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Article

Thomas E. Doyle II

Deontological international ethics describes, analyzes, and assesses the principles governing the interactions of actors at and across various levels of society; focuses on the relations between states and other international actors; and is concerned with identifying and specifying the moral duties that each kind of international actor bears toward all others. The core theoretical elements of deontological international ethics include accounts of individual and collective agency, moral reason, the moral nature of action, and respect for the moral law as a necessary feature of ethical action. There are three historical phases of deontological international ethics: divine command and natural law ethics prior to Kant, late-modern thinker Immanuel Kant’s international ethics, and contemporary neo-Kantian approaches to nuclear ethics and transnational economic relations. The divine command ethical theories posit divine authority as the absolute and incontrovertible source of moral obligation. Meanwhile, natural law focuses on the intrinsically moral nature of military action and the centrality of moral agency and intention in the rightful use of force. On the other hand, Kant’s systemic deontological ethical theory posits individuals and states as autonomous and rational moral agents, identifies the categorical imperative as the supreme rational principle or morality and the concept of public right as its political corollary, describes a formal method for actors to determine their moral duty in ideal and non-ideal contexts, and applies this theory to the problems of interstate conflict and commerce.

Article

Ethical considerations in International Relations (IR) usually follow from the sovereignty and anarchy distinction. The ethical implications arising from these classic twin IR banners shift the focus toward relations of inside and outside, while morality remains restricted to the national level, where reciprocal moral obligation is legally secured through citizenship, while the international continues to be branded by a constant struggle for power and the elusiveness of any moral rules. In contrast, the poststructuralist notion of difference engenders a democratic ethos of immanent critique, which regards itself as a necessary corrective in contexts where liberal discourses are prevalent, but exposes a tendency of discounting the inherently political nature of the social. A poststructuralist ethics accentuates the radical political institution of society, the aporia of justice, and the contingency of a particular morality.

Article

Andreas Papamichail and Anthony F. Lang Jr.

The concept of security is central to the study of international relations (IR), yet it remains heavily contested, both in theory and in practice. In part, this is because the concept contains intractable tensions and contradictions. Nevertheless, or perhaps as a result of this, security—if understood as a state of being that is a function of war and peace—has been the subject of ethical reflection for millennia. Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, and Islamic traditions, among others, all have their own conceptions of how war and violence ought to be addressed. One of the more prominent ideas drawn from these debates is the concept of the just war, which emerged from the Christian tradition. It became an influential source of critical reflection upon both legal and practical dilemmas in international security, informing a wide range of debates around the world, and it has persisted at the heart of the field of Security Studies that emerged post-World War II. However, in the last couple of decades of the 20th century, changing notions of legitimate authority and broadened conceptions of conditions that cause harm and insecurity led to challenges to state-centrism and war-centrism in Security Studies. Issues such as global health security, counterterrorism, and humanitarian intervention have demonstrated the inherent tensions within security practices and demand novel ethical engagement. Approaching the issue of security from the perspective of international political theory (IPT) allows us to probe the ethical dimensions of security and ask how justice, authority, and security are linked and with what consequences.

Article

Brooke Ackerly and Ying Zhang

The study of feminist ethics in international relations (IR) is the study of three topics. The first is the feminist contributions to key topics in international ethics and the research agenda that continues to further that enterprise. Feminists have made important contributions to IR thought on central ethical concepts. They rethink these concepts from the perspective of their impact on women, deconstruct the dichotomies of the concepts and their constituent parts, and reconsider how the field should be studied. Next, there is the feminist engagement with the epistemological construction of the discipline of IR itself, by which feminists make the construction of the field itself a normative subject. Finally, there is the feminist methodological contribution of a “meta-methodology”—a research ethic applicable in the research of all questions and able to improve the research practice of all methodologists. The contention here is that ethical IR research must be responsive to the injustices of the world, hence feminists have also explored the connections between scholarship and activism. And this in turn has meant exploring methodologies such as participatory action research that engages one with the political impact of research and methods. Furthermore, contemporary challenges related to climate, globalization, shifts in people, and shifts in global governance are encouraging feminists to work from multiple theoretical perspectives and to triangulate across multiple methods and questions, in order to contribute to our understanding of global problems and the politics of addressing them.

Article

Reina C. Neufeldt

The proliferation of international peacebuilding practice in the 2000s was accompanied by a series of questions that has produced a significant body of writing about peacebuilding ethics within International Relations. This growing body of literature has produced questions, debates and theoretical positions. As explored below, a limited set of meta-ethics considerations provide the foundation for normative theorizing, particularly the moral objectivist commitment to positive peace. The majority of theorizing is situated among normative ethics debates. These works respond to the questions: Who has agency or who ought to have agency in peacebuilding? What ends should peacebuilding pursue? And, what means will ensure that peacebuilding is done right? The related literature focuses on a broad range of conditions, from individuals working for nongovernmental organizations to state- and United Nations–sponsored interventions. It includes authors who write from cosmopolitan, consequentialist, postcolonial, virtue, critical, feminist, and Foucaultian perspectives, among others. Finally, there is nascent work in descriptive and applied ethics. Peacebuilding efforts to rebuild relationships and structures during and after conflict, violence and war present a series of ethical questions and challenges for international and national actors. Should the international community engage in peacebuilding? To what extent? Who ought to be involved? What constitutes good ends for peacebuilding? How can peacebuilding be done right? These questions identify the ways in which peacebuilding has been morally interrogated since its rise in prominence as a form of international intervention in the 1990s. The history of peacebuilding and peacebuilding meta-ethics must be considered with a view toward current normative ethics debates involving agency as well as the ends and means in peacebuilding.

Article

The just war tradition is the most dominant framework for analyzing the morality of war. Just war theory is being challenged by proponents of two philosophical views: realism, which considers moral questions about war to be irrelevant, and pacifism, which rejects the idea that war can ever be moral. Realism and pacifism offer a useful starting point for thinking about the ethics of war and peace. Feminists have been engaged with the just war tradition, mainly by exposing the gendered biases of just war attempts to restrain and regulate war and studying the role that war and its regulation plays in defining masculinity. In particular, feminists claim that the two rules of just war, jus ad bellum and jus in bello, discriminate against women. In regard to contemporary warfare, such as post-Cold War humanitarian interventions and the War on Terror, feminists have questioned the appropriateness of just war concepts to deal with the specific ethical challenges that these conflicts produce. Instead of abstract moral reasoning, which they critique as being linked to the masculine ideals of autonomy and rationality, many feminist argue for certain varieties of an ethics of care. Further research is needed to elaborate the basis of an ethical response to violence that builds on philosophical work on feminist ethics. Key areas for future investigation include asking hard questions about whom we may kill, and how certain people become killable in war while others remain protected.

Article

William Smith

Cosmopolitanism refers to the ideology that all human beings belong to a single community, based on a shared morality. A cosmopolitan community might be based on an inclusive morality, a shared economic relationship, or a political structure that encompasses different nations. The argument that all citizens of the world possess an equal moral status can be interpreted as a statement that all humans deserve to be given equal respect, or that their interests deserve to be treated equally. Cosmopolitanism was initially thought to have been established by the Cynics (classical cosmopolitanism), then further interpreted and elucidated by the Stoics, and later polished and cultivated by the Enlightenment scholars (enlightenment cosmopolitanism). Cosmopolitanism is an analytical viewpoint that defends the concept of global citizenship. Global citizenship is most commonly associated with a “way of creating a personal identity,” along with various ideas about one’s moral responsibilities and political rights. It is also worth noting how within the domain of international ethics, cosmopolitanism is currently being presented as a stand-alone paradigm, apart from rival approaches including nationalism, social libreralism, and realism. However, the difficulty of distinguishing cosmopolitanism from these rivals becomes apparent, and there are those who think that such discerning lines create more confusion than clarity about the various disagreements within the field.

Article

Foreign policy analysis (FPA) occupies a central place in the study of international relations. FPA has produced a substantial amount of scholarship dealing with subjects from the micro and geographically particular to the macro relationship of foreign policy to globalization. It brings together many different subject areas, indeed disciplines, as between international relations and comparative politics or political theory, or history and political science. FPA generates case studies of major world events, and the information that probes behind the surface of things, to make it more possible to hold politicians accountable. Meanwhile, officials themselves are ever more aware that they need assistance, conceptual and empirical, in making sense of how those in other countries conduct themselves and what can feasibly be achieved at the international level. However, each subject under FPA needs to be revitalized through the development of new lines of enquiry and through the struggle with difficult problems. Work is either already under way or should be pursued in eight important areas. These are (i) foreign policy as a site of agency, (ii) foreign policy and state-building, (iii) foreign policy and the domestic, (iv) foreign policy and identity, (v) foreign policy and multilateralism, (vi) foreign policy and power, (vii) foreign policy and transnationalism, and (viii) foreign policy and ethics.

Article

Matthew Weinert

Literature concentrated on sovereignty’s location laid the groundwork for the distinctive sort of ethical detachment that has characterized sovereignty in international relations (IR). While it is customary to refer to sovereign absolutism as linking a logic of prerogative with sovereignty, mainstream IR theory has reproduced its own variation on the theme and done little until recently to decouple the two. Yet beginning in the late 1970s, the literature began to entertain the idea that interdependence and globalization impede, constrain, corrode, or diminish the core assumptions of sovereignty: the centralization of power and authority, the supremacy of the state, the state’s capabilities to achieve its objectives, and the degree of permissiveness afforded by an anarchical system. Put differently, the space within which sovereignty could operate unencumbered rapidly diminished in size and scope, and the sovereign state, by losing control over various functions, was becoming incoherent at minimum, and irrelevant at maximum. If these arguments focused on a narrow question, then a new literature emerged in the mid to late 1990s that focused on, and questioned, sovereignty as authority. Moreover, the debates about globalization underscored sovereignty’s disjunctive nature. Yet by linking it so closely with material structures and factors, the literature generally elided consideration of the constitutive effect of international norms on sovereignty and the ways the institution of sovereignty has changed over time.

Article

The social contract tradition derives its ethical force from the hypothetical agreement that parties would reach in an initial choice situation. This initial choice situation brings together a description of the circumstances of justice, various extra-contractarian moral assumptions, and an instrumental theory of rational choice. The circumstances of justice refer to the conditions that require principles of justice. These conditions include the existence of social cooperation along with moderate scarcity. In the absence of such conditions, principles of justice are either unnecessary or impossible to sustain. Social cooperation generates both benefits and burdens, and it is the allocation of those components of social cooperation that requires principles of justice. The application of the social contract to the domestic context dates back to the ancient Greeks, though their version of the contract was somewhat crude and rather one-sided in favor of state authority. Later versions of the social contract would oblige the state to provide much more to citizens in return for their allegiance. John Rawls is widely credited with resurrecting the social contract tradition in the twentieth century. His thought holds special significance for the international social contract, as he extends the contractual approach ethics into the international system where his predecessors declined to do so.

Article

One of the most vigorous debates within the discipline of international relations (IR) revolves around the “universal/particular” dichotomy: the tensions between worldviews that emphasize the “whole” as a unified entity or set of ideas—in the case of IR, the “whole” typically refers to the “whole world”—and those that emphasize constituent “parts”, and the differences among them. Discussions regarding universalism and particularism have involved the traditions of realism, liberalism, and the English School, as well as critical theory, poststructuralism, and postcolonialism. Furthermore, the opposition between universalism and particularism has often taken the form of the analysis of conflict between the sovereign state, on one hand, and universal human rights, on the other. Feminists have been particularly influential in challenging the universal/particular debate in the context of human rights. Their perspectives on human rights are exemplary of feminist scholarship in the field of international ethics more generally. Indeed, feminists are constantly striving to mitigate and overcome the tensions between the universal and the particular through their commitment to relationality. The crucial question that remains is: What should be the relationship between the universal and the particular and how should we conceive of this relationship in a non-antagonistic and constructive manner? The answer lies in conceiving the relationship between the two as a dialectical one. In order to understand the universal, it is important to accept the fact that it is derived from particular local contexts and can only be realized through the culturally specific norms and rules in each context.

Article

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.

Article

International service learning has become increasingly popular in higher education. Such trips focus on cultivating skills in students, including civic engagement and intercultural understanding, while also being key ways for students to achieve self-growth and learn to apply and contextualize the theories they learn in the classroom in the real world. The goals often outlined in the literature about international service learning tend to be student-centric. While pedagogical goals matter, faculty should also keep in mind the ethics of engaging community partners, especially given the often unequal power relationship at play in the practice of international service learning. Being more attentive to these ethical dilemmas may not eliminate them, but it will ensure that students are considering and learning from the gray areas involved in international service learning, including their own individual relationships to power and injustice. Additionally, faculty should consider how to avoid replicating neocolonial logics in their desire to expose students to the world beyond themselves. Specifically, faculty should be more mindful of the language they use to describe these trips and avoid reifying the notion that service learning is something to be done in the developing world while study trips tend to be conducted in the developed world. Engaging reciprocity with a community partner in both the design and practice of the trip, preparing for cultural complexity in advance by situating the students in larger sets of geopolitical and economic practices, being honest about the skill set students bring to the table, being aware of the cultural and gender dynamics at play, and building in time for reflection before, during, and after the trip are all ways to attend to the larger ethical considerations at play.

Article

Normative thinking permeates the work of the English School and has done so since its start as the British Committee for International Politics. Ethics, or, more precisely, the tension between ethics and power or interests, was one of the original concerns of the founding members of the Committee. It was an aim of the Committee to combine ethical reflection with the historical analysis of states systems. The approach in first-generation, or classical, English School scholarship to ethical questions primarily involved the identification of traditions of political and moral speculation about international relations (IR). Another significant feature of classical English School thought was moral skepticism, which seriously challenged what could be said about ethical choices within the forms of international interaction it charted. However, keen interest in what normative agendas can be supported within international or world society—basic subsistence rights, international criminal justice, and humanitarian intervention—does not necessarily amount to a normative theory. As such, order versus justice is a more productive starting point for normative theorizing within the English School. Meanwhile, there are two modes of normative thought in postclassical English School: practical and moral–philosophical arguments. The English School is grounded in the practical, in the real-world tussle of power and interests, while at the same time it works through what it is possible to say about the nature of obligation and moral responsibility among international actors. This is where ethics and practical interest meet, and it represents the unique contribution of the English School to contemporary normative IR theory.

Article

Despite an absolute prohibition against torture, countries throughout the world continue to engage in ill-treatment and torture, often during times of national stress, when perceived others or out-group members are subjected to extreme interrogation. This is shown in numerous analyses and documentary evidence of the detention and interrogation policies adopted by the US government after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, including coercive interrogation techniques that many regard as torture, secret detentions, and extraordinary renditions to third countries known to practice torture. Faced with an uncertain and stressful situation, prison guards in Abu Ghraib turned to violence as a way of reassuring themselves that they were in control. With little oversight and a general mandate to secure actionable intelligence, aggression was encouraged and physical and psychological techniques refined in Afghanistan and at the detention center in Guantánamo became standard operating procedures. Though government leaders disavowed the use of torture and claimed that the United States used legally and morally acceptable coercive interrogation methods, US actions prompted a renewed philosophical and political debate whether there should be an absolute prohibition against torture or whether, under carefully specified circumstances, it is a lesser evil to torture a suspect for information to prevent a greater evil that menaces society. Justifications for the limited use of torture focus on its utility in preventing greater harm, especially under ticking bomb scenarios. Arguments for an absolute ban on torture question its effectiveness, citing anecdotal and experimental evidence that coercive methods often produce false confessions. Critics also cite strategic costs, including harm to the US reputation and its counterterrorism efforts, as well as damage to the global norm against torture. Public opinion in the United States and globally is ambivalent, though increasing representations of torture in popular culture have cultivated a torture myth, according to which torture is only used against hardened terrorists and in exceptional circumstances, when time is of the essence and torture is both necessary and effective in forcing terrorists to divulge valuable information that can save lives and avert future attacks. Ultimately, unrealistic depictions of torture and ambivalent signals from political leaders have created a climate of impunity and broad, though deeply divided support for harsh interrogation techniques.