The Pope's apologies to Muslims for the sins of 12th-century Crusaders, the crises over Kosovo and East Timor, the prosecution of Augusto Pinochet, the rows in the International Whaling Commission, the harangues of Slobodan Milosevic from his dock at The Hague, the belated compensation to the victims of Nazism-all these phenomena are improbably connected by a single invisible thread: normative shift. In the Western world of the last few decades, the phenomenon of normative shift-by which I mean simply the social process of changing domestic or international rules about what is deemed acceptable or unacceptable behavior-has been a factor in decisions ranging right up to military action, and even the form such action has taken. One special case, normative conflict between the West and the Islamic world, has deeper roots-at least 300 if not 1,300 years deeper. But that conflict, too, has been sharpened to a murderous point by recent changes in Western norms, even so domestic and seemingly marginal a change as the recruitment of women to combat forces.
How, then, to characterize normative shift? Why does it occur, and what factors account for its particular direction? How have the changes flowing from it been manifest in recent international crises? What is the relationship of changing norms to the structure of the international system, and what of the future? It is with these questions that this essay is concerned.
Norms, Laws and Consequences