Security Council, the United States, France and the United Kingdom, intend to use the R2P protocol to instrumentalize their intention to promote interventions motivated by their biased national interests, among which the deposition of Assad's power stands out as the most latent aspiration of these actors. It turns out that the result of this intervention is, according to the allegations, a higher number of unsuccessful military investitures on political and non-humanitarian grounds and, consequently, more instability and damage to the population (Medzihorsky, Popovic and Jenne 2017). ...
... There is a claim on the part of the United States and its allies, France and the United Kingdom, that the impediments on the resolutions based on R2P pointed by China and Russia, regarding direct interventions in the Syrian conflict, reflect the objective of maintaining the Syrian nation under the administration of Assad. In this way, it is guarantees Russia's affinity for the current power structures that keep its strategic interests in this part of the globe (Medzihorsky, Popovic and Jenne 2017). ...
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The Security Council, responsible for maintaining a peaceful global order, promotes the discussion and implementation of conflict resolution measures that represent threats to international security. The present work demonstrates that the impasses and conflicts of interest between its permanent member countries in the case of the Syrian civil war resulted in the lack of direct action of the organ and its inability to solve the humanitarian crisis in question.
... In the present context of analyzing security discourse at the UNSC, an increasing number of scholars have extensively employed these documents, including Council resolutions and presidential statements, as well as speech transcripts (P.V.) ( Medzihorsky et al. 2017 ;Kohlenberg et al. 2019 ;Hanania 2021 ;Martini 2021 ). In particular, "The UN Security Council Debates" dataset provided by Schönfeld et al. (2019) 3 has spurred a variety of studies illuminating different facets of Council policy deliberations, such as the role of UN officials ( Eckhard et al. 2023 ), engagement with weak states ( Campbell and Matanock 2021 ), the P5's posture on the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda ( Glaser et al. 2022 ), rhetoric and the authorization of force ( Scherzinger 2022 ), the responsibility to protect (R2P) ( Scherzinger 2023 ), and the securitization of public health ( Voss et al. 2022 ). ...
... Although extending the coverage further to the Cold War years is still ongoing, relevant meta-data, including dates, agendas, and presidential names and countries have already been provided for all the meetings held from 1946 through 2021. ( Hanania 2021 ;Eckhard et al. 2023 ) and spatial models ( Medzihorsky et al. 2017 ). Again, this study has chosen a different approach, namely, word embedding. ...
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Since the end of the Cold War, the notion of global security, and presumed threats to it, has undergone considerable expansion and diversification. This process has been led by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), where active deliberations concerning “threat(s) to the peace” have taken place among major international actors. Despite a sizable accumulation of scholarly arguments, however, the defining features of the structure and dynamics of the post-Cold War security discourse remain ambiguous. To address these ambiguities, this study investigates the entire body of Council deliberations over the past three decades. Based on an original dataset consisting of policy statements delivered at the UNSC, the study employs quantitative text analysis tools, including word embedding, to examine how council members have conceived the notion of security threat in terms of the various issues and entities discussed. It shows the security discourse at the UNSC to be highly stratified and reveals the persistent and pervasive influence of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which constitute the limited common grounds shared by the Council’s permanent members. These findings caution against the unconstrained use of certain theoretical constructs widely employed in other works, most notably, “securitization” and “interpretative community.”
... Armed conflicts are defined as two-sided fights between parties/groups, that are characterised by violence as an output/product of armed confrontation (Medzihorsky et al., 2017). ...
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Urban displacement that results from armed conflicts causes multi-level changes to the physical, social, and cultural landscapes. The conventional narrative of displacement focuses on displaced communities and overlooks those who host them. This research incorporates the displaced and host communities’ perspectives to identify patterns, drivers, and processes of change, and its impacts on place attachment and social cohesion. A Syrian city1, that had hosted displaced persons, is selected as a study case. The research methodology integrates qualitative research methods into the urban profiling methodology to structure a three-phased narrative; before, during, and after the war. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with residents and displaced persons, both internally displaced and refugees. The research ethical considerations led to developing an artificial-intelligence-powered visualisation approach for building two-dimensional visual representation for urban landscapes based on inputs from the data sources/interviewees’ narratives. The research finds that memories of places provide insights into the history of a place, with the characteristics of places contributing to shaping people’s memories and boosting social connections. Changes in the physical landscape result from the interrelation between physical, social, and cultural structures. Multifunctional spaces contribute to coping with crises. Internal displacement, migration, population increase, and changes in the social structure cause changes in the social landscape. Changes in the cultural affiliations influence social relationships, and the symbolism of places is subject to change based on their function, use, and social context. Place attachment is impacted by placemaking efforts, capacity for rehabilitation, sense of ownership, engagement of stakeholders, symbolism of places, safety, belonging, and life phase. Acceptance for change, business relationships, conflict mediation, and solidarity promote social cohesion. The findings of this research contribute to inform comprehensive, context-specific policies to support the endeavours of rehabilitation and restoration to be more resilient and inclusive for the impacts of displacement and war.
... Um exemplo de uso de análise de dicionário nas RI é o artigo de Medzihorsky et al. (2017), que analisou 347 discursos proferidos no Conselho de Segurança das Nações Unidas (CSNU) sobre o conflito sírio entre 2011 e 2015. Os autores aplicaram um dicionário com quatro categorias (violação de direitos humanos, não violação de direitos humanos, pró-intervenção e não intervenção) para classificar os discursos dos países em intervencionistas e não intervencionistas e distingui-los entre aqueles que enquadravam ou não este conflito como uma situação de violação de direitos humanos. ...
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Introduction The purpose of this article is to present the potential of ‘text as data’ analysis in research in International Relations. From the discrepancy in the proportion of publications that adopt this textual analysis approach, we presented the leading methodologies in the dimension ranging from ‘text as text’ to ‘text as data’ to highlight the existing opportunity. Aiming to stimulate production in the area, we developed a practical and replicable case, where we answered the following question: In the face of the Israel and Palestine conflict, how do the representatives of Brazil, United States, Israel and Palestine emotionally express themselves through their speeches at the Security Council meetings United Nations (UNSC)? Materials and Methods Through a structured literature review, we presented the current state of the field of textual analysis in the scope of International Relations. A practical case was developed in a fully replicable way in the R language applying the sentiment analysis to the 77,857 given speeches at the UNSC from 1995 to 2019. Results We demonstrated the potential of ‘text as data’ to carry out systematic analyses of large document collections and their complementarity to qualitative studies that try to obtain scientific conclusions through the ‘text as text’ approach. With the practical example, we show how the ‘text as data’ approach provides a well-informed and consistent analysis of actual events and inflections expressed in the content of speeches without the need for intense prior manual dedication. Discussion The current state of the research in International Relations shows an evident discrepancy in the production of research with the ‘text as data’ approach compared to the ‘text as text’ approach. This scenario may result from the absence of training in contemporary methodologies and the lack of intensive computational approaches in the carried-out research. The article faces this challenge through a replicable theoretical and methodological exercise. Keywords text as data; text as text; content analysis; UNSC; sentiment analysis
... Somewhat belatedly, International Relations (IR) has also started to embrace this development. Besides several outstanding works [43][44][45][46], it is noteworthy that some researchers have also conducted advanced text analysis on security documents, including council speech transcripts [47][48][49][50]. Using such quantitative tools as topic models (e.g., Latent Dirichlet Allocation; LDA) and spatial models, these studies have largely focused on the structural aspects of security discourse, such as framing, often in a particular issue area (e.g., Afghan conflict, Syrian conflict, or terrorism). ...
This study conducts a systematic investigation of discursive dynamics in the context of policy deliberations on international peace and security, by performing cutting-edge text analysis on the entire body of meeting records of the Security Council of the United Nations for the past quarter of a century (1994-2019). Focusing on one of the most consequential notions for the council’s policy-making, "threat to the peace," it employs an unsupervised machine learning model, broadly termed "word embedding," to analyze how this notion has been discussed by relevant members of the council, especially its five permanent members, during the period under investigation. The study reveals persistent patterns of cross-national convergence and divergence in security discourse, including, most notably, a considerable degree of correlation in how to conceive international threats found between the close-knit Western allies in the council and their Russian counterpart.
... 20 R2P has structured major powers' rhetorical responses. 21 At the end of the debate the concept suffered a severe setback, while Chinese and Russian approaches aroused great concern. ...
While China and Russia's general policies towards the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) are similar, the two reveal nuanced differences in addressing specific emergencies. Both express support for the first two pillars of R2P while resisting coercive intervention under its aegis, as they share anxieties of domestic political security and concerns about their international image. Nonetheless, addressing cases like the Syrian crisis, Russian statements are more assertive and even aggressive while Chinese ones are usually vague and reactive. This article highlights the two states' different tones through computer-assisted text analyses. It argues that diplomatic styles reflect Russian and Chinese perceptions of their own place in the evolving international order. Experiences in past decades create divergent reference points and status prospects for them, which leads to their different strategies in signalling Great Power status. As Beijing is optimistic about its status-rising prospects, it exercises more self-restraint in order to avoid external containments and is reluctant to act as an independent ‘spoiler’. Meanwhile, Moscow interprets its Great Power status more from a frame of ‘loss’ and therefore is inclined to adopt a sterner approach to signal its status. Although their policies complement each other on many occasions, there is nothing akin to a Sino–Russian ‘bloc’;.
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This article analyses the language authoritarian leaders use to legitimate their rule. It examines the official speeches of autocrats in hegemonic regimes and compares them to the rhetorical styles of leaders in closed or competitive regimes and democracies. While recent autocracy research has drawn most attention to the phenomenon of competitive authoritarianism, the survival strategies of hegemonic regimes are less explored. Thus, the study focuses on the simulation of pluralism as a key feature of hegemonic regimes. By installing non-competitive multiparty systems which merely pretend pluralism, these regimes maintain a strong grip on power. The study finds that the leaders of hegemonic regimes use a surprisingly democratic style of language to sustain this façade of pluralism. The dictionary-based quantitative text analysis of 2074 speeches of current leaders in 22 countries illustrates that compared to other autocracies, hegemonic regimes overemphasize the (non-existing) democratic procedures in their country to fake a participatory form of government and gain national and international legitimacy. The subsequent case studies of Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, and Russia further reveal the differences in context and motives for autocrats in hegemonic, closed, and competitive regimes to use autocratic or democratic styles of language.
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This open access book brings together a set of original studies that use cutting-edge computational methods to investigate conflict at various geographic scales and degrees of intensity and violence. Methodologically, this book covers a variety of computational approaches from text mining and machine learning to agent-based modelling and social network analysis. Empirical cases range from migration policy framing in North America and street protests in Iran to violence against civilians in Congo and food riots world-wide. Supplementary materials in the book include a comprehensive list of the datasets on conflict and dissent, as well as resources to online repositories where the annotated code and data of individual chapters can be found and where (agent-based) models can be re-produced and altered. These materials are a valuable resource for those wishing to retrace and learn from the analyses described in this volume and adapt and apply them to their own research interests. By bringing together novel research through an international team of scholars from a range of disciplines, Computational Conflict Research pioneers and maps this emerging field. The book will appeal to students, scholars, and anyone interested in the prospects of using computational social sciences to advance our understanding of conflict dynamics.
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Computer-aided text analysis (CATA) offers exciting new possibilities for conflict research that this contribution describes using a range of exemplary studies from a variety of disciplines including sociology, political science, communication studies, and computer science. The chapter synthesizes empirical research that investigates conflict in relation to text across different formats and genres. This includes both conflict as it is verbalized in the news media, in political speeches, and other public documents and conflict as it occurs in online spaces (social media platforms, forums) and that is largely confined to such spaces (e.g., flaming and trolling). Particular emphasis is placed on research that aims to find commonalities between online and offline conflict, and that systematically investigates the dynamics of group behavior. Both work using inductive computational procedures, such as topic modeling, and supervised machine learning approaches are assessed, as are more traditional forms of content analysis, such as dictionaries. Finally, cross-validation is highlighted as a crucial step in CATA, in order to make the method as useful as possible to scholars interested in enlisting text mining for conflict research.
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Stan is a probabilistic programming language for specifying statistical models. A Stan program imperatively defines a log probability function over parameters conditioned on specified data and constants. As of version 2.14.0, Stan provides full Bayesian inference for continuous-variable models through Markov chain Monte Carlo methods such as the No-U-Turn sampler, an adaptive form of Hamiltonian Monte Carlo sampling. Penalized maximum likelihood estimates are calculated using optimization methods such as the limited memory Broyden-Fletcher-Goldfarb-Shanno algorithm. Stan is also a platform for computing log densities and their gradients and Hessians, which can be used in alternative algorithms such as variational Bayes, expectation propagation, and marginal inference using approximate integration. To this end, Stan is set up so that the densities, gradients, and Hessians, along with intermediate quantities of the algorithm such as acceptance probabilities, are easily accessible. Stan can be called from the command line using the cmdstan package, through R using the rstan package, and through Python using the pystan package. All three interfaces support sampling and optimization-based inference with diagnostics and posterior analysis. rstan and pystan also provide access to log probabilities, gradients, Hessians, parameter transforms, and specialized plotting.
United Nations (UN) General Assembly votes have become the standard data source for measures of states preferences over foreign policy. Most papers use dyadic indicators of voting similarity between states. We propose a dynamic ordinal spatial model to estimate state ideal points from 1946 to 2012 on a single dimension that reflects state positions toward the US-led liberal order. We use information about the content of the UN’s agenda to make estimates comparable across time. Compared to existing measures, our estimates better separate signal from noise in identifying foreign policy shifts, have greater face validity, allow for better intertemporal comparisons, are less sensitive to shifts in the UN’ agenda, and are strongly correlated with measures of liberalism. We show that the choice of preference measures affects conclusions about the democratic peace.
The UN Security Council has been deeply divided over how to respond to the Arab Spring crisis in Syria. Since the uprising began in Syria in March 2011 the Syrian Government has responded with extreme violence against civilians and civilian areas to suppress protests. In the face of escalating violence, the Security Council has experienced protracted deadlock. Divisions on how to interpret the situation in Syria left the Security Council unable to find consensus on issuing a non-binding Presidential Statement for the first five months of the crisis. Subsequent disagreement on what measures to take to address the violence has led to two vetoed resolutions on the divisive issues of sanctions and regime change. The vetoes occurred in October 2011 and in February 2012, vetoed by both Russia and China. More than a year into the crisis the Security Council authorised a team of unarmed UN military observers to be deployed in Syria in a rare moment of consensus on this issue. However this lowest-common-denominator response was quickly suspended due to high levels of violence against UN observers. Throughout the stalemate in the Security Council violence against Syrian civilians continued to escalate.
It has been argued that consensus on the responsibility to protect (R2P) was lost in the United Nations Security Council as a result of the NATO-led intervention in Libya in 2011. This argument assumes that there was more agreement on R2P before the Libyan intervention than there was afterwards. Yet, a close examination of the Security Council’s use of language on R2P shows the opposite: R2P was highly contentious within the Security Council prior to the Libyan intervention, and less so afterwards. Not only has the Council used R2P language more frequently since 2011, but also negotiating this language has become quicker and easier. To demonstrate this I compare negotiations on Darfur with deliberations during and after the Arab Spring. Resolution 1706 on Darfur was the first time the Security Council referred to R2P in a country-specific resolution – and indeed it was the only country-specific resolution to refer to R2P before 2011 – making it an apt point of comparison. Via focused analysis on how the language used in Security Council resolution evolves over time, this article demonstrates that the Council has found ‘agreed language’ on R2P that is acceptable to members, both for thematic resolutions and country-specific resolutions. Language on R2P in Security Council resolutions has shifted from contentious to commonplace.