Katharina Pichler Coleman

Associate Professor

Relevant Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2021)
Supranational authority: the role of the United Nations secretariat in the expansion of the departments of peacekeeping operations and political affairs (2018)

Why do member states generously finance some departments within an International Organisation, while others are starved for resources? Why do funding allocations shift over time? What role do bureaucrats themselves play in processes that influence this variation? For the most part, for example, the UN regular budget varies only slightly from one biennium to the next, but occasionally, there are sudden increases in the resources of a particular department. This project seeks to explain why. This thesis asserts that the UN Secretariat, and the Secretary-General in particular, can strategically utilise their expertise-based and principle-based authority in order to persuade member states to provide more resources to particular departments. I study the UN budget process to illustrate the avenues available for influence by the Secretary-General and other bureaucrats. I explore two in-depth case studies, drawing on extensive primary documents and sixteen expert interviews, to examine the actions of the Secretariat in the years leading up to the changes in both departments.These two moments of dramatic change were the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in 2000/2001, and the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) from 2005 to 2008. In both, the Secretariat was able to leverage its informal authority to increase its resources, but only when the arguments they put forward accorded both with their type of authority, and with the values held by the audience; this persuasion was also only possible when member state blocs were not entrenched in opposition to each other on a related issue. The Secretariat used three strategies to achieve this: i) agenda setting, ii) initiating and expanding operations, and iii) multiplying authority by creating like-minded expert panels.

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Conditions Apply: Non-State Actors Challenging State Sovereignty through Intergovernmental Organizations - An Analysis of National Liberation Movements and Indigenous Peoples at the United Nations (2016)

This dissertation contributes to the study of Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs), such as the United Nations, and demonstrates their important function to convene multiple actors engaged in normative contestation and change. It achieves this by offering a systematic theoretical and empirical account of how non-state actors (NSAs) challenge the institution of state sovereignty. The argument offered specifically seeks to answer how and under what conditions this challenge is possible, and whether and when states respond by limiting IGOs and/or NSAs. To answer this question, the dissertation analyzes the successes and failures of two sets of non-state actors that have sought to alter prevailing conceptions of state sovereignty: national liberation movements and indigenous peoples. The dissertation’s original contributions to existing knowledge are threefold. First, I build on existing constructivist theory to argue that state sovereignty is despite being resilient and hard to change, also a mutable and variable composite institution. I specify that state sovereignty’s variance finds its clearest expression in three international norms that makes up the institution: territoriality, non-interference and self-determination. Second, I develop and apply the significance of three explanatory factors of non-state actors using IGOs to challenge and change the composite parts of state sovereignty: a) non-state actors require meaningful access and must expand participation capabilities to relevant venues within the nested structure of the IGO; b) non-state actors rely on the often essential role of allies active in the IGO to influence venue constraints and outcomes; c) non-state actors and their allies must find, create and/or be able to change relevant venues in order to advance collective goals through persuasion and social pressure tactics. I identify a particularly critical venue type which is coined sheltered venue. Sheltered venues establish a foot in the door to the IGO through which non-state actors deepen their interaction with states. Finally, I offer a detailed empirical investigation of national liberation movements and indigenous peoples interacting with the UN. No study of these actors in comparison exists to date. I, as such, explore how decisions and outcomes that benefited national liberation movements impacted indigenous peoples’ engagement at the United Nations.

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Expectations of Reciprocity in the Law of Armed Conflict (2016)

The expectation of reciprocity has a long history in international law generally and the law of armed conflict in particular. When negotiating international agreements states often include provisions allowing for negative in-kind responses as remedies for violations of treaty obligations. Historically, this kind of reciprocity has been central to the law of armed conflict. According to some, though, the purpose of the law of armed conflict has changed. Instead of a tool protecting the interests of states involved in armed conflict, the purpose of the law is now to limit the suffering of those caught in war-zones; both combatants and non-combatants alike. Under this conception, the expectation of reciprocity has no role to play when states consider their legal obligations towards their opponents in an armed conflict. Contrary to this view, I argue that an expectation of reciprocity continues to be an important factor when states consider their law of armed conflict obligations. First, by taking a more nuanced view of reciprocity than just negative in-kind responses, I show how expectations of reciprocity still exist within the law of armed conflict. Second, using Hart’s understanding of law as the union of primary and secondary rules, I demonstrate how states have preserved the expectation of reciprocity – both within the law as a secondary rule and beyond the law as a policy option – to respond in the face of continued non-compliance with law of armed conflict obligations by an opponent. Lastly, by taking the multi-actor setting of state decision-making seriously, I show how these more nuanced forms of reciprocity make themselves felt in debates about law of armed conflict obligations. The case studies of this dissertation concentrate on the Geneva Conventions and the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions. The first case study illustrates the many places where the law maintains expectations of reciprocity. The final two cases examine US policy regarding Prisoner of War obligations in the Vietnam War and the Global War on Terror to show how states make use of the more nuanced forms of reciprocity in these secondary rules in response to continued non-compliance by an enemy.

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The nature of norms and the evolution of transitional justice (2016)

There are a wide variety of contemporary international norms: some are large and diffuse, while others are concise and clear. Some norm-adopting states follow precedent, while some adapt or innovate even as they profess to follow the same norm. This dissertation attempts to explain the variation in both norms and states’ normative decisions by investigating the conceptual structure of norms. I argue that while norms are currently understood to be a single grouping of three components – a problem, a justification, and a behavior – in reality, the international community often allows deviations from those combined components as acceptable interpretations of the original norm.This dissertation makes two contributions – a concept and a decision-making model – to bridge the gap between norm structure and the outcomes of norm diffusion. The first, the “norm cluster,” expands the single norm into a group of interlinked but distinct justifications and behaviors related to a common problem. Within a norm cluster, actors have more freedom to choose the combination of components which is most appropriate for them. The second innovation, a decision-making model, helps to understand and partially predict state decisions with respect to the contents of the norm cluster, previous norm adopters, and local conditions. Because a norm cluster’s contents are determined intersubjectively, the actions of new adopters and the reactions of the interested community combine to produce normative evolution.I demonstrate the applicability of these contributions by tracing the evolution of the field of transitional justice (TJ). I expand upon existing behavioral datasets and create an additional dataset consisting of official TJ justifications. By mapping justification and behavior over space and time, I show via multiple methods that the field of transitional justice has resulted in a wide variety of normatively acceptable outcomes which reflect choices made at all points on the decision-making model. I undertake further analysis of TJ’s evolution to show the processes of innovation, discourse, acceptance and resistance which I argue shape the content and boundaries of a norm cluster, and provide an explanation for the patterns of continuity and change which have defined and changed the field.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2020)
Convergence in conflict: reassessing vote-based affinity and UN voting strategy through US-North Korea relations (2020)

The standard measure of voting convergence in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly has been the Affinity of Nations index—or ‘affinity score’. Scholars have generally taken higher levels of affinity as evidence of interest similarity under the assumption that states’ voting positions reflect their underlying policy preferences. However, while this implies that higher affinity should be correlated with interstate cooperation and that lower affinity should be correlated with interstate conflict, records of interstate relations reveal that states in conflict sometimes experience a counterintuitive increase in affinity.This study re-assesses how we interpret increased voting convergence during periods of conflict. Drawing on literature on political signaling and international organizations, I argue that this phenomenon can be explained by ‘placatory voting’: a purposive use of UN votes to signal benign intentions in periods of tension, as a de-escalation strategy. Using a quantitative analysis of dyadic cooperation scores, I find that patterns consistent with placatory voting—while a minority—are still fairly widespread, with 38.8% of conflict dyads from 1990 to 2004 experiencing increased affinity, and such pattern cases being situated across multiple geographic regions and major international crises. Turning to US-North Korea relations as a primary case study, I also find that while conventional assumptions of affinity fail to consistently explain cycles of conflict and cooperation, placatory voting is both consistent with North Korean foreign policy behaviour and can explain instances of high affinity with the US in 1994, 2002, 2010, and 2016.

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The Rhetoric in Human Security in the 21st Century: The Case of Boko Haram in Nigeria (2015)

Since the end of the Cold War, new notions on international security have arisen that suggest that the concept has evolved to include the security of individuals. However, the more traditional concept of international security as pertaining primarily to the security of states remains applicable to many current security crises. This thesis substantiates this argument by examining the international reactions to Nigeria’s Boko Haram security issue. This thesis finds that other states responded to the Boko Haram threat only when it extended beyond Nigeria to neighbouring states including Chad, Cameroun and Niger. The Boko Haram security threat was recognized as a common security threat when it began to affect Cameroun in particular. Therefore, this thesis argues that states likely respond to an existing security threat when it begins to endanger individual national territories. They acknowledge an existing security issue as a common security threat only when it extends beyond a single state into at least one foreign territory. The concept of human security in international security is therefore lacking adequate utilization during security crises and its correct application must be a strong focus within international security literature and policy.

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Why Legitimacy Eludes: Going Beyond the Procedural versus Substantive Distinction to Explain Legitimacy Deficit in International Organizations (2014)

The paper examines the concept of legitimacy, its different forms and the way it is related to conceptions of international society. It argues that the legitimacy of international organizations will decline if the relevant audience splits in its perceptions of what is legitimate. In cases where different members of the audience develop incompatible conceptions of legitimacy, institutional solutions to the resulting legitimacy crisis will have limited potential. In these cases, even procedural legitimacy may be out of reach because of fundamental disagreements over even the minimal terms of cooperation.The paper applies this theoretical argument to the case study of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (CHR, or the Commission) and its reform. It finds that the CHR’s legitimacy crisis was precipitated by the change in the normative environment of the international society after the end of the Cold War. As a result of this shift, some members of the CHR developed a substantive understanding of input and output legitimacy, while others promoted a neutral understanding of legitimacy. Because the Commission’s members held incompatible conceptions of what is legitimate and because none were satisfied with the status quo, the CHR’s legitimacy declined. Furthermore, institutional solutions to the legitimacy crisis in this case proved ineffective. Because the shift affected both input and output legitimacies, compromise even on strictly procedural aspects became impossible. As a result, the CHR’s reform did not address legitimacy concerns and the United Nations Human Rights Council suffers from the same “credibility deficit” (General Assembly A/59/2005, 2005) as the abolished Commission.

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Addressing cyberwarfare: Bolstering deterrance through developing norms (2013)

This paper is interested in two things: one, exploring the ways in which states can deploy cyber-attacks that aim at disrupting, paralyzing and possibly destroying another state’s assets, with direct bearing on national security; and two, the potential strategies for limiting the scope and number of these attacks in the absence of viable deterrence. There is an ongoing debate about the nature and possibility of a ‘cyber war’ in the international system. By revisiting traditions conceptions of war, this paper argues a large-scale cyber war can be deterred using a strategy of deterrence by punishment, but deterrence fails to prevent ongoing limited-aims cyber attacks due to the issue of plausible deniability. Moreover, international legal frameworks fall short because states cannot credibly commit, even states could credible commitment the issue of adequately balancing humanitarian concerns and military necessity poses a challenge. As controlling behavior through traditional deterrence or purely rationalist legal frameworks fail with respect to limited-aims cyber attacks, this paper considers the possibility of changing states’ preferences as a means of addressing the problem. By allowing an agency/structure dichotomy to enter into the analysis, this paper explores the potential for norms in bolstering cyber deterrence. Although the development of new norms of behaviour is still in its early stages, there is evidence of states asserting their role in the process, acting as norms entrepreneurs in an attempt to shape state preferences in cyberspace.

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