Ethics & International Affairs Volume 17.1 (Spring 2003): Articles: Beyond Coalitions of the Willing: Assessing U.S. Multilateralism [Abstract]

Mar 2, 2003

Contemporary debates over the appropriate balance of unilateralism and multilateralism in U.S. foreign policy reflect disagreements not simply about the practical effectiveness of these alternative options but also about their legitimacy. Advocates of multilateral and unilateral action alike tend to bundle prudential calculations with normative claims, making assessments about costs and benefits difficult to disentangle from ethical arguments about fairness, justice, morality and obligation. Greater clarity may be possible by classifying U.S. foreign policy into six analytical categories, based on whether the aims pursued are nationalist, internationalist, or cosmopolitan and the strategies adopted to realize them are unilateral or multilateral. Each set of aims has different ethical justifications that generate and help to explain divergent attitudes and judgments about the role of multilateral cooperation in U.S. foreign policy.

The article sheds new light on alleged U.S. unilateralism, showing that the U.S. decision to go it alone—or to act with others—can be motivated by the desire to advance the narrow interests of the United States, to advance the interests of all states, or to advance the interests of humanity at large. The article suggests that purely nationalist policies, whether pursued through unilateral or multilateral means, will become increasingly untenable and illegitimate as world politics becomes institutionalized and as humanity becomes integrated, albeit slowly, into a single cosmopolitan community.

To read or purchase the full text of this article, click here.

You may also like

MAR 15, 2022 Journal

Ethics & International Affairs Volume 36.1 (Spring 2022)

The highlight of this issue is a roundtable organized by Jesse Kirkpatrick on moral injury, trauma, and war, featuring contributions by Jesse Kirkpatrick, Daniel Rothenberg, ...

AUG 27, 2021 Journal

Ethics & International Affairs Volume 35.2 (Summer 2021)

The highlight of this issue is a roundtable organized by Adrian Gallagher on the responsibility to protect in a changing world order. The roundtable contains ...

U.S. Army soldiers in Iraq, March 2008. CREDIT: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/soldiersmediacenter/2340862578">The U.S. Army</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(CC)</a>

JAN 27, 2020 Podcast

Just War, Unjust Soldiers, & American Public Opinion, with Scott D. Sagan

Do soldiers fighting for a "just cause" have more rights than soldiers fighting on the other side? In this interview following up on an "Ethics & ...