A Divided West? Human Rights Activism, United Nations Reforms, and Transatlantic Relations

Prof. Dr. Klaus Günther, Andrei Markovits (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), PD Dr. Volker Heins

Gefördert durch die Stiftung Deutsch-Amerikanische Wissenschaftsbeziehungen (SDAW) im Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft

01. Januar 2008 bis 31. Dezember 2008

The goal of the project is to investigate the scope and depth of shared understandings between key actors in the U.S., Germany and Canada with regard to the reform of human rights-related mechanisms within the broader context of current UN reforms. How can we explain the differences in approaching UN reforms? Do they amount to the consolidation of a »Divided West« (Habermas) – or perhaps a divide between Germany and Canada on the one hand, and the U.S. on the other? If yes, is the divide about moral values or interests, or both?

To gain a broad sense of areas of divergence and convergence between the United States, Germany and Canada, we will conduct interviews and study official documents, background reports and newspaper articles from those three countries. In contrast to many conventional studies, the method used to identify country-specific differences will include NGOs.

The project can be expected to yield data to test three hypotheses.
(1) Encompassing Agreement. With regard to key UN reforms in the human rights field, convergence outweighs differences both at the governmental and the nongovernmental level.

(2) Transatlantic Civil Society. The transatlantic consensus on human rights and necessary reforms of UN human rights mechanisms is significantly stronger among human rights NGOs than among governments, mostly because NGOs are not bothered about strategic interests. The convergence among nongovernmental activists leads to a closing of the transatlantic divide at a time when governments are in disagreement.

(3) Deep Divide. A pervasive disaffection with »America« in Germany which may or may not be mirrored in corresponding attitudes among Americans vis-à-vis Europeans leads to a divide over possible futures of the U.N. that affects even NGOs. Underneath the bland surface of a common rhetoric, both governments and NGOs are at loggerheads. Differences among NGOs translate into or reflect differences between governments.