Ethics & International Relations


Is ethical action in international affairs possible—or does the absence of a global moral consensus and a central world government doom states and citizens to the amoral pursuit of clashing national interests? The course begins by considering contrasting ethical and moral arguments to these issues by philosophers and social thinkers (e.g., Thucydides, Machiavelli, Kant and Marx). We will then explore the dimensions of historical ethical responsibility from the colonial period, with a specific examination of Belgium’s rule in the Congo. In addition, we will utilize an ethical lens to examine U.S. foreign policy both during the Cold War (in Iran, Vietnam, Chile, and Guatemala) and in the modern era (in Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq). We will also study specific issues in contemporary international politics: intervention and the use of force, human rights and humanitarian assistance, and the moral responsibilities of leaders and citizens. And finally, we will investigate whether FDR’s vision of the “Four Freedoms” provides an ethical foundation for foreign policy in the 21st century.