Ethics and international relations: enemy sisters?

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It's well known. Morality and international relations don't mix. They are based on two radically different logics: building a life just for the one, and seeking survival for the others. Such a representation does not stand up to analysis.

First of all, most internationalists no longer reject the normative dimension. Still strong in the United States, the positivist wave does not prevent the identification of moral dilemmas underlying any international action. The supporters of the English school had understood this well, as is shown by the writings of Martin Wright or fromHedley Bull. But others have also integrated it, including those who seemed a priori hostile to value judgements like the classical realists. One need only think of Hans Morgenthau and its promotion of an ethic of least harm.

Secondly, and more fundamentally, any international event can be the subject of a double apprehension. As a social fact that requires a scientific explanation on the one hand; as a moral fact that requires ethical evaluation on the other.

The most burning news is a significant testimony to this. War in Syria, Ukrainian crisis, the Snowden affair. Beyond the analyses that make these events intelligible, questions of a moral nature arise: should we intervene militarily to definitively overthrow the Syrian regime? Should Russia be sanctioned following the annexation of the Crimea and, if so, what would be the just sanctions? Should surveillance practices be called into question in the name of a principle of transparency?

All these questions do not refer to scientific theories in the strict sense - describing and explaining international interactions - but to normative theories of international relations, which consist in prescribing conduct or making moral judgements. Although the moral and international spheres are not confused, they do interpenetrate in many ways. Moreover, they no longer focus exclusively on issues of war or peace.
If military ethics is nowadays becoming more and more dense with the identification of new issues such as the use of UAVs or the increased technological perspectives of mankind, it no longer sums up the international moral dilemmas by itself. These concern the global architecture - with the reform of the United Nations and calls for new cosmopolitical conceptions - and extend to health, migration, finance and the environment.

Would the world be a better and fairer place if we had open borders? What is an acceptable compromise for a humanitarian organisation? Is it only possible to achieve fair and effective global governance? In other words, the ethics of international relations wears other clothes than the ethics of foreign policy, which focuses on the action of states - never really far from tragedy.
It is being transformed into the ethics of the "global environment". This no longer corresponds to the natural environment in the strict sense. It draws a global society whose moral density, to use the expression of Durkheim...keeps getting bigger and bigger. Indeed, how can we fail to see, behind the issues relating to health, migration, finance or the environment, the expression of more or less shared collective representations that can gradually give meaning to a social form that is extended to the whole of humanity? The answers to this question are obviously not consensual, but they have the merit of renewing moral traditions and establishing the terms of new debates.

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This is the whole purpose of the conference. Ethics in international relations to be held at CERI the May 26th and 27th next. As an extension of a eponymous work Co-directed by Ryoa Chung and Jean-Baptise Jeangène Vilmer (Paris, PUF, 2013), it is organized in partnership with the Centre d'analyse, de prévision et de stratégie of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Institut de recherche stratégique de l'Ecole militaire (Ministry of Defence) with the support of the Centre de recherche en éthique de l'Université de Montréal (CREUM) and the Centre de recherche en droit public de l'Université de Montréal (CRDP).

The fact that this event is jointly carried by research institutions and ministerial bodies attests to a confluence of concerns, that of the scientist and that of the practitioner, in the face of international normative issues. It is also proof of the vitality of programs devoted to international relations that incorporate the normative dimension: the symposium brings together Francophone researchers from various disciplines.

It should also be noted that CERI's calendar of events this May is particularly rich in the field of international relations. On the occasion of this colloquium, the new journal European Review of International Studies (ERIS) will be officially launched on May 26th at 6pm. Co-directed by John Groom and Christian Lequesne, it is a welcome addition to the English-language publishing market.
Eris, the goddess of discord in Greek mythology, also personifies courage and emulation, virtues in line with which the line of the magazine is inscribed. The first issue will compare the various ways of conceiving this scientific field. This contribution is perfectly in line with the most recent research agenda and the theme of the next congress of the International Studies Association: Global IR and Regional Worlds: a New Agenda for International Studies.

You can see it. International relations at CERI are very topical. There was no better symbol in this month of May, which is also the month of renewal.

Frederic Ramel, Professor at the Universities of Sciences-Po, researcher at CERI

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