Related or contrasting ideas may be found in the following sections: Nuclear Weapons, Peace, Rights, Rule of Law, and the Social Contract




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There are no moral norms for relations between nations


Self-interest must be the guiding principle in international relations

Kenneth Waltz (prof. of political science, Columbia Univ.), “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Better,” Adelphi Papers, Number 171 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1981). Online: www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/waltz1.htm, accessed April 6, 2009

“States coexist in a condition of anarchy. Self-help is the principle of action in an anarchic order, and the most important way in which states must help themselves is by providing for their own security. Therefore, in weighing the chances for peace, the first questions to ask are questions about the ends for which states use force and about the strategies and weapons they employ. The chances of peace rise if states can achieve their most important ends without actively using force. War becomes less likely as the costs of war rise in relation to possible gains. Strategies bring ends and means together.”


In international affairs, our national interest often diverges from our values

Richard Just (staff managing editor), “Evils and Excuses,” The New Republic, September 9, 2009, p. 30

“In trying to sell an idealistic foreign policy to Americans, presidents have often argued that our values and our interests are identical. But this is rarely, if ever, the case. Over the long term, Americans would probably benefit from the emergence of a freer world; but in the short term, promoting human rights and countering authoritarianism is often quite antithetical to our national interest — in Sudan, in China, and in Saudi Arabia, just to take three obvious examples. But the conflation of American values and interests is not just false; it is also damaging, because it gives fuel to those like Mamdani who want to see interests lurking behind every assertion of values. In their imagination, ‘human rights fundamentalists’ are always a stalking horse for oil or anti-terrorism. This is how they conclude that human rights groups are indistinguishable from imperialists. I understand the temptation to conflate human rights with American self-interest — it is a strong arrow in the quiver of those who argue for American action against genocide — but ‘idealists’ should understand that when we do this, we are only making the work of anti-American paranoids such as Mamdani much easier.”


There are only two modes for international relations: diplomacy or war

Mortimer J. Adler (director, Institute for Philosophical Research; member, board of editors, Encyclopedia Britannica), The Common Sense of Politics, 1971, p. 238

“In slightly differing language, Cicero, Machievelli, and Locke all point out that men have only two ways of settling their differences — by fighting or violence, or by law, persuasion, and the use of authorized force .When the second set of means is not available through the institutions and instrumentalities of government, men are in a state of war with one another.”


Attempts to control war through international law have uniformly failed

L.B. Taylor, Jr. (freelance writer on military affairs), The Nuclear Arms Race, 1982, p. 43

“People have tried to limit the use of weapons in war throughout history. Attempts have been made to outlaw war and to create means of settling disputes through peaceful negotiation. Nations have tried to avert war by withdrawing into isolation or neutrality, or by joining with others for the common defense of all the member nations. However, through the centuries, most of these efforts have proved unsuccessful.”


Unconventional, undeclared wars are eroding the effectiveness of international law

Robert D. Kaplan (U.S. journalist, staff correspondent), “Supremacy by stealth,” The Atlantic, July-August 2003, p. 79

“As for international law, it has meaning only when war is a distinct and separate condition from peace. As war grows more unconventional, more often undeclared, and more asymmetrical, with the element of surprise becoming the dominant variable, there will be less and less time for democratic consultation, whether with Congress or with the UN. Instead civilian-military elites in Washington and elsewhere will need to make lightning-quick decisions. In such circumstances the sanction of the so-called international community may gradually lose relevance, even if everyone soberly declares otherwise.”


Moral rules need be followed only if we are reasonably sure everyone will follow them

Kurt Baier (1917-; American philosopher and ethicist; philosophy dept. chair, Univ. of Pittsburgh), in Great Traditions in Ethics, 3rd edition, edited by E.M. Albert, T.C. Denise, and S.P. Peterfreund, 1975, p. 384

“Would it not still be immoral for anyone to ignore the demands of morality even though he knows that others are likely or certain to do so, too? Can we offer as a justification for morality the fact that no one is entitled to do wrong just because someone else is doing wrong? This argument begs the question whether it is wrong for anyone in this state to disregard the demands of morality. It cannot be wrong to break a treaty or make preventive war if we have no reason to obey the moral rules. For to say that it is wrong to do so is to say that we ought not to do so. But if we have no reason for obeying the moral rule, then we have no reason overruling self-interest, hence no reason for keeping the treaty when keeping it is not in our self-interest, hence it is not true that we have a reason for keeping it, hence not true that we ought to keep it, hence not true that it is wrong not to keep it.”


There are no moral rules applicable to sovereign states

Kurt Baier (1917-; American philosopher and ethicist; philosophy dept. chair, Univ. of Pittsburgh), in Great Traditions in Ethics, 3rd edition, edited by E.M. Albert, T.C. Denise, and S.P. Peterfreund, 1975, p. 383

“For in the family of nations, individual states are placed very much like individual persons in the state of nature. The doctrine of the sovereignty of nations and the absence of an effective international law and police force are a guarantee that nations live in a state of nature, without commonly accepted rules that are somehow enforced. Hence it must be granted that living in a state of nature leads to living in a state in which individuals act either on impulse or as they think their interest dictates. For states pay only lip service to morality. They attack their hated neighbors when the opportunity arises. They start preventive wars in order to destroy the enemy before he can deliver his knockout blow. Where interest conflict, the stronger party usually has his way, whether his claims are justified or not. And where the relative strength of the parties is not obvious, they usually resort to arms in order to determine ‘whose side God is on.’ Treaties are frequently concluded but, morally speaking, they are not worth the paper they are written on. Nor do the partners regard them as binding in the ordinary way, but rather as public expressions of the belief of the governments concerned that for the time being their alliance is in the interest of the allies. It is well understood that such treaties may be canceled before they reach their predetermined end or simply broken when it suits one partner. In international affairs, there are very few examples of Nibelungentreue, although statesmen whose countries have profited from keeping their treaties usually make such high moral claims.”


International relations is essentially hostile to moral rules

George Kateb (William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics and Director of the Program in Political Philosophy at Princeton University), “Is Patriotism a Mistake?” Social Research, Winter 2000, p. 909

“The moral disposition is wholly alien to international relations, because self-preservation, no matter how defined, is permanently thought endangered. You can love particular persons without having to dislike or hate others; but you cannot love an abstract entity like a country and not dislike or hate other countries, because countries are, from their nature as organizations of and for power, in actual or latent competition. The energies of group animosity await and often receive the mobilization they desire. Those who lead the mobilization see their country as a means or base for struggle.”


Machievelli discounts morality except as a tool for power

Anthony Quinton (emeritus prof. of philosophy, Oxford Univ.), “Political Philosophy” in The Oxford History of Western Philosophy, ed. by Anthony Kenny, 1994, p. 310

“The narrow character of Machiavelli’s purposes, even in the less monocular Discourses, gives him a somewhat dwarf-like appearance in a procession of major political theorists. He is not concerned with justification but with effectiveness. Not only is his style of reasoning purely secular; he treats morality and religion simply as means to political ends.”


Without a consensus on norms, there is no ‘international community’

Robert Kagan (senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund), “The End of the End of History,” The New Republic, April 23, 2008, p. 45

“Is it possible any longer to speak of an ‘international community” ?The term implies agreement on international norms of behavior, an international morality, even an international conscience. But today the world’s major powers lack such a common understanding. On the large strategic questions, such as whether to intervene or to impose sanctions or to attempt to isolate nations diplomatically, there is no longer an international community to be summoned or led. This was exposed most blatantly in the war over Kosovo, which divided the democratic West from both Russia and China, and from many other non-European autocracies. Today it is apparent on the issues of Darfur, Iran, and Burma.”


The Great Powers will not allow effective international law to evolve

Gerard Elfstrom (prof. of philosophy, Auburn Univ.), “Cosmopolis: Prospects for World Government,” American Political Science Review, March 1999, p. 245

“The legal theorists, primarily Richard Falk but also Antonio Cassese, assert that global peace and protection of human rights can be achieved only through an international rule of law, which will supersede and have legal authority over the legal systems of nation-states. Zolo asserts that this scheme is unworkable because the world’s great powers will never subject themselves to an international rule of law and because the cultural, legal, and political diversity of the nations and peoples of the world block any consensus on global principles of law. It is also unnecessary because nations and international organizations are able to devise ways to cooperate and address problems of mutual concern without resorting to an overreaching system of law.”

[Reference is to Danilo Zolo, Professor of Politics at the University of Florence, Italy]


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