Morality and Foreign Policy

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Foreign policy is considered to be one of the social domains in which morality plays a minimum role. The prime reason for the paucity of moral considerations in foreign policy is assumed to be the predominant role of states in this realm. States, in contrast to human beings, are artificial creatures that operate on the logic of instrumentality/consequences, to which the main question that decision makers ask would be which particular courses of actions/strategies would yield the highest amount of payoff in a world of anarchy. Leaders, acting on behalf of the citizens of their countries do not have the luxory of holding onto the same moral considerations and principles that apply to inter-individual relations within their societies. Stated somewhat differently, the predominant approach in the academic discipline of International Relations/Foreign Policy assumes that states and human beings are subjected to different morality considerations in their behaviors. This realist understanding of morality is by no means unchallenged by other approaches. This short essay will try to compare and contrast different conceptualizations of morality as understood in International Relations and then offer some clues as to how this ongoing controversy concerning the place of morality in foreign policy can be handled, as the dynamics of global power politics have changed tremendously.


Discussions on morality resonates clearly with the discussions on many other key concepts in foreign policy and international relations, such as responsibility, order, justice, peace, sovereignty, humanitarian interventions, responsibility to protect, development, etc.


What lies at the core of morality questions is the challenge of defining the boundaries of political communities which are held legitimate in the eyes of its members. Conventionally speaking, there exists three alternative conceptualizations of legitimate political communities. One is the nation-state, the other is the international society and the third one is the world society. Answers to the controversies concerning the key subjects of international relations as mentioned above would closely vary with which particular political community is held most legitimate.


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