Ethics & International Affairs Volume 22.2 (Summer 2008): Briefly Noted: Briefly Noted [Full Text]

Jul 7, 2008

Identities, Affiliations, and Allegiances, Seyla Benhabib, Ian Shapiro, and Danilo Petranovich, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 424 pp., $85 cloth, $29.99 paper.

The ambitious goal of this wide-ranging volume is to redefine the concept of political membership for the contemporary world to take into account both emerging and deep-seated forms of belonging at the local, transnational, and global levels. Comprising a rich mix of historical, normative, and social science perspectives, the book reveals the complexities that characterize the interaction of human attachments and political institutions.

The essays in the first section explore the emergence of national citizenship as contingent on particular historical circumstances and territorial/spatial settings. In a related vein, Nancy Fraser shows how the theoretical concept of the "public sphere" remains linked to the national context and how, unless it is thoroughly rethought, it is inadequate for a global era. Moving beyond the state, the authors in sections two and three choose the European Union as the natural ground for studying new configurations of overlapping identities and multilevel politics. Topics include immigrants and participation, innovative institutional arrangements, transnational Muslim networks, and the dangers of hard borders. As a novel polity, the EU is also a test for the possibility to dissociate citizenship from national identity, the subject of several essays in section three. Melissa Williams's and Ayelet Shachar's concepts of citizenship as "shared fate" and "inherited property" point to different strategies for addressing inequalities based on place of birth.

In the last section readers are reminded that international obligations need not come at the expense of local solidarities. Craig Calhoun cautions against cosmopolitan impulses to dismiss the reality and value of national and ethnocultural belonging, while Jorge Valadez asserts the potential of group rights to remedy historical and existent injustices.

Striking First: Preemption and Prevention in International Conflict, Michael W. Doyle; Stephen Macedo, ed. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008), 200 pp., $24.95 cloth.

"Traditional preemption," writes Michael Doyle, "is too strict and the Bush administration's expansive prevention is too loose" (p. 43). Doyle intervenes with a proposal for how to limit and structure decisions about when to strike first. For him the key is not only the question "When is preventive war justified?" but also "What decision-making criteria might most likely be recognized and adopted by the international community?" Striking First is based on Doyle's Tanner Lectures, delivered at Princeton in 2006, and comes packaged with an introductory preview by the book's editor, Stephen Macedo, as well as a handful of critical responses.

The first half of the book features Doyle's two lectures: the first raising the need for agreement on a fresh set of procedures for the assessment of threats and responses; the second responding with a list of new standards—lethality, likelihood, legitimacy, and legality—which Doyle tests against a succession of cases, historical and hypothetical. While Doyle admits a preference for multilateral action, his four standards are offered as means to frame deliberation in two kinds of situations: first, in default cases of multilateral authorization through the U.N. Security Council; and second, in exceptional cases requiring unilateral preventive action (for example, when the Security Council behaves unreasonably), when go-it-alone states would benefit from internal, procedural checks before making the call to act preventively.

Confirming the potential of Doyle's argument to generate wide and constructive engagement, the book also contains three response pieces from senior scholars in a variety of fields. The philosopher Jeff McMahan argues that international standards ought to be further refined to provide space to weigh the merits of preventive war proposals according to measures of the relative liability—a fifth "L"—of individual soldiers. Playing the part of Thomas Hobbes to Doyle's Hugo Grotius, the historian of political thought Richard Tuck casts a skeptical eye over the notion that individual nations in an international state of nature can move from set procedures to agreed actions without an international sovereign to bang heads together. Finally, in his effort to propose a new raft of international legal standards, Doyle's most demanding interlocutor turns out to be an international lawyer, Harold Hongju Koh. Koh firmly opposes the idea that nations should be trusted with the freedom to undertake unilateral preventive action, regardless of whether they have available a fresh set of multilaterally endorsed standards to manipulate at will.

Mercenaries: The History of a Norm in International Relations, Sarah Percy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 280 pp., $60 cloth.

While this is but one in the recent surge of publications on the topic of mercenaries and private military companies (PMCs), Sarah Percy's latest work certainly stands apart. Unlike other authors, Percy takes nothing for granted and challenges some of the most popular notions that much of the literature in the field rests upon, the most basic of which is the idea that mercenaries are inherently disagreeable. It is this "norm," writes Percy, that has influenced centuries of mercenary history. From this viewpoint Percy seeks to address four puzzles: (1) how states began to exert control over mercenary forces; (2) why citizen armies eventually came to replace mercenaries; (3) why antimercenary legislation is insufficient to address the issue; and (4) the rise and eventual fall of PMCs in favor of private security companies (PSCs).

Using historical and theoretical approaches, Percy thoroughly addresses the arguments of prominent thinkers in the field, while furthering her own point that without carefully dissecting contemporary norms it is impossible to understand how the history of mercenaries has developed in the manner it has. However, Percy also goes on to somewhat provocatively denounce the anti-mercenary norm, which she argues is so prevalent in the international system. While she does not offer a ringing endorsement of the mercenary trade, she does regard the norm as "puritanical," as this point of view may be compelling the international community to disregard certain advantages that only mercenary services may offer.

You may also like

AUG 9, 2023 Podcast

Nuclear Ethics for this Moment

This panel explores ethical questions surrounding nuclear weapons and builds upon a symposium published in the most recent issue of "Ethics & International Affairs."

MAY 10, 2023 Journal

Ethics & International Affairs Volume 37.1 (Spring 2023)

The editors of "Ethics & International Affairs" are pleased to present the Spring 2023 issue of the journal! The highlight of this issue is a symposium organized ...

MAY 4, 2023 Article

A New Era for "Ethics & International Affairs"

The editors of Carnegie Council's quarterly journal "Ethics & International Affairs" are proud to announce the beginning of a new era in our publishing history. Starting ...

Not translated

This content has not yet been translated into your language. You can request a translation by clicking the button below.

Request Translation