Monday, June 21, 2004

International Ethics: Concepts,Theories, And Cases in Global Politics. by Mark R. Amstutz

The author had a number of interesting things in mind that he hoped to
expound upon in this book. The issues that I could ascertain were: He wanted to show that morals play an intrinsic role in international politics, and on the same token discredit the realist perception that power and security are the driving forces behind global politics. He also aimed at giving an introduction and analysis of the current scholarly situation in the field of International Relations and how it could be improved, this was to be illustrated through case studies andanalysis of contemporary and historical events. Whether or not he effectively and convincingly articulated his argument is left to individual taste and opinion.
In my view the author had a number of views that were quite compelling.
His assertion that though the world is a mix of different cultures, certain issues and norms are common to all peoples: “[D]ignity of human persons, freedom from torture, impartial application of the law, and freedom of conscience.” (10). Though these notions maybe steeped on western ideals and are not necessarily true in all cultures, they are widely accepted in today’s world. These norms form the basis of comparing the situation in different countries and enable us to identify countries and societies that may not be abiding by them and in turn we are able to come up with solutions to such problems. On the other hand, the author does try to limit the impact and use of the above norms as universal truths, he cautions against the use of moral absolutes and ethnocentric application of these morals. “ However, a state that seeks to foster rights in foreign countries should proceed tentatively, recognizing that international society is comprised of a plurality of cultures and world views.” (91).
As with everything in life, there is a downside to the author’s views. I may not be an expert in the field of International Relations, but with the little knowledge I have and historical data that I have collected, I have a couple of problems with this book. I do not disagree with the basic premise that morality exists in Foreign Relations, my contention is to what extent morality actually influences Foreign Policy. The author is seemingly to dismissive of the realist point of view- that I believe plays a major role in international relation-: “Clearly, the claim of moral skeptics that power and necessity alone dictate international politics is unpersuasive.”(198). One need only look to Afghanistan to see that national interests do pervade over morals. Prior to 9/11 many cared little about the condition that Afghans were living under, and it is only when the national interests of a particular country were threatened that something was done to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban. Morality, I believe, maybe an inherent aspect of human life, but I doubt that it is consciously applied when a country is considering a particular foreign policy. Morality is more often than not ignored or simply used to cloak self interest and the author does in no uncertain terms admit this: “ Rather that guiding and judging policies, morality has been used to
clothe and justify national interests.” Furthermore, the illustrations that the author gives to illustrate his moral standpoint are a bit vexing and may actually illustrate the folly of believing that morality is principal in the formulation of foreign policy. I pick Somalia for instance, sure the intervention was all about helping the people of Somalia and things went well for a while, but in the absence of a clear national interest in the region, troops were withdrawn and peace initiatives abandoned. It was only after 9/11 that the peace initiatives were renewed- so as to avoid Somalia turning into another Afghanistan- and are currently moving towards restoring peace in Somalia. The same goes for the Sudan and to an extent Afghanistan- after the Taliban were taken out and the world pledged billions of dollars to restore the country, the attention of the world shifted to other areas and Afghanistan has slowly drifted out of our radar.
At the risk of sounding like a reactionary, I find it had to believe that democracy is a necessary tool for the development of this world. I do not believe that if all of the world was democratic that all things would be much easier as was insinuated by the author in his discussion of America’s intervention in Haiti.
Therefore, the principle problem that I have with this book is the pedestal on which it places morality at the expense of national interest. The author on numerous occasions through the book does acknowledge this but does so in a seemingly nonchalant and dismissive manner: “ As a result what appears to be a dispute over political ethics might in reality be a conflict over different interpretation of facts or different assessments of political strategies.” (201). This tells me that morality in essence plays a small part in International Politics and usually plays a background or very basic role, one that can easily and is usually superceded by national interests.
It may be that the author focuses on what society ought to be and I focus on what society seems to be that causes my problems with the author, but using contemporary issues I find it hard to agree with the author whole heatedly.


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