The politics of ethical foreign policy: A responsibility to protect whom?

Dan Bulley

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    22 Citations (Scopus)


    Ethical foreign policy persists as a problem of international relations, especially regarding humanitarian intervention. However, despite apparent international upheavals, the debate about the ethics of humanitarian intervention has remained fundamentally unchanged. To escape the limits of this debate, this article deconstructs British claims to ethical foreign policy since 1997, reading these claims against themselves and against contemporary humanitarian intervention literature. It finds that Britain’s ethical framework, the ‘doctrine of international community’, which justifies interventions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, is undone by the anomalous, yet exemplary, invasion of Iraq. This demonstrates the politics of ethical foreign policy: first, that any intervention, no matter how ‘ethical’ or ‘right’, produces suffering and death; and, second, that we cannot know for sure whether we are doing the right thing by intervening. Embracing, rather than effacing, the political nature of ethical foreign policy opens up a more intellectually honest and positive potential future for relating to the foreign in a responsible manner.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)441-461
    Number of pages21
    JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
    Issue number3
    Early online date19 Mar 2010
    Publication statusPublished - Sep 2010

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Political Science and International Relations

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