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Adoption, Adaptation, or Chance? Inter-Organizational Diffusion of the Protection of Civilians Norm from the UN to the African Union

Oksamytna, K. ORCID: 0000-0001-7725-3151 & Wilén, N. (2022). Adoption, Adaptation, or Chance? Inter-Organizational Diffusion of the Protection of Civilians Norm from the UN to the African Union. Third World Quarterly, 43(10), pp. 2357-2374. doi: 10.1080/01436597.2022.2102474


Norms can be adopted without modifications or adapted to regional contexts, for strategic or principled reasons. Yet norm adoption and adaptation can also happen by chance. When adoption takes place without consideration of the norm’s effectiveness or appropriateness, it is called imitation. When adaptation takes place in such a manner, we lack conceptual tools to analyze it. We propose a novel concept of incidental adaptation – divergence between promoted and adopted norms due to fortuitous events. This completes the typology of scenarios leading to norm adoption and adaptation. We apply the typology to the transfer of protection of civilians norm in peace operations from the United Nation (UN) to the African Union (AU). The AU adopted the UN’s approaches in pursuit of interoperability, resources, and out of recognition of the UN’s normative authority. It also happened incidentally when the AU temporarily followed the UN’s approaches. The AU also engaged in adaptation to reflect the nature of its operations and normative orientations of AU member states. Incidental adaptation accounted for the presence of the rights-based tier in the AU’s protection of civilians concept. These findings nuance our understanding of norm diffusion, inter-organizational relations, and the role of chance in international affairs.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
Publisher Keywords: United Nations; African Union; norm diffusion; peace operations; protection of civilians; inter-organizational
Subjects: J Political Science > JF Political institutions (General)
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
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