Abstract Institutional legitimacy is often treated as a characteristic of an institution that generates authority, implying relative consistency across time and contexts. However, legitimacy is intrinsically relational and remains sensitive to changing political conditions and subjective perceptions. Introducing temporal and subjective dynamics of institutional legitimacy, this article applies greater conceptual precision to determining the role of legitimacy in shaping institutional change. It highlights how changing political conditions and subjective contestation over institutional authority routinely disrupts institutional legitimacy, resulting in cycles of institutional legitimacy in which institutions must navigate between pressures to adapt and obstructive disagreements over the direction and intensity of adaptation. The resulting conceptual framework provides insights into how institutional change is instigated, negotiated, and implemented that are missing from the current literature. I analyze the evolution of United Nations (UN) humanitarian intervention policy to elucidate how the dynamics of institutional legitimacy have shaped UN policy reforms since the Cold War and to illustrate how future scholars can tailor this framework to determine the extent to which legitimacy dynamics govern the trajectory of a variety of other international institutions. legitimacy, institutional change, United Nations Institutional legitimacy is a highly significant yet still poorly specified concept in international relations (IR) theory, particularly in how it relates to institutional change. Without the material resources available to states, institutions trade in the currency of social power—leveraging the legitimacy states vest in them to (re)shape the contours of international politics and affect change. Scholarship on institutional legitimacy goes back at least to Claude’s (1966) work on collective legitimization through the United Nations (UN) in the 1960s, but it has recently gained wider attention among scholars who recognize its usefulness in explaining institutional processes and outcomes. Definitions vary in their specifics from author to author, but have solidified around common understandings of legitimacy as both subjective and intersubjective normative beliefs about the appropriateness of certain rules governing state behavior (Franck 1992, 50; Suchman 1995, 574; Bukovansky 2002, 70; Coicaud 2002, 10; Barnett and Finnemore 2004, 166; Clark 2005, 2; Voeten 2005, 534; Hurd 2008, 30; Cottrell 2009, 218). Its importance as both a normative motivation for and strategically rational constraint on state action has received a great deal of attention (Reus-Smit 1997, 556–58; 2007, 158–65; Voeten 2005, 533–34; Thompson 2006, 10–12; Finnemore 2009, 61–68; Hurd 2008, 66–82; Pelc 2010, 67–70), and the various ways in which legitimacy operates at both the unit and structural levels to influence political outcomes is now understood better than ever before (Hurd 2008, 29–65). But, specifying what exactly institutional legitimacy is, how it operates, and how it relates to institutional change is still a work in progress. In particular, the inherent fluidity of legitimacy and how its variability influences institutional change demands greater investigation. Specifically, there are two aspects of institutional legitimacy that require greater attention, both of which emphasize its variability and dynamism. The first concerns how perceptions of legitimacy vary in response to an intrinsically dynamic political environment, or what I term the temporal dynamic of institutional legitimacy. Most work on legitimacy to this point has treated it as a characteristic of an institution,1 or something an institution possesses due to its internal processes or symbolic meanings, which implies relative consistency across time and contexts. When the fluidity of legitimacy is acknowledged, it is often as an aside with little to no systematic treatment (for example, Franck 1990, 19; Clark 2005, 19). However, legitimacy is an inherently dynamic, relational concept that is sensitive to existing social and material conditions, which are constantly evolving. Material power differentials shift (Gilpin 1981, 93–96; Ikenberry 2001, 27–29); normative understandings of appropriate behavior are revised through changing practices and interstate deliberation (Crawford 1993, 52–53 and 2002, 11–81; Reus-Smit 2007, 165–73); and significant, unforeseen shocks that alter social understandings among states must be expected (Widmaier, Blyth, and Seabrooke 2007, 747–59), even if they cannot be predicted. As conditions change so, too, do states’ perceptions of the legitimate role of institutions, introducing corresponding pressures for institutions to adapt to new social and material circumstances. These pressures catalyze procedural reforms, expanding agendas, and new personalities in positions of authority that serve to alter the trajectory and symbolic meanings of institutions as they seek to remain relevant and legitimate (Barnett and Finnemore 2004, 156–73). From this temporal perspective, the bases of institutional legitimacy—or the appropriate way in which institutions address issues of concern—vary according to changes in the political environment. In other words, political change problematizes institutional authority, opening discursive space in which actors renegotiate an institution’s legitimate role. A second dynamic is the variability with which individual states and other actors in the international system understand an institution’s legitimacy, or what I term the subjective dynamic of institutional legitimacy. Hurd (2008, 83–110) locates the legitimacy of the UN Security Council in the procedures by which it was established, and Barnett and Finnemore (2004, 20–22) point to the apolitical nature of institutional bureaucracies, whereas Erik Voeten (2005, 534) emphasizes states’ strategic concern for potential favorable outcomes, to only name a few. While the bases for conferring legitimacy vary according to theoretical perspectives and the institutions under study, scholars commonly identify a single source of legitimacy for an institution or body of institutions that they can then use to explain or predict outcomes. This oversimplifies how legitimation operates in the international arena. Actors may broadly agree on the legitimacy of an institution while simultaneously differing over the reasons why they confer legitimacy, indicating slippage between the intersubjective recognition of an institution’s legitimacy and the more specific, subjective bases for its conferral. This indicates that an institution’s intersubjectively recognized legitimacy is multiply realizable, often emerging from a constellation of differing subjective meanings and making it more complex than currently conceptualized. It also highlights the contested nature of institutional legitimacy, as alterations to institutional procedures or processes risk upsetting the established balance between various subjective perceptions and interests. Taken together, these dynamics indicate cycles of institutional legitimacy that define the histories of institutions and shape the character and direction of institutional change. As the social and material conditions of the international system change over time, so too change states’ expectations concerning the appropriate role of existing institutions, which reopens deliberation over the bases of legitimacy through which institutions are empowered (temporal dynamic). However, determining the appropriate role of institutions in responding to international change is rarely unproblematic. Efforts to adapt risk triggering hitherto latent tensions between the subjective bases upon which the institution is legitimized (subjective dynamic). Adaptation necessarily entails altering some parts of the institutional framework but not others, potentially upsetting the established balance of subjective perceptions and interests underpinning institutional power. Specifically, the character and direction of institutional adaptation emerge from the renegotiation of institutional authority among members; the degree to which institutional changes either aggravate or alleviate contested notions of legitimacy determines its success. Combining these dynamics suggests that rather than viewing institutional legitimacy crises as punctuated periods of acute crises that arise between periods of relative institutional stability (Reus-Smit 2007, 165–69; Capoccia 2016), institutions are regularly engaged in legitimacy crises (or, less hyperbolically, cycles) of varying intensity as they navigate between persistent pressures to adapt and persistent disagreement over the appropriate nature of adaptation. Moreover, explicating the dynamics’ differing logics highlights how their interaction presents institutions with a legitimacy trap, whereby the probability of obstructive disagreement is highest precisely when the pressures to adapt are most intense. Thus, institutional change cannot be understood just as a consequence of states’ strategic interests nor just as the interaction between legitimacy and strategic interest, but also the result of competing notions of legitimacy that are (often hotly) contested in the context of political change. While we can understand this framework through a sociological institutionalist perspective—with its attention to shifting structures of normative belief—it more closely reflects a historical institutionalist account of the social processes of institutional change. Historical institutionalism draws attention to founding moments (or critical junctures, institutional failures, new problems, etc.) that alter the trajectory of institutions, the effects of which are simultaneously constrained by the incremental nature of reform that results from actors’ point-to-point comparisons—or how immediate cost-benefit analyses of institutional preferences are filtered through, and tempered by, prior investments in existing institutional arrangements (Fioretos 2011, 369–73; Capoccia 2016; Thelen and Conran 2016). So, while structural change plays an instigating role, the contours of institutional change more specifically emerge from the contestation of subjective preferences within the context of structural change and continuity. Concomitantly, changing international conditions (punctuated or incremental) that catalyze institutional reform efforts instigates cycles of institutional legitimacy, which themselves activate contested perceptions of appropriate, or legitimate, adaptation. The result is an incremental (and often uneven) approach to institutional change that emerges from contentious debates over institutional legitimacy. Beyond contributing to our theoretical understanding of institutional legitimacy, greater conceptual rigor provides better traction for empirical investigations exploring the link between institutional legitimacy and institutional change. In order to illustrate the logic of my argument, I empirically assess the ongoing contestation over post–Cold War approaches to humanitarian intervention through the UN—specifically the UN Security Council (UNSC) and General Assembly (UNGA)—and the deeper procedural questions this debate has brought to the fore. My investigation of the UN’s uneven adaptation to a fundamentally altered international landscape on the issue of humanitarian intervention suggests that the ongoing debate is (1) best understood as the result of an inherent tension between the temporal and subjective dynamics of institutional legitimacy and (2) largely motivated by subjective differences in principled beliefs concerning the appropriate role of the UN in light of a significantly altered political landscape following the Cold War (a legitimacy trap). While falling short of a thorough empirical analysis, it demonstrates the plausibility of better applying the dynamics of institutional legitimacy to understand specific instances of institutional change. More broadly, in the conclusion I discuss the generalizability of my framework and how scholars can apply it to future avenues of research. While obstacles to measuring and testing the social dynamics of institutional change remain, recent conceptual and methodological innovations offer promising directions forward. My argument unfolds in three sections. I first address our current understandings of institutional legitimacy, reviewing the tremendous contributions of recent scholarship while pointing out enduring conceptual gaps. The second section unpacks the temporal and subjective dynamics of institutional legitimacy and demonstrates how the resulting cycles of institutional legitimacy provide a more satisfying framework for explaining institutional change. The final section turns to empirical applications, illustrating my framework’s explanatory power about a specific case of UN adaptation before concluding with avenues for future research. Legitimacy in International Politics Franck (1992, 50) defines legitimacy as “the quality of a rule, or a system of rules, or a process for making or interpreting rules that pulls both the rule makers and those addressed by the rules toward voluntary compliance.” Or, more simply stated by Hurd (2008, 30), it is “the belief by an actor that a rule or institution ought to be obeyed.” Viewing legitimacy through such a Weberian lens detaches it from the stickier issues of morality and justice; rather, legitimacy is simply grounded in an actor’s subjective perception of the desirability or appropriateness of a rule or norm that can account for (non)compliance in the absence of coercion. This subjective basis of legitimacy is both powerful and limited. The internalization of a rule integrates it into an actor’s broader constellation of interests, diminishing the need for external incentives or threats to enforce compliance and increasing the likelihood that behavior will naturally reflect the acceptance of the rule (Hurd 1999, 387–89). For those accepting its legitimacy, complying with a rule or norm is not a rational strategic calculation but rather an unproblematic extension of the actor’s interests. This underscores the constitutive power of legitimacy while simultaneously pointing to its limits. Only those who accept the legitimacy of the rule will be internally motivated to comply, as the rule is a reflection of their interests. For those who do not accept the rule as such, compliance is still a problem, in that a rational calculation of interests is necessary to determine compliance or noncompliance. The immediate, constitutive power of legitimacy is thus circumscribed to the population of actors who have internalized the rule. However, the broader causal power of legitimacy is not similarly circumscribed, and the population of actors accepting a rule as legitimate is not necessarily static over time. Voluntary compliance emerges from the subjective perception of a rule’s legitimacy, or the constitutive power of legitimacy, which can lead to behavior aimed at upholding and enforcing the rule. When shared by a larger population of actors, these subjective beliefs crystalize into intersubjective beliefs about the legitimacy of a rule that promote collective enforcement, which produces the causal power of legitimacy in altering the strategic logic of those who may not initially recognize the legitimacy of the rule. This points to a coercive dimension of legitimacy that is leveraged over actors outside the legitimizing population. Moreover, if the population of actors internalizing the rule is large enough, it can influence the culture of the system toward compliance and even acceptance, affecting what Finnemore and Sikkink (1998) term a normative tipping point after which strategic compliance and/or internalization will “cascade” through the system. The power of legitimacy, then, operates at both a thin and thick level. At the thin level, actors who do not and may never recognize the legitimacy of a rule may nevertheless feel compelled to follow it and help enforce it in order to reap the benefits of compliance or avoid the penalties of noncompliance. This is a form of rational, or instrumental, compliance predicated on material and/or social coercion, which Checkel (2001, 553) refers to as “rational instrumental choices” and Johnston (2001, 499) refers to as “social influence.” Existing intersubjective beliefs about a rule’s legitimacy can mobilize collective enforcement, incentivizing compliance among the broader population. It is thin because it alters behavior without necessarily altering the underlying interests of the complying actor, indicating that compliance will cease when either coercive ability declines or is outweighed by the benefits of noncompliance. At the thick level, the power of legitimacy is not merely causal but constitutive. For those subjectively recognizing the legitimacy of a rule, behavior is autoregulated due to the desirability or appropriateness of the rule embedded in the actors’ identities and interests. While the bases of these perceptions are subjective, intersubjective notions of legitimacy can both strengthen actors’ commitments to a rule and expand the population perceiving it to be legitimate. This is possible through a variety of processes. Shared subjective beliefs can result in a sense of community or group membership that reinforces, stabilizes, and deepens the relevant actors’ commitment to a rule. Additionally, those initially resistant to perceiving a rule as legitimate may be deliberately socialized into accepting the rule’s legitimacy (Checkel’s [2001, 553] “social learning” and Johnston’s [2001, 496] “persuasion”); they may, through routinized compliance, come to construct legitimating justifications for their behavior that are more or less detached from their original, instrumental reasons for compliance (Berger and Luckmann 1966, 67–72), or they may integrate the rule into their perceived interests through the sheer force of habit, without intentional deliberation (Hopf 2010, 541–42). Regardless of the precise processes by which it influences interests and behaviors (which will vary according to context), legitimacy exerts powerful influences over both those who accept a rule’s legitimacy as well as those who do not. This locates legitimacy as a form of power rather than a veil for or limiter of power—an argument that has been made before but bears repeating (Reus-Smit 2007, 160–65; Finnemore 2009, 62–68). Others have incorrectly cast legitimacy, like other social forces in international politics, as ancillary to power politics. Morgenthau (1948/85, 4–17) casts legitimacy, and morality more broadly, as a strategic tool for achieving state interests; contemporary realists often regard it as epiphenomenal, if they address it at all. Waltz (1979) ignored it, Gilpin (1981, 18–25) relegated it to the domestic sphere, and Mearsheimer (1994–95, 26–47) dismissed it; even Claude (1966, 367–70) framed legitimacy as a method for achieving acceptance of an actor’s preconceived interests, or as a veil used to justify its use and pursuit of power. And after more than two decades of research on social forces as forms of power in international politics, there remains a tendency to cast social (or legitimacy) explanations in opposition to, or as merely modifiers of, power politics. We turn this on its head, however, when we recognize the role of social purpose (Ruggie 1982) as the impetus for aggregating, mobilizing, and wielding material power in order to achieve socially constructed interests. In this light, material power (or power politics) is subordinated to only one (albeit a significant one) of a variety of methods for achieving social ends. Legitimacy is a form of political power, not the transcendence of politics beyond power. Appreciating legitimacy as a source of power, rather than a means by which power’s role diminishes, is essential for establishing its significance as an explanatory variable for behavior that interacts with, and sometimes determines, other forms of power. Shifting the discussion toward institutional legitimacy demonstrates the practical application of this power in everyday politics. Institutions possess no appreciable material power. They do not wield sovereign control over territory and its resources, they have no standing military or independent economy, and they have no population of their own. Yet they have proven to be significant players in international politics, with two obvious examples being the UN’s promotion of decolonization (Crawford 1993) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organization’s (GATT/WTO) role in expanding world trade (Goldstein, Rivers, and Tomz 2007). Bereft of meaningful material resources, this power of institutions to influence political outcomes largely flows from the authority they command. Authority, or “rightful or legitimate rule” (Lake 2009, 332), draws on discursive and symbolic, rather than material, resources that flow directly from the legitimacy the institution enjoys (Barnett and Finnemore 2004, 5; Hurd 2008, 60–64). Therefore, maintaining legitimacy is paramount for maintaining an institution’s power in international politics, as it cannot fall back on direct material resources. Investigating institutional legitimacy, rather than legitimacy concerning a particular rule or norm, introduces two complicating factors. First, large bodies of rules, norms, procedures, and purposes constitute institutions, requiring legitimation to rest on a holistic assessment of an institution’s many parts. Thus, actors may not only differ on why certain components of the institution are legitimate; there may also be variability in terms of which aspects of the institution are responsible for generating these perceptions for individual actors. This indicates that intersubjective agreement concerning an institution’s legitimacy may obscure significant disparities in the subjective bases upon which legitimacy is conferred, making it difficult to pin down a single source of an institution’s legitimacy and complicating discussions of institutional change. Second, unlike individual rules or norms, formal institutions usually have permanent bureaucracies and executives that grant institutions some measure of agency, to which members yield some degree of authority (Barnett and Finnemore 1999, 707–10). This can result in the formation of institutional interests independent of member states and an additional voice when (re)negotiating the institution’s agenda and potential reforms. At a minimum, this includes using the institution’s social capital to maintain or accrue greater legitimacy, and thus greater power. Here we see why fleshing out the temporal and subjective dynamics introduced above is critical for understanding legitimacy’s influence on institutional behavior and change. Recognizing the intimate relationship between institutional legitimacy and institutional power underscores the importance of the former even as a review of the literature illustrates the complicated nature of the concept. The current literature has done well in defining legitimacy, unpacking its subjective and intersubjective origins, and demonstrating its constitutive and causal force in international politics. However, the ways in which institutional legitimacy is influenced by social and material shifts in the international system is still poorly understood, as is the significance of slippage between subjective perceptions as they are scaled up to intersubjective understandings of an institution’s legitimacy. These issues complicate and lend greater nuance to the way in which we understand institutional change, particularly when considering an institution’s vested interest in maintaining and increasing its relevance and authority. Cycles of Institutional Legitimacy While beliefs about the appropriate, or legitimate, role of institutions certainly influence institutional change, the causal link between legitimacy and change remains underdeveloped. This section develops an explanatory framework that couples two dynamics of legitimacy that, when combined, elucidate this connection. The temporal dynamic demonstrates how changes in the international environment instigate institutional adaptation, bringing questions of legitimacy—or an institution’s appropriate role in light of new conditions—to the fore. The subjective dynamic demonstrates how preexisting differences in the subjective bases upon which institutional legitimacy has been conferred—or the slippage between subjective and intersubjective understandings of legitimacy—define, and often obstruct, the potential for and trajectory of institutional change. Taken together these dynamics routinely introduce legitimacy traps through which institutions must navigate, producing cycles in institutional legitimacy that governs the processes of institutional change. Temporal Dynamic The idea that changing international conditions instigates institutional changes is not a new one (Ikenberry 2001; Barton et al. 2006; Fioretos, Falleti, and Sheingate 2016). However, if legitimacy discourses help define institutional change, then it is necessary to specifically identify how institutional legitimacy is problematized as the material and social conditions of the international system evolve. The current literature tends to establish an institution’s legitimacy from the outset in order to investigate legitimacy’s explanatory power in a variety of cases, which are often separated by considerable periods of time. But, how do changes over time—both internal and external to the institution—affect how states perceive institutional legitimacy and authority? Whether an institution’s legitimacy is drawn from its procedural practices or substantive outcomes (on the distinction, see Barnett and Finnemore 2004, 166–73), it is reasonable to assume that as social and material aspects of the international system evolve, so too will perceptions of the desirability or appropriateness of the institution’s procedures and substantive results. One can imagine changing conditions results in attempts to reinterpret founding principles, revise primary purposes, or introduce new procedures or agendas in light of newly emerging possibilities. Regardless, given the significance of legitimacy for an institution’s authority and influence, the waxing and waning of an institution’s legitimacy represent crucial inflection points for an institution’s relevance. Moreover, if we assume that the establishment of an institution represents a pragmatic compromise between competing desires as well as what is possible at the moment and what is desired of the institution moving forward into an, at best, probabilistic future (Schickler 2001), then we should expect that, as possibilities for collective action change and as material and social conditions evolve (in both expected and unexpected ways), pressures for an institution to adapt to these changes will increase over time in order for the institution to maintain its legitimacy, and thus relevance. To investigate the ways in which changing social and material conditions influence institutional legitimacy, I borrow the levels of analysis framework (Waltz 1954) to focus, in turn, on the following: changes external to the institution (structure), changes at the institutional level (collective unit), and changes at the level of institutional leaders, or executive secretaries (agent). While this will be followed by a discussion on the interaction between the three, it is useful to disaggregate various locations of change to construct a typology of sources of change and illuminate the ways in which variation at each level can influence institutional legitimacy. Both material and social changes in the international system result in new configurations of power and new horizons of possibility that often introduce pressures for institutions to adapt in order to retain relevance and legitimacy. In material terms, this is easily discernable in both relative and absolute shifts. Differential economic growth shifts material power balances in ways that can have real effects on institutional standing. Given that an institution’s legitimacy often varies between actors, or at least between those who view the institution as relatively legitimate (legitimizing states) versus those who do not, shifts in material balances will lead to variation in the causal power of legitimacy in maintaining institutional authority. For example, the relative decline of legitimizing states will likely diminish their ability collectively to enforce institutional authority or fund institutional projects, potentially weakening an institution’s perceived legitimacy and effectiveness and/or leading to the ascendance of states with social purposes at odds with institutional procedures or purposes.2 Conversely, the relative ascendance of legitimizing states will likely translate into efforts to adapt institutional agendas and/or procedures in ways that more closely reflect the institution’s founding purposes and ideals. In absolute terms, material shifts in technology—an enduring trend in recent centuries—are intimately related to social ones in that they offer new forms of interaction through communication, transportation, commerce, etc. This highlights a material basis for social phenomena that emerge from new potentials that influence perceptions of what is desirable and achievable.3 This suggests that, in regard to institutional legitimacy, material shifts are significant to the degree to which they alter the relative power of legitimizing states—strengthening or weakening their ability to sustain, reform, or expand institutional procedures, agendas, and authority. Of potentially greater importance are revisions to the social structure of international politics. While often conservative by nature, social structures are “ongoing ‘accomplishments of practice’” (Wendt 1999, 313) that are negotiated through everyday interactions, and thus subject to regular alteration. This can include changes in social beliefs concerning rightful membership in institutional settings, voting procedures, justifications for collective action, delegation of authority to supranational bodies, and a whole host of other issues touching on the procedural and substantive bases of legitimacy that are regularly negotiated among international actors, shifting the social landscape in ways that reflect back on an institution’s legitimate position within the structure (Crawford 2002). The processes by which these changes come about—deliberation over the appropriateness of particular rules and norms, evolving views of procedural effectiveness, reflections of new domestic dynamics, or state self-interest cloaked in social justifications, to name a few—are less important here than appreciating the prevalence and relevance of changes in shifting the normative landscape in which institutions operate. Of particular interest are punctuated shocks disrupting the material and/or social equilibrium, such as war or sudden shifts in social understandings, producing acute periods of uncertainty and possibility for revising the status quo (Capoccia and Kelemen 2007; Widmaier, Blyth, and Seabrooke 2007). Institutions themselves are also sources of change that influence perceptions of institutional legitimacy over time. While institutions are often thought to be infamously difficult to reform after their establishment (Finke et al. 2012, 1), modifications in both procedural structure and substantive agendas are not uncommon events. Reforms in membership, voting procedures, purview of agendas, and implementation of decisions—even when incremental—affect the way states view an institution more broadly, including the degree to which they deem such reforms desirable or appropriate. Importantly, such reforms are not always a result of external pressures (i.e., institutional change is not merely epiphenomenal to structural changes). Institutional change can also be the result of reform efforts that emerge from specific institutional processes, such as deliberation between members within institutional forums, or proposals by institutional bureaucracies independently attempting to guide the institution’s evolution (Barnett and Finnemore 2004, 16–44). For example, Barnett and Finnemore reveal how the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) subtly revised the definitional parameters of refugee in order to influence how states perceived and responded to refugee crises during the 1990s (2004, chap. 4). This highlights the agency institutions exert in defining their own procedures and agendas, with very real consequences for their legitimacy over time. Finally, institutional legitimacy can vary at the agential level according to the personalities and interests of those individuals selected to manage them. While there is variation in the authority granted to them, institutional leaders often wield significant influence over the perceptions and future trajectory of institutions (Kille 2007). Managing budgets and bureaucracies, setting agenda items, meeting with world leaders, and preparing remarks and speeches on the institution’s purposes and goals, institutional leaders often work independently as public figures influencing discourses concerning the institution. Understanding the politics behind selection of these leaders and the authority it grants them allows us to analyze their influence, particularly when leadership passes from one individual to another. Obviously, there is a tremendous amount of interaction among these levels. Structural changes often influence the character and outcomes of institutional deliberations and affect the selection of institutional leaders; institutional policies alter international practices and norms and influence what type of institutional leadership is desired (Pouliot 2011, 18–25); institutional leaders guide institutional practices and exert discursive influence over a multitude of other international matters. Focusing on the specific ways in which change at each level influences institutional practices and institutional legitimacy highlights how perceptions of legitimacy are sensitive to changing material and social conditions. While this establishes how changing conditions alter balances of power and interests and produce pressures for institutional adaptation, the velocity and magnitude of change more specifically determine the extent to which institutional authority is problematized and the intensity of pressures for adaptation. Historical institutionalism has traditionally relied on “critical junctures” to explain institutional change (see, for example, Capoccia and Kelemen 2007). We should expect these sudden and substantial shifts in the international environment to instigate the most intense pressures for institutional adaptation. However, recent scholarship recognizes that the velocity and magnitude of change vary in intensity (Thelen and Conran 2016), suggesting that less intensive, incremental change cannot be neglected, even if its effects are less pivotal. Rather than interpreting institutional histories as dichotomous shifts between periods of stability and punctuated periods of turbulence and change (Krasner’s  punctuated equilibriums), we can gauge the intensity of change along a continuum. This has a direct bearing on institutional legitimacy as an intervening variable between changing conditions and institutional change. It indicates that relatively more intense, or critical, junctures will produce relatively larger discursive spaces for renegotiating institutional authority in light of changing conditions, whereas smaller, incremental changes will result in circumscribed opportunities for renegotiation with less potential for significant contestation or radical reform. The temporal dynamic of institutional legitimacy captures the way in which changes in the international environment problematize established perceptions of institutional authority and open discursive space in which institutional legitimacy can be renegotiated by member states in the context of institutional adaptation. The above lays out the potential sources of change and identifies two variables of particular importance. First, the specific way in which international changes alter the balances of power and interests between actors determines the likely trajectory of institutional adaptation. Under conditions in which the primary legitimizing states are relatively strengthened (socially and/or materially), we should expect an initial expansion of institutional authority in applying founding principles to new problems. Conversely, changes that relatively weaken legitimizing states should circumscribe institutional authority, either in initially limiting institutional roles or in reinterpreting founding principles. Second, the intensity (velocity and magnitude) of change can vary between incremental shifts and more profound critical junctures, which determines the degree to which institutional authority is problematized by these changes and defines the boundary conditions for renegotiating the appropriate role of the institution moving forward. How changing conditions affect the long-term trajectory of institutional authority and change, however, depends on the degree of convergence/divergence in subjective perceptions of institutional legitimacy that emerges during this process. Subjective Dynamic Even in rare cases in which an institution enjoys broad support as a legitimate actor in international politics, we cannot necessarily assume that this indicates perfect alignment in the subjective perceptions of states. Here I turn attention to the potential for conceptual slippage when subjective perceptions are scaled up to shared intersubjective ones. Even as evolving political circumstances demand institutional adaptation, this slippage represents a site of contestation among states over the direction, character, and tenor of institutional change that can confound efforts to reach consensus on specific reforms. Intersubjective understandings of institutional legitimacy emerge from the overlap in the subjective perceptions of states concerning the principles of legitimation. Whereas subjective internalization of an institution’s legitimacy represents legitimacy’s constitutive power, collective legitimation provides legitimacy’s causal power. Through collective legitimation by a subset of actors, the institution and the rules and norms it symbolizes become an “‘objective’ element of system structure,” affecting the strategic logic (and, potentially, interests through internalization processes) of those who do not necessarily accept the institution’s legitimacy (Hurd 2008, 48). Ignored, however, in this move from subjective to intersubjective is the very real possibility that differences exist in the subjective perceptions of legitimacy. When considering a single rule or norm, one can imagine that—despite overall agreement—states have their own reasons for conferring legitimacy that may not perfectly align with others. One state, for example, may view a rule or norm’s appropriateness through a procedural lens of fairness, while another state may focus on the positive substantive outcomes. This becomes more complicated when moving from perceptions of the legitimacy of a rule or norm to that of institutions, which are collections of multiple rules or norms within a single framework. Therefore, the potential for difference emerges not only over why an institution’s rules and norms are deemed desirable, but also over which institutional rules and norms generate these perceptions. These potential differences do not necessarily preclude intersubjective expressions of legitimation. They do, however, suggest that intersubjective legitimacy cannot be interpreted as a complete alignment of subjectivities and that institutional legitimacy is thus more complex and potentially more fragile than currently conceptualized. While subjective differences within the wider intersubjective acceptance of an institution’s legitimacy may remain relatively dormant during periods of continuity, they become sites of conflict when pressures for institutional adaptation result from changing political conditions. Differences may initially be deemed insignificant and accepted in light of the broader desirability of the institution, muted by power disparities (Schickler 2001), or simply considered unproblematic, with states dismissing, misperceiving, or not even recognizing them (Grynaviski 2010, 2014). However, changing social and material circumstances and the resulting deliberations concerning concrete changes to an institution bring these differences to the fore, as differing reasons for conferring legitimacy will necessarily translate into differing beliefs about the appropriateness and desirability of specific reforms. In cases of little subjective difference, adaptation may proceed unproblematically from a legitimacy perspective, expanding institutional authority and reproducing or even solidifying institutional legitimacy. However, if subjective differences prove to be sufficiently large, this can result in either gridlock or the implementation of reforms that diminish a subset of states’ commitment to the institution even as they may enhance that of others—and both have important implications concerning the legitimacy, and thus authority and relevance, of the institution. This is true for both the constitutive and causal aspects of institutional legitimacy. Difference among legitimizing states can fracture intersubjective agreement and diminish the degree to which an institution is perceived as desirable (constitutive power), as well as reduce incentives for strategic compliance and weaken the collective enforcement of the institution’s rules and norms (causal power). The significance of subjective differences in determining institutional outcomes varies according to two factors. The first is the intensity—or velocity and magnitude—of proposed reforms catalyzed by changing conditions. While subjective differences embedded in the founding agreements of an institution may remain dormant through periods of stability, reform proposals activate reassessments of the specific contours of institutional authority. We should expect that proposals that advocate relatively swift and/or extensive reforms are more likely to trigger hitherto latent differences than less ambitious proposals. A second factor concerns the point-to-point comparisons actors make in assessing reform proposals. Rather than assessing proposals purely on the immediate utility—including the perceived appropriateness—of reform efforts, actors’ assessments are additionally informed by the relative utility of the institution as a whole, including the sunk costs and long-term benefits associated with being a member (Fioretos 2011, 373). Whereas point-to-point comparisons may not directly influence subjective perceptions of legitimacy, they influence actors’ strategic responses to reform proposals. If we assume that states usually only belong to those institutions they perceive to be in their long-term interests, we should expect these comparisons to have a tempering effect on the tactics employed in negotiating potential reforms as states attempt to secure desirable outcomes while simultaneously maintaining the institution’s viability. Importantly, however, we should expect these legacy effects to diminish relative to immediate interests as the intensity of reform proposals increases. This is not a dynamic limited to deliberation among states. As with the temporal dynamic, institutions and their leaders exert influences of their own. The relative competence with which an institution proposes or initially implements changes, for example, may affect perceptions of the institution’s desirability and the desirability of proposed or implemented reforms. Additionally, institutional leaders communicate important information in how they address issues under deliberation, and, in their role as norm entrepreneurs, can shape state perceptions and beliefs about the appropriate role of an institution. As Franck (1990, 150–82) notes, legitimacy can be maintained even as institutional rules and their appropriate application are reinterpreted over time when advocates—including states, but also institutional bureaucracies and leaders—are able to provide logically persuasive arguments that justify new practices in reference to the original purposes of those rules.4 Institutions whose leaders and bureaucracies effectively frame reforms in terms of founding principles can forestall subjective fractures, while those lacking justificatory schema beyond immediate needs leave space open for contestation. Changing normative beliefs are a complex mix of rational deliberation, imperfect analogizing, and persuasion (Crawford 2002, 14–28), providing discursive space for institutional agents to leverage their expertise and any accrued social capital to bolster institutional legitimacy in times of change. We cannot expect these influences to be decisive, but they underscore the agency institutions exercise in shaping states’ perceptions of institutional legitimacy. The subjective dynamics of legitimation should vary according to differing contexts and institutions, but it is clear that the potential for slippage between subjective perceptions and intersubjective agreement represents a crisis point for institutional legitimacy that we cannot ignore, particularly when evolving political circumstances places pressure on institutions to adapt to new conditions. Indeed, it is here that the rub between the temporal and subjective dynamics is most palpable. As the intensity of change and concomitant pressures for institutional adaptation increase, so too does the potential for friction between subjective perceptions of legitimacy that may obstruct reform efforts, introducing a legitimacy trap. Thus, conditions under which particular trajectories of institutional change should emerge from the interplay between the two dynamics. Cycles of Institutional Legitimacy The social nature of legitimacy ensures that its meaning is subject to ongoing negotiation and contestation between states and over time, directly affecting institutional legitimacy and adaptation. Synthesizing the two dynamics elucidated above suggests that institutional legitimacy is regularly open to reinterpretation and that we should expect legitimacy crises as a matter of course, particularly during periods of rapid international change. During these periods of crisis, institutions either must successfully adapt to changing conditions in ways that fulfill the sometimes disparate expectations of member states, or face disempowerment (Reus-Smit 2007, 157). It is useful to conceptualize this pattern as cycles of institutional legitimacy, in which legitimacy ebbs and flows as an institution regularly faces pressures to adapt even as consensus concerning the character, direction, and degree of adaptation is often elusive. Cycles encapsulate the recurring periods of renegotiation that take place as institutions adapt to inevitably changing political conditions, while recognizing that not all debates over procedural or policy reforms are usefully categorized as “crises.” One can imagine a variety of resulting trajectories during each cycle: institutional “death,” in which case the institution suffers an irrecoverable legitimacy deficit (Cottrell 2009); growing irrelevance, in which case states and other international actors ignore the institution, find or construct alternative venues to address political issues (Morse and Keohane 2014), and/or choose to operate unilaterally or informally with other states; or successful reform, which could merely arrest the loss of legitimacy or serve to rejuvenate and bolster institutional legitimacy. An institution’s trajectory is dependent on its ability to not only effectively address new problems, but to do so in a way that is perceived as legitimate by member states—the outcome of which is governed by the interaction between the temporal and subjective dynamics of institutional legitimacy, and often complicated by the tension between the two. Following from the temporal dynamic, changes in the political environment that alter balances of interests and power create opportunities for institutions to adapt in ways that effectively address new problems, and thus sustain or enhance the perceived desirability of the institution. Minor or incremental changes should incentivize proportionately moderate revisions to institutional procedures and practices to promote institutional efficiency and effectiveness, whereas changes that are more radical should catalyze more ambitious reforms (Reus-Smit 2007). However, the interplay between the temporal and subjective dynamics introduces the potential for what I label the legitimacy trap. Relatively intense political changes produce pressures for similarly intensive institutional changes, which reopens negotiation on the appropriateness of a wide array of institutional procedures and practices. Given the possibility of slippage between subjective and intersubjective perceptions of institutional legitimacy, the probability and implications of disagreement increase in proportion to the scope of potential reforms. Thus, this trap forms: institutions often find themselves caught between pressures to adapt to changing conditions and disagreement among institutional members over the velocity and magnitude of adaptation, and the probability of obstructive disagreement is highest precisely when the pressures to adapt are most intense. More specifically, we can tease out propositions for how the interaction between the temporal and subjective dynamics shapes institutional change as the degree of political change and subjective difference vary. When there is little subjective slippage in perceptions of legitimacy for an institution, we can expect legitimacy concerns will play only a minor or enabling role in defining the trajectory and intensity of institutional change. Under such conditions, matters of strategic interest and effective implementation of institutional reforms should predominate. However, the probability of subjective agreement should decrease with the ambitiousness of proposed reforms, and so it is much more likely to be reached in response to relatively minor or incremental shifts in the political environment. Conversely, when substantial disagreement over an institution’s legitimate role exists, institutional change is dependent on deliberative outcomes between contested notions of legitimacy, and the probability, direction, and success of institutional reform should vary according to the intensity of disagreement. While this appears relatively intuitive, the role of point-to-point comparisons provides clarity in explaining expected outcomes. Even when subjective difference is substantial, minor adjustments to institutional practices should be possible given actors’ sunk costs and long-term interests in sustaining the institution, whereas radical reforms place relatively greater weight on present considerations of interests and increase the likelihood of obstruction and gridlock in deliberations over reforms. Thus, while each dynamic plays an independent role in influencing institutional trajectories, their interaction provides greater traction for explaining the role of legitimacy in governing institutional change. The relative intensity of subjective disagreement over the appropriate role of institutional adaptation in light of political change strongly influences the probability and character of institutional change. However, beyond instigating pressures for institutional adaptation, the temporal dynamic influences the subjective in two important ways. First, it regulates the probability of subjective disagreement, with minor changes and institutional reform proposals less likely to trigger disagreement over the appropriate nature of institutional change than more radical ones. Second, it regulates the implications of subjective disagreement for proposed institutional changes, with an institution’s legacy more likely to temper the consequences of disagreement in light of minor or incremental reform proposals than more intensive ones. So whereas there are four general combinations of the dynamics (low/high intensity of adaptation pressures interacting with low/high subjective disagreement), two are most probable—low intensity change and adaptation pressures associated with a low likelihood and significance of subjective disagreement, and high intensity change and adaptation pressures associated with a high likelihood and significance of subjective disagreement, with the specific combination determining the degree of turbulence in institutional change and defining an institution’s cycles of legitimacy (see Figure 1). Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Expected outcomes and their prevalence at given levels of change and disagreement intensity. Figure 1. View largeDownload slide Expected outcomes and their prevalence at given levels of change and disagreement intensity. Two significant problems can emerge for institutions as they navigate the often-contradictory pressures of these dynamics, both of which become more pronounced as the intensity of political change and subjective disagreement increase. The first, and more intuitive, is the problem of institutional gridlock. Even when new problems instigate collective desires for institutional adaptation, subjective differences concerning the appropriate nature of adaptation can confound the adoption of specific reforms. This suggests that gridlock is not merely a product of conflicting strategic interests or differing beliefs about the effectiveness of proposed reforms. It can also stem from significant disagreements concerning the appropriate role of an institution in addressing old and new problems. While empirically difficult to tease apart, gridlock resulting from principled differences should express a consistency in rhetoric and application by actors across issue areas, whereas variability may indicate the likelihood of strategic interests shaping behavior. A second, less intuitive and potentially more significant problem for an institution’s long-term legitimacy and effectiveness is uneven adaptation. As contestation over the appropriate nature of reform meets pressures for reform, an institution’s established procedures can inhibit deeper reform efforts and lead to contradictions that raise legitimacy issues themselves. Specifically, this has to do with differing institutional thresholds for reforms and is of particular relevance to procedural versus substantive legitimacy, as substantive reforms are often easier to initiate than procedural ones (Barnett and Finnemore 2004, 166–70). For example, winning support for new agenda items often requires a lower voting threshold than procedural changes to representation or voting rules. As disagreement over specific reform efforts meets general pressures to adapt, there is a structural incentive to avoid procedural questions and rather attend to revising practices to demonstrate an institution’s ability to respond to new problems. This is further compounded in two ways. Institutional bureaucracies are vested with little to no authority over procedural rules, but they are often given significant latitude in interpreting and applying substantive agreements. This lends an institution the ability to independently adapt in ways not directly controlled by member states (Barnett and Finnemore 2004, 158–66), but it is an ability limited to affecting changes to substantive policies rather than procedural rules. Additionally, states may be more reticent to adopt enduring changes to procedural rules than substantive policies on concrete issues with limited scope or duration. So as pressures to adapt intensify, states and institutional actors are incentivized to focus on introducing new agendas and initiatives while neglecting thornier issues of procedural reform, resulting in institutional dissonance between procedures and purposes. While this may be of little relevance to those focused on substantive outcomes, it is a dangerous pathology for institutions established upon procedural fairness, which is a defining principle of contemporary multilateralism (Ruggie 1992, Hurd 2008). Given the liberal nature of most international institutions today, in which the subjects of institutional policy roughly align with representation, it also highlights a systematic threat to legitimacy as institutions unevenly respond to pressures to adapt. The above presents a framework for capturing the dynamic nature of legitimacy and how it governs institutional change. The temporal dynamic represents a condition of possibility for change by introducing pressures for institutional adaptation, while the subjective dynamic elucidates how contested notions of legitimacy define, channel, and potentially obstruct reform deliberations. The interaction between the two, and particularly how the intensity of adaptation pressures regulates the probability and intensity of subjective disagreements, provides a robust connection between legitimacy discourses and the probability, direction, and intensity of institutional change that is missing in the current literature. The resulting cycles of legitimacy suggest that institutions are routinely required to navigate between pressures to reform and contesting visions of reform, and that their future relevance rests on their ability to do so successfully. The Contested Legitimacy of UN Humanitarian Intervention Applying the dynamics of legitimacy to the evolution of UN humanitarian intervention policy since the Cold War provides both a demonstration of the framework’s empirical utility and a more nuanced explanation for the growing discord emerging from what was once cast as a golden opportunity for internationally unified action through the UN. Seizing the opportunity to lead presented by an abrupt shift in the international political landscape, UN bureaucratic leaders crafted policies that successively redefined the organization’s rights and obligations in regard to intervention. While these efforts initially garnered broad support from many states and only muted reservations from others, their incremental encroachment on traditional notions of state sovereignty—culminating in the responsibility to protect (R2P) norm—ultimately exposed deep principled differences. As a result, disagreements over the legitimacy of UN intervention in the domestic affairs of states hamstring efforts to implement R2P. While strategic interests are always assumed to be at work in UN deliberations, the consistency and growing insistency of positions on each side of this divide suggest a more fundamental dispute over the broader contours of UN authority in the post–Cold War era. Moreover, the following analysis reveals a less obvious but arguably more significant unintended consequence of the UN’s uneven adaptation: R2P’s reinterpretation of state sovereignty to justify intervention positions peoples—rather than states—as the central focus of concern, which necessarily (if inadvertently) raises procedural questions concerning the legitimacy of the UNGA and UNSC’s representational model. The following pages trace this evolution in policy and discourse, with particular attention to how they have been governed by the legitimacy trap that the temporal and subjective dynamics introduce. The 1945 San Francisco Conference establishing the UN was an ambitious attempt to address collectively the threats to international peace and stability premised on formal sovereign equality among states. The multilateral5 processes governing conference proceedings and defining UN procedures were essential in unifying states and establishing the legitimacy of the organization (Hurd 2008). Despite significant inconsistencies in applying the multilateral ideal,6 the UN—and particularly the UNGA—was widely perceived to legitimately represent the will of the international community through its structure and procedures (Claude 1956, 88–100; Held 1995, 88; Clark 2005, 131; Thakur 2010, 4). Among the many commissions, committees, and proposed amendments at the San Francisco Conference, there were exactly zero official challenges to the basic principles of universality and equality among states, demonstrating the centrality of procedural fairness in justifying the substantive powers vested in the organization. Indeed, the only recorded disagreements on issues of representation concerned proposed deviations from formal equality—definitional issues of statehood that ultimately precluded colonial representation and those procedures that limited equal representation (most notably the fierce debate over UNSC membership and veto power) (UN 1945a). While differences did not evaporate after formal agreement was reached on these issues, they largely remained secondary to the realities of the emerging Cold War, in which discourses concerning the UN’s legitimacy and authority attended less to the internal procedures and purposes of the institution than to its incompetence in the face of great power competition. The conference and resulting UN structure were also very much products of their time and left the broader contours of UN jurisdiction open to interpretation. The UN, like many international organizations, was established to solve the problems of a prior era. In order “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our time has brought untold sorrow to mankind,” (UN 1945b, 3, Preamble) the UN was tasked with maintaining international peace and security. Unsurprisingly, this phrasing was universally interpreted to refer to interstate war at the time—the UN would work to harmonize actions and resolve conflicts between states (UN 1945a). However, the Charter failed to offer a precise definition of what constitutes a threat to international peace and security. Similarly, while Chapter 1’s Article 2.7 explicitly recognized the sovereignty of states over domestic matters, it made no clear delineation between the international and domestic, and in any case provided that this protection “shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII.” While these were in no way divisive provisions at the time of the UN’s 1945b, 3 founding, their imprecision left ample room for (re)interpretation. Largely remaining dormant during the Cold War, with the collapse of the Soviet Union this definitional imprecision offered an opportunity to focus UN attention and resources on civil conflict as a threat to international peace and security. That member states immediately seized this opportunity demonstrates the abrupt and dramatic shifts in the international political landscape brought about by the end of the Cold War. While this shift had numerous contours, two significant consequences included (1) the retreat of acute great power competition and relative ascendance of the United States and its Western allies and (b) the heightened prevalence of and attention to civil war in the Cold War’s periphery with the decline of great power competition for ideological influence in these regions.7 The result was an unprecedented level of support for UN leadership, with ascendant Western states interested in the legitimacy offered by working through the UN (Thompson 2006) and others in the institutional checks on US power it could provide. The immediate consequences for the UN, then, were the thawing of Cold War institutional gridlock and a collective mandate for the UN to exert more thoroughly its authority in stemming civil strife. While the momentous changes precipitated by the Soviet Union’s collapse cannot explain the resulting debates over UN adaptation, the end of the Cold War was a critical juncture in the UN’s evolution that reopened negotiations over the appropriate role and authority of the organization in light of profoundly altered political conditions. In this instance, political changes had wrought extraordinary consensus among states to strengthen UN authority, explicitly demanding an expanded purpose and agenda that moved beyond traditional notions of international security in order to address civil conflict. Optimism for collective action on the issue of civil conflict was palpable in the elevated rhetoric of member-state representatives and the speed with which action was initiated (Barnett 1997, 527). This was most succinctly stated in a 1992 UNSC Report released just thirty-seven days after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which noted the “new favorable international circumstances” brought about by the end of the Cold War that allowed the UNSC to “fulfill more effectively its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security” and invited the UN Secretary-General to prepare “recommendations on ways of strengthening and making more efficient … the capacity of the United Nations for preventive diplomacy, for peacemaking and for peace-keeping” (UNSC 1992, 2–3). As fears of great power war abated, new possibilities for collective action emerged under the auspices of “international community” (Ellis 2009, 1), which found legitimate expression in the newfound institutional authority of the UN. Just months after the UNSC request, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali submitted An Agenda for Peace. Whereas peacekeeping went unmentioned in the UN Charter and the few missions conducted during the Cold War were largely observatory and only deployed with the consent of conflicting parties, Boutros-Ghali envisioned a much more robust and assertive UN role by expanding the UN’s mandate to four discrete missions: preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding (UN 1992). The Agenda offered a nuanced justification for this expanded role. By classifying civil conflicts and humanitarian crises as direct threats to international peace and security (UN 1992, paragraphs 3, 13, 15, 16), it sought to demonstrate its proposals’ coherence and continuity with the founding principles of the UN in order to blunt perceptions that they represented a radical reinterpretation of UN authority. Simultaneously, it invoked the changing nature of international politics in the post–Cold War environment as motivation for a more assertive UN agenda (UN 1992, paragraphs 8–19). Noting the growing prevalence of civil conflict and its regionally destabilizing effects as well as the newly forged international consensus for collective action, the Agenda cast its proposals as natural extensions of the UN’s founding principles in order to address new and unforeseen problems. A series of UN resolutions and new bureaucratic powers of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) were subsequently adopted and implemented. While the call for a permanent UN peacekeeping force was summarily ignored and the proposed peace enforcement procedures were circumscribed (Barnett 1997, 530), the number of peacekeeping operations swelled (UN 2013) and UN engagement in these operations—before, during, and after hostilities—greatly intensified. Moreover, the UN’s new authority to intervene in conflicts without the express consent of conflicting parties represented a subtle but significant reinterpretation of the Charter’s commitment to state sovereignty. While both Indonesia and China invoked the UN Charter’s protection of state sovereignty and Russia urged intervention only in cases in which states grant consent, during UNSC deliberations on the Agenda, all three joined the other members of the UNSC in broadly supporting its goals and proposals (UNSC 1995b, 3, 1024–54). We can draw three conclusions from this initial phase of UN policy reform. First, the end of the Cold War forged a clear consensus for broadening the definition of “international peace and security” to explicitly include civil conflicts, legitimizing—and, indeed, creating pressures for—the expansion of UN authority on the issue. Great power brinksmanship had abruptly evaporated, the ascendant Western powers’ support for a more assertive UN established a focal point for consensus, and an altered security landscape highlighted the destabilizing effects of civil conflict. Second, the UNSC granted UN leadership a tremendous amount of latitude in guiding the process of policy reform, though it understood the delegated nature of this authority. The uncertainty accompanying the rapid shift in political circumstances left the contours of international consensus necessarily broad, leading member states to defer to the UN’s expertise and moral authority (Barnett and Finnemore 2004, 23–25, 121–55) in defining and justifying specific policy reforms. Conversely, UN leadership went to great lengths to justify, or legitimize, this expanded role in the eyes of member states. Despite these justifications, a third conclusion is that the intensity of these reforms activated subjective differences concerning the legitimacy of UN intervention with respect to state sovereignty. At this point reservations by member states were surprisingly muted, particularly given the Agenda’s position that “the time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty … has passed” (UN 1992, paragraph 17), but this might be understood as a strategic calculation regarding point-to-point comparisons. Sovereignty concerns were very real but infringements on sovereignty were only a future possibility rather than a reality at this point, and thus outweighed by a desire to sustain the organization and the newfound unity that pervaded the broader UN system. Intervention failures in the early and mid-1990s, however, catalyzed further pressures for UN policy reforms. Particularly in light of perceived failures in Somalia and Bosnia and the lack of intervention in the Rwandan genocide, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan responded with proposals to more clearly justify intervention under international law, deepen the UN’s role in interventions, and streamline and systematize the implementation of intervention policy. The resulting 2000 Millennium Report adopted the discursive strategies employed by the Agenda, linking the UN’s preexisting jurisdiction over issues of international peace and security as laid out in the Charter (Annan 2000, 4–7) with the dynamic nature of international politics that demanded collective action on new problems (Annan 2000, 9–17). In contrast to the Agenda’s respect for—if subtle critique of—traditional notions of state sovereignty, the Millennium Report explicitly demanded its reinterpretation. In order to address the deep interdependencies among states in the post–Cold War era, Annan called on the UN’s primary organs to recast themselves as global governance bodies representing peoples and nations to reflect better the demands of globalization, rather than remaining traditional forums for interstate deliberation as relics of a bygone era.8 Recognizing that his position required balancing norm entrepreneurship with the more pragmatic concerns of rallying member-state support and managing the UN bureaucracy (Rushton 2008, 95), Annan envisioned the reinterpretation of sovereignty that allowed for greater international jurisdiction over civil conflicts and humanitarian crises as a practical first step toward this ambitious end. While this second, more radical, shift in UN policy proposals thrust subjective differences over the status of state sovereignty to the fore, the fracture emerged relatively slowly. Many of the Millennium Report’s recommendations for more assertive, systematic, and robust UN intervention policies were unanimously adopted by the UNGA in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, the most significant of which was the responsibility to protect (R2P). R2P was constructed on three pillars that effectively redefined the traditional international legal definition of sovereignty and chipped away at its inviolability: (1) states are responsible for protecting their populations from the most heinous humanitarian atrocities; (2) the international community is responsible for assisting states in fulfilling this obligation; and (3) the international community is responsible for using all means necessary to ensure their fulfillment (ICISS 2001, 7–12, 14–18; UNGA 2009a). While reaffirming the state’s central role in domestic governance, R2P recast sovereignty as a responsibility rather than a right, and something that the international community could abridge when deemed necessary. Its unanimous adoption seemed to indicate a united international community committed to a radically reenvisioned UN role in humanitarian intervention. However, R2P’s unanimous adoption belied the divisiveness it triggered concerning UN jurisdiction. The World Summit Outcome Document addressed a wide range of issues, with R2P accounting for only two of the document’s 178 paragraphs, indicating that support for the overall document did not necessarily imply support for R2P. Plenary session statements by member states exhibited differing degrees of support for R2P, with many countries (though still a minority) expressing reservations about military intervention against recognized governments (UNGA 2005a).9 Additionally, and similarly to the outcome document’s package deal, R2P is not a singular policy but rather a three-pillared framework. The first two pillars—and even the third as it concerns diplomatic and economic means for enforcing compliance—have received nearly unanimous vocal or tacit support, with reservations solely focused on the potential military dimension of the third pillar. UNSC Resolution 1674 more specifically addressed and reaffirmed unanimous support for R2P a year after the World Summit, but differences over the legitimacy of militarily violating state sovereignty were more pronounced. China and Russia were initially inclined to veto the resolution. Though they ultimately assented, both expressed deep reservations concerning its potential infringement on state sovereignty (UNSC 2006a), which carried more weight than reservations lodged at the World Summit since both countries wield UNSC veto power over any proposed implementations of R2P. A superficial look at the voting records, then, misses the deeper undercurrent of disagreement. Specifically, while most states generally supported a more active and assertive UN role in humanitarian interventions, UN policy proposals that offered successively more expansive justifications and jurisdictional parameters for intervention triggered and aggravated hitherto latent differences concerning the legitimacy of placing the UN’s authority to intervene before traditional interpretations of state sovereignty. This is most clearly manifest in attempts to implement R2P. Examining UNSC resolutions regarding the implementation of R2P allows us to not only disentangle positions on R2P from the many other policy proposals contained in the World Summit Outcome Document, but also isolate R2P’s component parts (or pillars) to examine where disagreements have emerged. An analysis of UNSC resolutions since 2006 reveals broad support for the first and second pillars. Resolutions officially notifying states of their obligation to protect their citizens (the first pillar) were unanimously supported in the cases of Yemen (UNSC 2011j) and the Central African Republic (UNSC 2013a), with members’ official statements universally supporting the UN’s authority to monitor and comment on domestic human rights abuses (UNSC 2011k, 2013b). Resolutions invoking the second pillar—to authorize UN assistance, to include peacekeeping forces, to assist governments in fulfilling their obligations under R2P—have been adopted in the cases of Sudan (UNSC 2006b), Cote d’Ivoire (UNSC 2011e), South Sudan (UNSC 2011g), and the Central African Republic (UNSC 2013c). Statements on all three, again, demonstrated universal support for UN authority in providing this assistance to states (UNSC 2006c, 2011f, 2011h, 2013d).10 It is on proposed applications of the third pillar, and specifically the authorization of military intervention, that consensus has fractured. Libya is the only case in which the third pillar has been successfully invoked, initially with a resolution authorizing economic sanctions (UNSC 2011a) followed by one authorizing military intervention (UNSC 2011c). Interestingly, member statements expressed no reservations concerning sovereignty on the first (UNSC 2011b), indicating that, while the sanctions against the Libyan government were motivated by domestic human rights abuses, their application was understood as a legitimate exercise of sovereignty on the part of sanctioning states rather than an infringement on the sovereignty of the sanctioned. However, discord emerged on the authorization of military intervention. No dissenting votes were cast, but Brazil, China, Germany, India, and Russia abstained. While Germany’s expressed concerns about the cost and effectiveness of the strategy, the others’ reservations focused directly on the resolution’s infringement of sovereignty and the precedent it would set for future cases (UNSC 2011d). Following the authorized military intervention in Libya, fundamental disagreement concerning the UN’s legitimate jurisdiction in civil conflicts has left the UNSC gridlocked over new applications of R2P’s military dimension. Whereas Western powers responsible for conducting the intervention hailed its success and cast it as a harbinger of the UN’s robust adaptation to a changing world, others strongly criticized what they viewed to be a misapplication of R2P for political purposes that directly threatened state sovereignty by deposing a recognized government (Morris 2013, 1274–77). China and Russia have been particularly vocal, explicitly invoking their support for traditional notions of state sovereignty in condemning the Libyan intervention’s outcome and refusing to support—or even abstain on—similar resolutions concerning the Syrian civil war.11 Syria has been the only case for which the application of R2P’s third pillar has been considered by the UNSC since the Libyan intervention. However, the strength with which China, Russia, and others have objected to R2P’s military dimension on principled grounds of state sovereignty suggests that their resistance will be equally forceful on other cases in the future. Given China and Russia’s veto power on the UNSC, implementation of R2P’s third pillar—or at least its military dimension—appears to be stalled for the foreseeable future. The above demonstrates the significance of legitimacy discourses in governing the evolution of UN humanitarian intervention policy since the end of the Cold War. A relatively abrupt and intense shift in the political landscape catalyzed virtually unanimous support for expanding UN authority over humanitarian crises. However, as the specific contours of new UN policies took shape, subjective differences concerning the UN’s legitimate jurisdiction emerged over the interpretation of state sovereignty, slowly fracturing the unity with which UN-led humanitarian intervention was initially broached following the Cold War. In other words, relatively radical UN policy reforms introduced in response to changing political conditions triggered hitherto latent differences over the legitimacy of UN-authorized military intervention on humanitarian grounds—a legitimacy trap that has arrested their implementation. Importantly, while strategic interests can always be assumed to be at work at the UN, the above evidence suggests the current crisis is fundamentally about principled differences in how the UN is legitimized by member states.12 If we assume legitimacy discourses to be “cheap talk” and more immediate strategic interests to be the primary driver of state behavior, we should expect member states’ positions on UN authority in regard to state sovereignty to vary according to those specific interests. Yet, the evidence reveals remarkable consistency on policy positions and in stated justifications by member states. Resistance to policy reforms emerged only slowly, indicating the role of point-to-point comparisons in tempering tactical responses to institutional changes, but has resulted in UNSC gridlock stemming from contested notions of UN legitimacy in abridging state sovereignty. Recalling the significant procedural basis of the UN’s legitimacy established at the San Francisco Conference, the tensions resulting from the temporal and subjective dynamics have produced an additional, and potentially more significant, underlying legitimacy issue for the UN in the form of uneven adaptation. Reinterpreting the UN as an institution for global—rather than just interstate—governance constructs discursive justification for the expansion of UN authority over humanitarian intervention, ultimately representing peoples rather than just states.13 For example, Secretary-General Annan explicitly referenced this aspect of the UN Charter Preamble to legitimize R2P’s reinterpretation of state sovereignty (2000), suggesting the UN’s primary responsibility is to assist states in ensuring the security and development of populations. This indicates that, to maintain coherence (Franck 1990, 150–82) with the procedural fairness through which the UN was originally legitimized, procedural reforms to the UN’s representational model are necessary to legitimize expanding UN authority. Thus far, however, contestation over UN intervention has focused on the appropriate scope of the UN’s authority in implementing new policies, largely neglecting procedural issues. This is anything but surprising for a variety of reasons, such as the following: the UN Charter sets a higher bar for procedural reforms than for agenda revisions, so when the implementation of new policies is currently contested and obstructed there is little chance for procedural reforms to gain traction; states are more reticent to altering institutional procedures than revising policies, as they produce more direct and lasting effects on the balance of power and influence in the organization; and states have little short-term incentive to dilute their organizational influence with the introduction of new actors. Thus, even minor procedural reform proposals that do not address the underlying issue—such as expanding membership in the UNSC or granting greater powers to the UNGA—have languished (UNGA 2005a), and more thorough procedural reforms calling for proportional representation or a parliamentary assembly alongside the UNGA (Schwartzberg 2012) have been all but dead on arrival. Nevertheless, the low likelihood for procedural reform in the UNSC or UNGA in the near future does not mitigate the inconsistency the widening gap between UN policies and procedures creates, or the hitherto latent legitimacy problems it poses. Given the difficulty of procedural reform, alleviation of these legitimacy concerns has been sought through indirect means. Clark (2005, 173–89) demonstrates how the end of the Cold War resulted in pressures for states to homogenize according to international expectations of domestic governance, specifically to adopt liberal democratic government.14 While these pressures emanate from a variety of sources, the UNGA and UNSC have been focal points for these efforts, defining democracy as a “universal value” for which all states must strive and making democracy the foundation upon which the UN initiates state-building efforts (UNGA 2010).15 This promotion of democracy has been partially justified, genuinely or not, by the desire to make the UN more representative of the peoples who populate its member states. If state leadership is popularly elected and state interests flow directly from the people, then state-based membership at the UN will appear more representative of sub- and trans-state populations who are increasingly the target of UN global initiatives (Boutros-Ghali 1996, 26). In other words, by reshaping the type of states populating the system the UN alleviates democratic deficit concerns, bolstering its legitimacy and authority as not just reflective of the international community, but of the global population—without having to initiate major procedural reforms. This, however, is only an indirect and partial response, and one that neglects the population disparities between member states. Equal representation among states in the UNGA translates into significant inequality in representation of peoples, as India’s single vote is of equal weight to that of Belgium, despite their massive population difference. The procedural fairness of “one state, one vote” was justified in 1945 by the fact that the UN’s purpose of maintaining international peace and security was interpreted through an interstate lens, but it is increasingly being called into question as the UN expands its agenda into less traditional issues of international security that directly address populations within and between states. Goodin (2010, 178) urges patience by pointing out that, in prior domestic cases of democratization, procedural reform often follows long after other, more substantive, elements of democratic governance, thus we should expect the same at the global level. While disheartening for those seeking an immediate expansion of UN representation, this indicates that, despite the current institutional gridlock on procedural reform, procedural legitimacy concerns will only grow until a resolution is reached. Goodin appears optimistic about the future of global democracy, but his wide historical lens does little to mitigate the growing dissonance between procedures and purposes, which will continue raising questions of legitimacy until it is adequately addressed. In sum, viewing UN humanitarian intervention policy since the Cold War through a dynamic conceptualization of legitimacy and its cycles renders both a more satisfying application of legitimacy as explanatory variable as well as a deeper more contextualized analysis of institutional change. This analysis indicates that the impetus for and trajectory of UN humanitarian intervention policies have been largely driven by issues of legitimacy, and more specifically by contested perceptions of UN authority with regard to state sovereignty within the context of a dynamic political environment. By introducing the logic of uneven adaptation that results from contested legitimacy, the applied framework also draws attention to a less visible but no less significant issue of procedural dissonance that pervades not just the UNGA and UNSC but potentially other aspects of the UN system. While the future trajectory of UN humanitarian intervention policy and procedural reform are contingent upon a variety of forces, the conceptual tools introduced in the prior section lend greater nuance in elucidating the centrality of legitimacy discourses in shaping its contours. Conclusion Institutional legitimacy is finally, if belatedly, receiving the attention it deserves in the IR literature, though wider acceptance of its influence and role as a type of power—rather than a modifier or limiter of power—is still a work in progress. Highlighting the deficiencies in how we conceptualize and operationalize legitimacy is not intended as a damning critique, but rather a reminder that the role of legitimacy in determining political outcomes is still poorly specified. If legitimacy is as powerful a force as many scholars currently studying it suggest, it deserves greater conceptual clarity and rigor in application. Unpacking the dynamics of institutional legitimacy—in how it changes over time, how we interpret it in different ways, and how it influences institutional evolution—directly contributes to this goal. Recognizing the fluidity of legitimacy allows us to capture variations in institutional legitimacy, which lends it greater explanatory power in accounting for the variations inherent in the evolution of international institutions. Specifically, the above framework elucidates how political changes place pressures on institutions to adapt to new realities, disrupting prior institutional arrangements and forcing renegotiation over the parameters of institutional authority, and how this often triggers hitherto latent subjective differences over the bases of institutional legitimacy. Thus, institutions must routinely navigate between persistent pressures to adapt and disagreement over the appropriate nature of adaptation—a legitimacy trap that results from contested notions of legitimacy during periods of political change and one that profoundly shapes institutional trajectories. This is important for disaggregating the role of strategic interests from that of evolving legitimacy discourses in accounting for institutional change, and it provides empirical traction for explaining the causes, processes, and outcomes of institutional reform efforts. While strategic interests and issues of effectiveness remain important, the above highlights the role of social structures in guiding the evolution of institutions, locating institutional change as outcomes of broader negotiations over the social purposes for which institutions are created to achieve. We can generalize the conceptual tools provided to complement and contextualize current explanations for institutional change across a wide range of international institutions. An analysis of UN intervention policy provides a useful plausibility probe of the framework, but it could equally be applied to other UNGA initiatives, such as how perceptions concerning the UN’s authority over development politics have shaped the evolution of the MDGs and their successor, the Sustainable Development Goals. Elsewhere in the UN system, critical failures—such as the Oil for Food Programme or the WHO’s response to the 2014 Ebola crisis—could be assessed to see how cases of corruption or incompetence shape perceptions of UN/WHO legitimacy and spur new reform proposals, and how principled disagreements concerning these proposals are shaping institutional reforms. Critical junctures of differing intensity—including the collapse of the Bretton Woods system, problems generated by institutional hypocrisy (Weaver 2009), and the 2008 financial crisis—represent promising points from which to reconsider explanations for International Monetary Fund and World Bank reforms, assessing the degree to which contested notions of institutional legitimacy have shaped their evolution and the success with which they have emerged from recurring legitimacy traps. While this framework can be applied to virtually any international or regional institution, it is useful to specify the audience of legitimacy discourses under investigation and confront methodological issues involved with discursive recoveries. Member states and their ambassadors represent a logical audience when assessing the broad contours of UNGA and UNSC intervention policy, but investigating institutions with more specialized purposes may require zeroing in on bureaucratic players and specialized agencies whose perceptions are decisive in shaping member-state positions. Additionally, more rigorous empirical tests of the role of legitimacy discourses must think carefully about teasing apart alternative explanations when interpreting the statements and actions of institutional players. The above analysis is cursory in nature, while a more robust test would include alternative hypotheses pitting immediate strategic interests against principled legitimacy concerns, conducting a process trace across a range of principal actors to determine the degree of consistency in their statements and actions even as strategic interests vary. IR scholarship usually privileges rational self-interest explanations, placing a higher burden of proof on social or norm-based explanations that demand thick discursive recoveries to establish their validity. Ultimately, my framework seeks to complement—rather than replace or deny—strategic interest models of institutional change, injecting greater nuance into our explanations by providing sociohistorical context to institutional trajectories. Additionally, my framework is just that—a framework. It offers general propositions for how the dynamic nature of institutional legitimacy influences, and sometimes impedes, institutional change. However, it stops short of offering specific predictions concerning institutional outcomes. This is not its purpose. Every institution possesses its own history, procedures, and agenda through which legitimacy discourses are filtered, indicating that outcomes should vary across contexts. Rather, the above provides new—and intentionally generic—conceptual tools that can be tailored to a variety of specific institutional contexts in order to explain and predict the probability, direction, and intensity of institutional change. The above provides both a logical justification for taking seriously the dynamic nature of legitimacy in the face of political change, and a demonstration of its empirical validity. I am confident that further empirical applications of these conceptual tools will progressively reveal the importance of legitimacy discourses and their historical evolution for explaining institutional change. Acknowledgments Thank you to the many colleagues whose comments and critiques lent direction to this project, with special thanks to Andy Katz, Alex Wendt, and the six anonymous International Studies Review reviewers whose insights and recommendations were particularly valuable. Footnotes 1While the term institution takes on a variety of useful meanings in IR scholarship, my discussion specifically attends to formal institutions, or organizations. However, the following could equally apply to informal, discursive institutions that similarly encompass a larger body of rules, norms, and procedures (such as sovereignty Krasner 1999; Wendt 1999). 2Precisely the process by which hegemonic stability recycles (Gilpin 1981), though one which Ikenberry (2001) argues is not inevitable. 3Coicaud (2002, 221) notes that “changes affecting possibilities generate an awareness of rights and duties that were not until now perceived as such. They contribute toward a modification in the configuration of right,” which, taken to its practical conclusion in international politics, might entail modifications in the institutional infrastructure of international, or global, politics. Here I am pointing out how technological innovation can affect sociopolitical possibilities, and thus the social structure of international politics. 4In the empirical section, for example, I highlight how UN Secretaries-General Boutros-Ghali and Annan sought to legitimize greater UN authority over humanitarian crises in the reports they presented to member states. 5Capturing both the quantitative and qualitative aspects defined by Ruggie (1992, 571): near-universal membership of independent states, operating according to principles of equality among states, and generating generalized principles of conduct through institutional procedures. 6Most obviously the UNSC, though Hurd (2008, 91–105) notes that its legitimacy resulted from the procedural fairness (i.e., multilateralism) upon which the San Francisco Conference crafted the UN framework. 7While the prevalence of civil war did increase during this period, Lacina (2004, 191) rightly points out that diminishing concern about interstate conflict “increased attention to a problem that has long been with us.” 8Thus, the Millennium Report’s formal title, We the Peoples, invoking the opening words of the UN Charter’s Preamble to suggest the UN’s legitimate role as an organization for global, and not just interstate, governance. 9While the speeches were, as is custom, absurdly courteous and amicable, a close reading shows divisions among (1) those states considering R2P an appropriate first step to greater UN authority in intervention, (2) those desiring to circumscribe its application to only the most heinous violations of international law, and (3) those disparaging it as a tool for great powers to violate the sovereignty of weaker states. 10China, Qatar, and Russia abstained on the resolution regarding Sudan, but their reservations did not concern implementing the second pillar of R2P. Rather, they desired a more explicit reference to “consent” from the Sudanese government to clarify that this was an application of the second, and not the third, pillar. 11Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu expressed regrets about authorizing the use of military force in Libya, and the Russian UNSC delegate explicitly referenced this perceived misapplication of R2P in Libya in justifying Russia’s, alongside China’s, veto of the first of four resolutions invoking R2P language to condemn the Syrian government’s use of force against civilians (UNSC 2011i). 12While strategic interests and legitimacy are at times intimately related (Goddard 2010; Hurd 2008), it is useful to disaggregate rational self-interest from legitimacy discourses to isolate the effects of norm-driven interests. 13While this article trains attention on reforms to UN intervention policy, others introduced similar justifications for new UN development policies, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 14Also see Bukovansky (2002) on the ways in which international culture shapes domestic governance. 15Also see, for example, Boutros-Ghali’s (1996),Agenda for Democratization and the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document (UNGA 2005b). 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