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Power and morals

Realists argue that foreign policy is necessarily amoral. Liberals contend that there is no distinction between the moral standards that apply in domestic policy and those in international politics. Both views are flawed. Morality does count in foreign policy, but it is usually the morality of the lesser evil

By Owen Harries   April 2005

The connection between foreign policy and morality is surprisingly poorly examined. It is not wanting in words or assertions. On the second anniversary of the Iraq invasion we will read and hear millions of them on the moral authority of the UN, intervention in the affairs of sovereign states, democratic governments deceiving their citizens—and many other questions with a moral content.

But there has been little attempt to spell out general and coherent positions on these questions, to relate particular circumstances to general principles, or to acknowledge and confront the difficulty of discussing moral issues in the peculiar conditions and…

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