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International political theory and the question of justice



    1. Professor and Head of the Political Science Department at the National University of Singapore. His recent work includes Terror, culture, politics: rethinking 9/11 (co-edited with Daniel J. Sherman), and Humanitarian intervention (2005, co-edited with Melissa S. Williams).
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The aim of the international justice theorist is to find coherence among ideas about justice at the international or global level. Linking justice to coercion and law can bridge the gap between just war theory and theories of international distributive justice. The idea of humanitarian intervention illustrates how the argument might go. Underlying that idea is the idea of a duty to protect. That duty is often thought to be an imperfect and therefore unenforceable duty based on a principle of beneficence. But we can also think of it as a perfect, enforceable duty to resist the violent, where that duty rests directly on the principle of respect, unmediated by beneficence. Respect also implies action to prevent non-violent harms. To do nothing while people are dying of starvation or disease is to fail to respect them as human beings by making their wellbeing a matter of indifference. We can therefore justly be compelled to prevent such harms by being taxed to support efforts to prevent them. A theory of justice that made the duty to protect central would ground the theory of international distributive justice in the justice—coercion link that underlies just war theory.

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