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Constitutive Theory in International Relations  

Mervyn Frost

Constitutive theory is a philosophical analysis of the logical interconnections between actors, their actions, and the social practices within which they perform these. It draws on insights from the later work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, as developed and extended by Peter Winch and John Searle. It highlights that actors and their actions can only be understood from within the practices in which they are constituted as actors of a certain kind, who have available to them a specific repertoire of meaningful action. It stresses that the interpretation of their actions involves: understanding the language internal to the practices in which they take place; understanding the rule-boundness of that language; the meaning of its terms; a holist perspective on the practice; and, crucially, an understanding of the ethics embedded in it. It briefly explores the implications of such a philosophical analysis for those seeking to understand the actors and their interactions in global practices. It highlights how international actors (both states and individuals) are constituted as international actors in two major international practices, the practice of sovereign states and the global rights practice. It indicates the guidance constitutive theory might provide for all who would better understand international affairs.

Article

The Ethics of Refugee Repatriation  

Mollie Gerver

“Refugee repatriation” refers to the voluntary or forcible return of refugees back to the countries or regions from which they fled. It is broadly accepted that a state acts wrongly in forcibly repatriating refugees back to countries that remain unsafe. This is true for refugees fleeing war, persecution, environmental disasters, extreme poverty, and a range of other life-threatening conditions. What is less clear is whether a state acts wrongly in deporting refugees whose lives would no longer be at risk in their home countries, and who can obtain their basic rights. For example, it is not clear if Turkey and Germany would be justified in deporting back Syrian refugees if conditions sufficiently improved in Syria. It is additionally not clear whether humanitarian organizations ought to help refugees repatriate before retuning is safe, as when the United Nations helped Somali refugees repatriate from Kenya. Finally, it is not clear whether refugees have a right to repatriate to their home countries, and whether they have a right to return to the specific homes they left behind. For example, there is widespread debate over whether Palestinian refugees have a right to return to the homes they left in 1948 and 1967. Addressing these and other debates is essential for establishing ethical immigration policies and establishing the rights of refugees, organizations, and states.

Article

The Politics of Digital (Human) Rights  

Ben Wagner, Andy Sanchez, Marie-Therese Sekwenz, Sofie Dideriksen, and Dave Murray-Rust

Basic human rights, like freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and privacy, are being radically transformed by new technologies. The manifestation of these rights in online spaces is known as “digital rights,” which can be impeded or empowered through the design, governance, and litigation of emerging technologies. Design defines how people encounter the digital world. Some design choices can exploit the right to privacy by commodifying attention through tactics that keep users addicted to maximize profitability; similar design mechanisms and vulnerabilities have facilitated the abuse of journalists and human rights advocates across the globe. But design can also empower human rights, providing novel tools of resistance, accountability, and accessibility, as well as the inclusion of previously underserved voices in the development process. The new capabilities offered by these technologies often transcend political boundaries, presenting complex challenges for meaningful governance and regulation. To address these challenges, collaborations like the Internet Governance Forum and NETmundial have brought together stakeholders from governments, nonprofits, industry, and academia, with efforts to address digital rights like universal internet access. Concurrently, economic forces and international trade negotiations can have substantial impacts on digital rights, with attempts to enforce steeper restrictions on intellectual property. Private actors have also fought to ensure their digital rights through litigation. In Europe, landmark cases have reshaped the international management of data and privacy. In India, indefinite shutdowns of the internet by the government were found to be unconstitutional, establishing online accessibility as a fundamental human right, intimately tied with the right to assembly. And in Africa, litigation has helped ensure freedom of speech and of the press, rights that may affect more individualsas digital technologies continue to shape media. These three spheres—design, diplomacy, and law—illustrate the complexity and ongoing debate to define, protect, and communicate digital rights.

Article

Private Military and Security Companies  

Berenike Prem and Elke Krahmann

While early private military and security companies (PMSCs) were likened to mercenaries, today most scholars agree that PMSCs constitute a new phenomenon. They are organized as legitimate corporate entities, have a distinct legal status, and provide a wide range of military and security services. This definition reflects the evolution of the PMSC industry, which has moved beyond combat services to supply everything from transport, logistics, and maintenance to military and police training, demining, intelligence, risk analysis, armed and unarmed protective services, anti-piracy measures, border protection, and drone operations. Not only have PMSC services diversified, but so has their client base. In addition to industrialized and failed states, transnational corporations, international organizations, and even NGOs increasingly make use of PMSCs. There are several explanations for the growing recourse to these companies. Functional explanations see the employment of PMSCs as a rational response to the glaring gap between demand and supply in the market for force. Ideational and constructivist approaches, by contrast, impute national differences in the outsourcing of military and security services to dominant beliefs and norms about the appropriate relationship between the state and the market. The consequences of using PMSCs, including the accountability, effectiveness, and state control of PMSCs, issues of gender and racial equality, and theoretical implications for the location of political authority and the public good character of security are key issues. So is the question of suitable forms of regulation for the industry, including national and international laws, informal industry self-regulations, and hybrid regulatory approaches such as multi-stakeholder initiatives and standard setting schemes.

Article

Public Diplomacy  

Nancy Snow

Public diplomacy is a subfield of political science and international relations that involves study of the process and practice by which nation-states and other international actors engage global publics to serve their interests. It developed during the Cold War as an outgrowth of the rise of mass media and public opinion drivers in foreign policy management. The United States, in a bipolar ideological struggle with the Soviet Union, recognized that gaining public support for policy goals among foreign populations worked better at times through direct engagement than traditional, often closed-door, government-to-government contact. Public diplomacy is still not a defined academic field with an underlying theory, although its proximity to the originator of soft power, Joseph Nye, places it closer to the neoliberal school that emphasizes multilateral pluralistic approaches in international relations. The term is a normative replacement for the more pejorative-laden propaganda, centralizes the role of the civilian in international relations to elevate public engagement above the level of manipulation associated with government or corporate propaganda. Building mutual understanding among the actors involved is the value commonly associated with public diplomacy outcomes of an exchange or cultural nature, along with information activities that prioritize the foreign policy goals and national interests of a particular state. In the mid-20th century, public diplomacy’s emphasis was less scholarly and more practical—to influence foreign opinion in competition with nation-state rivals. In the post-Cold War period, the United States in particular pursued market democracy expansion in the newly industrializing countries of the East. Soft power, the negative and positive attraction that flows from an international actor’s culture and behavior, became the favored term associated with public diplomacy. After 9/11, messaging and making a case for one’s agenda to win the hearts and minds of a Muslim-majority public became predominant against the backdrop of a U.S.-led global war on terrorism and two active interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Public diplomacy was utilized in one-way communication campaigns such as the Shared Values Initiative of the U.S. Department of State, which backfired when its target-country audiences rejected the embedded messages as self-serving propaganda. In the 21st century, global civil society and its enemies are on the level of any diplomat or culture minister in matters of public diplomacy. Narrative competition in a digital and networked era is much deeper, broader, and adversarial while the mainstream news media, which formerly set how and what we think about, no longer holds dominance over national and international narratives. Interstate competition has shifted to competition from nonstate actors who use social media as a form of information and influence warfare in international relations. As disparate scholars and practitioners continue to acknowledge public diplomacy approaches, the research agenda will remain case-driven, corporate-centric (with the infusion of public relations), less theoretical, and more global than its Anglo-American roots.

Article

Utilitarianism and International Ethics  

Gerard Elfstrom

Utilitarianism is inextricably linked to international ethics. The roots of the principle of utility can be traced to the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was employed by thinkers such as David Hume. However, Jeremy Bentham first formulated utilitarianism in detail and carefully studied its implications. According to Bentham, happiness is a condition in which an individual enjoys more pleasure than pain. Because utilitarianism is focused on the welfare of the individual, state boundaries are of little consequence. Its reach is inherently global. There are different varieties of utilitarianism. What sets them apart from other ethical theories is their stipulation that whatever is of value should be maximized for all and whatever of disvalue should be minimized for all. For Bentham, pleasure is the ultimate value. Later, John Stuart Mill distinguished between higher and lower pleasures and argued that higher pleasures should be given greater weight. In the 20th century, authors such as R. M. Hare determined that maximal satisfaction of preferences is the value to be sought. The utilitarian emphasis on maximization of value and its choice of values have generated much criticism from those who espoused human rights theories, such as John Rawls and those influenced by his work. At present, the scholarly literature dealing with issues related to international ethics mostly comes from those who are committed to human rights theory or who are committed to equality of outcomes for human beings.