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Ethics and diplomacy

By Pojoga Ion gr,202

Ethics are to the study of international relations, as it is a field of study concerned with war
and peace, trade and production, and law and rights.
Within the field of international relations, ethics took on a more prominent role starting in the
1980s with the rise of feminist approaches, illustrated in edited collections by Narayan and
Harding 2000 and Whisnant and DesAutels 2010; the emergence of critical theory, notably in
Linklater 1998; and increasing interest in postmodernist ethics, discussed in the edited volume
by Campbell and Shapiro 1999, and traced with great clarity in Hutchings 1999.

Further, a number of international relations scholars began reexamining the place of

normative questions within the tradition of Western thought that forms the core of the discipline.
Boucher 1998 traced the historical relationship between ethics and international politics, and
Brown 1992 did similar work but focused on the re-emergence of ethical questions within the
discipline of international relations.

A persistent conventional wisdom suggests ethics are marginal to international relations.

This conventional wisdom has two sources. After World War II, as the discipline of international
relations was taking shape in the United Kingdom and the United States, a number of prominent
scholars holding a realist view on questions of ethics came to dominate the field. Figures such as
Hans J. Morgenthau, Reinhold Niebuhr, and E. H. Carr criticized what they saw as the misplaced
moralism of earlier scholars who put their faith in the power of law and institutions to reform
international relations.

Not long after this move toward a realist paradigm that was skeptical of ethics, the
discipline also began to focus on developing a value-free social scientific approach that rejected
ethical questions as part of the study of international relations, especially in the United States.
Yet, these two early shifts in the discipline obscure the fact that questions of ethics have always
been part of the study of international relations. International relations, however, is concerned
with political events and social forces that impact the lives of individuals, communities, and the
human species as a whole, making ethical considerations inescapable. There is a long tradition of
ethical reflection on international relations, stretching as far back as human beings have been
concerned with intercommunal relations, but these reflections have been a secondary focus to the
consideration of ethics and politics within communities. In part, this is why ethical questions
about international relations come to the fore during periods of imperial expansion. Just War
theory has its roots in St. Augustine’s reflections on the duties of the Christian emperors of
Rome to defend the empire.

International law developed as a way of justly dividing the world between sovereign states
and savage peoples in need of civilization during the era of European colonialism, and human
rights have taken center stage since the end of the Cold War, as the global influence of the
United States reached its peak. Today, ethics are increasingly seen as a central part of the study
of international relations. This shift has come about partly through the work of critical scholars
working in a variety of traditions, who have rejected the long dominance of realism and the
aspiration to a value-free social science. These critical voices include liberal political theorists,
feminists, critical theorists, postmodernists, and postcolonialists.

These diverse traditions share a commitment to taking ethical questions about international
relations seriously—though what they see as the scholar’s contribution differs greatly, ranging
from offering normative prescriptions to deconstructing the conceptual distinctions that make
ethical judgment possible. Along with this shift within the academic study of international
relations, important changes have also taken place in the interactions between states. Without
suggesting we have gone through an epochal change to a supposedly unprecedented era of
globalization, it is clear that the traditional Westphalian state system has changed dramatically.
There are more sovereign states than before with a greater equality of political and economic
power between regions, while at the same time international institutions and global civil society
have expanded, and individuals have more contact with each other outside of their national
communities than was previously possible.
Both ethics and diplomacy are being unprecedentedly challenged in the current global
order.Ethics and diplomacy are at stake in a world that is, not only in the world that should be.
Yes, representation and voice may have reached the level of the individual. However, world
power remains asymmetric. And this is the reason why diplomats have indeed a relevant role to

The diplomat is able to enter doors that are unfortunately still closed to the average
citizen. If the diplomat is not entitled to speak for other people – as for voice can only be
grounded on the individual –, he/she may be a partner of these multiple voices by creating and
protecting the room for them to be raised. In this sense, social media is to be seen as a window of
opportunity, rather than a constraint, to reassure the work of a diplomat and to reinvent

Shue, Henry. Basic Rights. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2nd Edition, 1996

 Nardin, Terry and David Mapel, eds. Traditions of International Ethics. New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1993.

 Ethics & International Affairs, Journal of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and
International Affairs.

 Frost, Mervyn. Ethics in International Relations: A Constitutive Theory. New York:

Cambridge University Press, 1996.

 Amstutz, Mark International Ethics: Concepts, Theories, and Cases in Global

Politics. Boulder, CO: Rowman and Littlefield, 2nd Edition, 2005.