Foreign Policy as Ethics: Toward a Re-Evaluation of Values


  • An early version of this article was presented at the “Theorizing Foreign Policy in a Globalized World” Conference at Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften, Bad Homburg, Germany (July 1–4, 2010). Thanks to the organizers of this conference, especially Gunther Hellman and Knud Erik Jorgensen who also made very useful comments on an earlier draft. The recommendations of the Editors and two anonymous referees also helped greatly in clarifying my argument. This article is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Philippa Sherrington (1968–2011), a true inspiration on all things European.


This article notes that while ethics is increasingly talked of in foreign policy, it remains a blindspot for foreign policy analysis (FPA). It argues that this must be rectified through a critical approach which conceptualizes foreign policy as ethics. The first section examines how even constructivist approaches, which are highly attuned to the intersubjective sphere, still generally avoid dealing with morality. The second section looks at the possibilities and limits of one piece of constructivist theorizing that explores the translation of morality into foreign policy via “norms.” This demonstrates the problems that a constructivist account, with its tendency toward explanatory description without evaluation, will always face. The final section argues, through an examination of EU foreign policy (from 1999 to 2004) and its innovative use of “hospitality,” that FPA must critically reassess the value of the norms and principles by which foreign policy operates in order to suggest potentially more ethical modes of encounter.