Andrew Nathan is Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University and director of graduate studies in the political science department.
Andrew J. Nathan on
We live in an era where the idea of human rights is a relatively new thing. It really came into its existence as a modern idea in 1948, with the adoption of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At this moment in history we are at a time when the idea of human rights may survive and grow or it may fade out and have less vitality going forward.
We face the disparate impact on the world's people of everything that is done—whether it's climate change, whether it's the way the world economic system works—that you have people living in poverty with short life expectancies, with a heavy disease burden, suffering disproportionately from the impact of climate change. I think this whole question of the fairness of distribution is a big ethical problem that touches on many of the policy decisions that we have to participate in.
I think the closest thing I can see to a global ethic really is the international human rights framework because, for all of its ambiguity and debatability and fragility, it does exist. That makes them incredibly valuable for everybody who wants to promote a cause, because if you can show that your cause is covered, or should be covered, by this framework, then you are partway there. It means you don't have to create the advocacy case from the ground up.
I'd like to see China and the United States find a way to live together peacefully, for the United States to accommodate the rise of China, for China to come to trust the U.S. role in Asia.