Bureaucratic Battles Behind Norm Diffusion: Explaining South Korea’s Foreign Aid Policy (with Daisuke Minami)

How do international norms spread in the international society and shape states’ behaviors? Existing norm diffusion literature has tended to focus on diplomatic socialization by international organizations and transnational activist networks, failing to theorize the domestic processes of norm promotion. This is incomplete, because without accounting for the latter, the former alone cannot explain variations in the outcome, norm compliance, when the independent variable, international normative pressures, is constant. In this paper, we address this challenge by stipulating that norm compliance depends on the outcome of bureaucratic policy debates. Specifically, states are likely to follow norms when the “bureaucratic balance of power” favors the norm-promoting bureaucracies, and when bureaucrats’ framing of norms “resonates” with the administration’s national agenda. We argue that frame resonance can outweigh the bureaucratic balance of power, that is, even weaker bureaucracies can successfully sell norms by convincing state leaders why norms can advance the administration’s priorities. We illustrate our argument by examining South Korea’s decision to join the OECD Development Assistance Committee.