Is it possible to have an ethical foreign policy?

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felamaslen
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I was having a debate about this IRL recently. It went like this:

Most people agree that propping up dictators and tyrants is a bad thing. But what are the effects of invading tyrannies? Often it results in an even worse situation than what previously existed. What do we do, therefore, about tyranny in the world? At first glance, it seems like we have a choice between allowing criminals to run parts of the world and not getting involved, or invading these countries and running them ourselves. The first option seems obviously immoral to me.

But it is more complex than that. What if tyrannical countries own resources that we need? Anybody who doesn't live in a cave needs resources. So then what do we do? Do we prop up the tyrants as long as they're economically friendly towards us, and scrap any hope for freedom for those who live under them? Or do we go in with all guns blazing, and scrap any hope for democracy (but impose a human rights-friendly regime ourselves)? Neither of these choices seem very moral to me.
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Rakas21
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Possible but could be described as a little fanciful and not practical if your intent is to place the needs of your population (giving them cheap energy and the like) above morals.
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felamaslen
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(Original post by Rakas21)
Possible but could be described as a little fanciful and not practical if your intent is to place the needs of your population (giving them cheap energy and the like) above morals.
What would you class as ethical though? Surely leaving tyrants to rule the world is not ethical.
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Brodyaga
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Diplomacy might only be ethical between countries in a friendly relationship. It would be impossible to behave the same way with your rivals and enemies, also because you'd assume that they are willing to cross the ethical boundary in the first place.

Alexander Wendt, one of the most prominent international relations scholars, also argues that countries with a specific set of ethical values (which they apply not to everyone, but only to friends, allies and a range of legitimate states) tend to behave differently with states they regard as enemies or rivals. Then, of course, relations get better overtime as both parties understand each other's interests and build a dialogue. But still, they way you relate to other state cannot be universal.
Of course, I'm oversimplifying Wendt's arguments as going too much in detail would be unpractical in this context (especially, considering that many people may be not familiar with IR theories), but I think this is the heart of the matter.
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Rakas21
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(Original post by felamaslen)
What would you class as ethical though? Surely leaving tyrants to rule the world is not ethical.
It's not but most people would rather cut off trade ECT.. Than remove them.
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felamaslen
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(Original post by Rakas21)
It's not but most people would rather cut off trade ECT.. Than remove them.
That's not possible in the case of, say, Saudi Arabia or Russia though.
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Rakas21
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(Original post by felamaslen)
That's not possible in the case of, say, Saudi Arabia or Russia though.
True, but they are the exception.
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Clip
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No matter what you do, you are going to have a bunch of tree-hugging hippies and latter-day Marxist troublemakers in the streets waving placards - so you might as well do what whatever.
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Falcatas
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Yes, leave other countries alone and don't force taxpayers to pay for killing people aboard.
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MrJAKEE
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No it isn't as everyone has different views on what is ethical and what is not..


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viddy9
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Resources are not a justification for supporting tyrants. Nonetheless, if condoning a tyrant is likely to cause less net suffering, then that is an ethical foreign policy.
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zippity.doodah
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no - morality and foreign policy are totally different
everything for our foreign policy is for the benefit of our nation and our voters
every time we've claimed to be fighting for humanitarian causes, it's always had a national-interest motive behind it
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RF_PineMarten
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Not right now, because our reliance on oil means we can't really do anything about brutal regimes if they supply oil, like Saudi Arabia.

Intervening everywhere would be impossible, but cutting economic ties and imposing sanctions could help for a lot of countries. Again you need to bear oil in mind.
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Fullofsurprises
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(Original post by RFowler)
Not right now, because our reliance on oil means we can't really do anything about brutal regimes if they supply oil, like Saudi Arabia.

Intervening everywhere would be impossible, but cutting economic ties and imposing sanctions could help for a lot of countries. Again you need to bear oil in mind.
For sure it's a problem, but I don't think it's true that we can't do anything about them. It is possible to pressure other countries on things they do wrong whilst at the same time continuing to trade. Or at least, we can try.

On OP's question, the issue is first about deciding what 'ethical' means and secondly how far you want to push it. I think as a country we have to decide on some clear red lines that we won't cross. That's what went wrong with Syria and has led to ISIS - the red lines weren't enforced.

Secondly on the 'how far' we enforce it part - we need to be realistic but to keep putting out there what we believe. So we can't, for example, summon the military might (or the post-invasion aftercare) to tackle every dictatorship on earth. We can pressure them in other ways.

A lot of the dictatorships in, for example, the Middle East, are not there by accident or the choice of the local population. They were installed during the Cold War by either the Soviets or the West to act as proxies, controlling their country in exchange for bases, weapons sales and captive markets. A lot of what we are seeing now in the world is the consequence of that. Being ethical in foreign policy isn't just about trying to do good, it's also about taking responsibility for what we already did in the world.
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B-FJL3
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A lot of the dictatorships in, for example, the Middle East, are not there by accident or the choice of the local population. They were installed during the Cold War by either the Soviets or the West to act as proxies, controlling their country in exchange for bases, weapons sales and captive markets. A lot of what we are seeing now in the world is the consequence of that. Being ethical in foreign policy isn't just about trying to do good, it's also about taking responsibility for what we already did in the world.[/QUOTE]


Not sure what you mean by that last bit about taking responsibility - Care to elaborate further?


In response to the main question I think it is pretty difficult. Leaving aside the fact that everyone's definition of ethical right and wrong is different, it won't necessarily serve the best interests of the populace if we take a principled stance on every issue regardless of the cost.

Politicians decide our foreign policy. Are they voted in to do the right thing? Or are they voted in to act in our best interests, whatever that may involve doing?

If we simply act out of pragmatic self interest then it seems pretty clear that our interests will, at some point, clash with someone else's and there will have to be winners and losers. To give an example, that's all the story of the USA and the Indians was. Both sides were self-interested and coveted the same land for different reasons. One was more advanced and had more men so the other paid the price for being backward and lost. It might not be right or fair but it's the way things seem to get done. You'd just better make sure your country stays on top.

I certainly think you'll get a pretty short & sharp answer from most large corporations or from the City of London if you tell them the UK will only do business with ethical regimes from now on. The effect on our economy would be disastrous. Considering that, perhaps it's better to do a little evil in the hope of achieving a greater good. I mean we're by no means a perfect, morally upright paragon of a country, but on the whole we're probably a damn sight better than most... or maybe we're just better at hiding the kind of *******s we really are underneath the facade...?


Slightly surprised that everyone seems to automatically assume that democracy is good and dictators are bad. Surely it is possible for a country to have a dictator and for everyone to be perfectly happy? Even if a populace are not all happy about their leader, perhaps they still recognise that that's simply the way their society functions best and they don't want to be a democracy. Not everyone (to use a rather hackneyed Arab Spring phrase) "yearns for democracy".
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felamaslen
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(Original post by B-FJL3)
Slightly surprised that everyone seems to automatically assume that democracy is good and dictators are bad. Surely it is possible for a country to have a dictator and for everyone to be perfectly happy? Even if a populace are not all happy about their leader, perhaps they still recognise that that's simply the way their society functions best and they don't want to be a democracy. Not everyone (to use a rather hackneyed Arab Spring phrase) "yearns for democracy".
People don't like being dictated to. People should be free to live their lives according to their own wishes - that's why we need human rights. Human rights are not upheld in dictatorships, since in order to maintain power as a dictator, you must restrict people's human right to boot you out of power. You must also restrict freedom of expression (another human right), since the free exchange of ideas will result in people becoming sceptical of your legitimacy as a dictator. That's why the CPC in China bans free speech.
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threeportdrift
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(Original post by felamaslen)
Most people agree that propping up dictators and tyrants is a bad thing. But what are the effects of invading tyrannies? Often it results in an even worse situation than what previously existed. .
Often?

In what late 20th century cases have liberal democracies 'invaded' tyrannies and left negative results (worse than those imposed by the tyranny) that have lasted longer than 30 years (the usual figure for 'a generation' in human lifetimes, ie a duration that might be deemed to have 'ruined a generation').
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felamaslen
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(Original post by threeportdrift)
Often?

In what late 20th century cases have liberal democracies 'invaded' tyrannies and left negative results (worse than those imposed by the tyranny) that have lasted longer than 30 years (the usual figure for 'a generation' in human lifetimes, ie a duration that might be deemed to have 'ruined a generation').
Many would argue that Iraq today is "worse" (somehow) than it was before 2003, and what with ISIS on the rampage, it is hard to disagree. And I have little optimism there.

Vietnam was of course a big failure, though mainly due to the communists and the retreat of America.

By the way, you're arguing with the wrong person if you think I think that liberal democracies invading tyrannies is a bad thing. I'd love to see all the tyrants of the world be demolished by the West.
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Simes
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(Original post by felamaslen)
Most people agree that propping up dictators and tyrants is a bad thing. But what are the effects of invading tyrannies?
That makes the assumption that military invasion - war - is the only solution, which is a false assumption.
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felamaslen
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(Original post by Simes)
That makes the assumption that military invasion - war - is the only solution, which is a false assumption.
Sanctions generally harm innocent people more than they harm dictators, who only care about their personal wealth most of the time.

Or were you thinking of something else?
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