How to deal with the rotten apple in the basket? Exploring membership suspension in regional councils of the Baltic Sea and the Arctics



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Tartu Ülikool


After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Regional Councils (RCs) in the Baltic Sea, Barents Sea, and Arctic region suspended Russia’s membership. These are only three instances of an overall increasing use of membership suspension as a means of dealing with non-compliance among member states in International Organisations (IOs). Given their relatively high costs and the lack of scholarly evidence indicating that suspensions have an accountability impact, this growing application is puzzling, posing the central research question of why the member states of the three RCs suspended Russia. To answer the question, the thesis adopts an exploratory approach to identify factors determining the decision to suspend. This is done by conducting empirical research on membership suspension in the context of three regional soft law organisations — the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, and the Arctic Council. Conceptually, the study relies on existing literature on membership suspension. For theoretical guidance, the state’s decision to suspend is assumed to follow a logic of appropriateness or consequences. Drawing on empirical data from 12 expert interviews, the presence or absence of one or the other logic will be analysed along indicators, reflecting factors and considerations that motivate states to suspend. Since the research goal is to come up with more general explanations as to why IO member states suspend a non-compliant, the results have been compared across the three cases to ensure more generalisable findings. The thesis finds that the logic of appropriateness prevails in the RC member states’ decision to suspend. Furthermore, three explanatory indicators, namely cohesive identity, international symbolism and severity, have been explored, which deliver more widely applicable explanations of why IO members suspend. These findings bring more clarity to why states suspend and to understand the ongoing developments in the three RCs.